First published 5 October 2014
In my last post I was thinking about the reaction David Silvester received recently to his open letter accusing UK Prime Minister David Cameron of bringing God’s judgment upon the nation. In the letter he said that, “The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.” The particular breach he was talking about was the redefinition of marriage, passed into law by the British parliament months earlier, enabling same-sex marriages to take place. The natural disasters he linked to it were the heavy rains, storms and flooding that beset southern England early in 2014, and which continued to worsen even after his letter.
I observed last time that whether or not David Silvester is right to link the floods directly with the displeasure of God because of the same-sex marriage legislation, the reaction of the secular media and the public was really a reaction to truth that is central to the Christian message. He called homosexuality sinful and he portrayed God as involved in (and judging) the affairs of mankind. The reaction is because they don’t like the assertion that an unelected being is in charge, setting rules they don’t like, and enforcing them, whether they voted for Him or not. I concluded that since the gospel of love, forgiveness and hope cannot be understood without knowing what we need to be forgiven from and saved from, David Silvester was absolutely right to speak of an active sovereign God and point to the need for repentance from sin.
What I want to examine now is whether Mr Silvester is right to claim that the Bible clearly shows God as actively punishing wayward former-Christian nations with natural disasters; and whether he is right to link the winter 2013/14 floods with the same-sex marriage bill.
Sovereignty, sin and punishment
Mr Silvester claims that, “the scriptures make it abundantly clear”, and so we will turn to the Bible and check it out. Whole books are written on this subject, but let’s try to do it quickly…
- The Bible clearly conveys God as being in absolute control over His universe, and therefore nothing happens (including floods) outside of His purpose. “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” (Psalm 135:5-7) (See also Daniel 4:34-35; Psalm 22:28; 113:4.)
- The Bible clearly conveys God as holding every human being, family, community and nation responsible for living according to His rules, and judging them with His wrath for disobedience. (Psalm 9:8; 98:9; 96:13; 58:11; 149:7; 47:8; 94:10. See also Jeremiah 46.)
- God’s ultimate judgment will be in the future when this present creation is swept away and His people will inherit the new perfected creation, and the rest will be consigned to eternal torment being excluded from any of God’s blessing. (Revelation 20:11-15; 21:1-7; Matthew 25:46)
- However, the Bible shows us that God does act now in this life, punishing nations for systemic and ingrained wickedness, as well as blessing nations for genuine obedience. (Deuteronomy 9:4; Isaiah 13)
- In the Bible, God’s punishment on nations comes in the form of famine, wars, disease, economic hardship, division and confusion, being enslaved to other nations via debt, and the like (e.g. Deuteronomy 28). The 10 plagues on Egypt (Exodus 7-13) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19) are among a very small number of occasions where God visits particular focussed judgment in a miraculous way. The Great Flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6-8) was the only time recorded in the Bible when God used storms and flooding to bring about His judgment.
- Homosexuality is ‘an abomination’ according to God (Leviticus 18:22) and was one of the reasons that He punished the Canaanites: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled… and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” (vv24-25).
So it’s clear that the Bible does portray God as all-powerful, able and willing to punish the disobedience and wickedness of nations directly, both now and in the final judgment. And it’s also clear in the Bible that homosexual sex is something that God sees as sinful and worthy of punishment, and that He uses both natural and human disasters as means of delivering judgment upon nations.
It’s also probably true that God does hold His own people under stricter discipline, and that the UK monarch’s coronation pledge in church, before God and all UK citizens, to rule according to ‘the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel’, makes the UK a Christian nation.
So I can see why David Silvester draws his conclusion that the UK is under God’s judgment, that same-sex marriage is part of the reason for that judgment, and that natural disasters (i.e. floods) are a manifestation of His judgment.
But there is, however, some evidence to the contrary.
Not an exact link
Jesus explicitly rebutted the claim that if bad things happen to people they must be worse sinners than those who don’t suffer. He was asked (Luke 13:1-5) ‘about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”’ So there were no specific sins to which those disasters could have been linked.
We might also consider that the famine in the time of Joseph (Genesis 41 and following) was not explained in the Bible as a punishment of the Canaanites, any more than the wealth that the Egyptians gained through it was due to their righteousness. And yet it was God who warns Pharaoh of it in advance, and God who brought it about.
We should also consider that the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman empires were for long periods very rich and successful forces in the world, and yet that was not because of their righteousness, for they were some of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in world history.
Even in our living memory we could point to the fact that we suffered the horrors of two world wars during a period when church attendance was high and Christian morality was still very much adhered to by the majority of the British and American population. However bad the 2013/14 Southern England floods were, they caused nowhere near the same level of destruction or loss of life as the World Wars, and yet Christians would argue that we have generally morally declined rapidly since then.
So however much a disaster looks to be an extraordinary work of God, we are not entitled to draw the conclusion that it is aimed as a punishment on a specific misdoing.
Let me clarify further by saying that I do believe that the UK and other Western nations are under the judgment of God. Social fragmentation, economic crisis, STDs, increasing health and psychological problems, etc are all evidence of God’s wrath. And the weakness of the church is also a sign of God’s wrath. And I could even agree that the floods were part of God’s punishment, because they are financially draining on the country’s financial services sector (insurance companies).
And I also believe that the UK and Western nations have been gradually eroding Christian morality as the basis for national government and law – whether that be the abolition of the death penalty, the legalization of abortion, the acceptance of sex (hetero- and homo- sexual) outside of heterosexual marriage as normal, Sunday trading, talk of legalizing euthanasia, embryo research, not curbing the greed of rich bankers, or changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
What I can’t find support in the Bible for is the assertion that a particular spell of bad weather, or a particular catastrophe, can be linked to a particular rejection of God’s laws, unless God explicitly says it is.
A sad reaction to a slightly misguided prophet
So I do think that David Silvester is wrong to confidently assert that the winter floods were God’s judgment on the UK because of the same-sex marriage decision. There is no Biblical justification for saying that.
I also think that if He were here in person, Jesus may have said something similar to his statement in Luke 13, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In other words, God is in control, He is causing the rain, wind, storms and floods. And we are sinners, rejecting His ways. And He does threaten awful punishment for those who reject His Son and fail to repent of their sinful ways – definitely in eternity, but sometimes in this life too.
Sometimes even if natural disasters are not directed at any particular sin, the events demonstrate to us tangibly, visibly, audibly, physically,
- How powerful and awesome God is, because He has power over all those events; and
- That we have no strength to resist His power.
Natural disasters cause us to fear because we cannot resist or control these things, and that fear is really the fear of God, because He is behind it all.
I find it very sad that the reaction to hearing about God’s judgment is not fear. If you found yourself in gangland territory, and heard that you had annoyed the local mafia (even if you thought you’d done nothing), you would fear. Why is there no fear when there is a suggestion that we are on the wrong side of the Almighty Creator and Owner of the entire Universe, and that He is angry? Why aren’t we quaking, asking what we have to do avoid His wrath? Why don’t people at least ask whether this is true?
The reason is because our sin has blinded us. Our desire to determine our own destinies, our desire to live the way we want to live with no one telling us what’s right and wrong, has eclipsed our natural human sense that we are created and are responsible to our Creator. It’s as if we’ve turned the volume up on the TV deliberately so loud to blot out the voice of conscience, just because we don’t want to change…
It just shows how far we have strayed when we can even block out the voice of these storms. Because even if the floods are not a particular judgment on a particular evil, they still shout at us, “God is awesome! Don’t be on the wrong side of Him!” Events like this should force us to face up to the fact that Christianity is not a private religion – God in my little heart. If God is God at all, He is awesome, owns everything that exists, and can do anything with anything that exists. He can’t be limited to church buildings, and particular places or times. He is the One to whom every created being owes their existence, and every human being owes their worship.
The sad thing about the mainstream reaction to David Silvester’s letter to the Henley Standard is that the overwhelming response is ridicule and horror and not fear and repentance.
The prophets of the Old Testament faced the same kind of reaction among the Jews, who were supposed to be God’s special people. The prophets predicted God’s judgment upon their waywardness and unfaithfulness, and they were often locked up, beaten, ridiculed and chased into hiding (take Elijah as an example).
On the other hand when the prophet Jonah (the one of the Big Fish) went to the non-Jewish Ninevites and called them to repent in order to avoid God’s judgment on them, they did in fact repent. They wept and mourned, and God saw that and turned away from the punishment He had planned.
And the big point of Jonah’s story was that whilst the Jews were persecuting prophets, thinking that God would never do anything bad to them, the people they considered to be beyond mercy were receiving mercy because of their heartfelt repentance.
David Silvester may have been theologically incorrect to assert a firm link between the disastrous Southern England flooding of 2013/14 and God’s anger at same-sex marriage. However, he was not wrong to point out the wrongness of same-sex marriage, and homosexuality in general. He was not wrong to call for repentance. And He was not wrong to point to God as The All-Powerful Creator and Judge. For the gospel to be understood, these kinds of things need to be said.
As Christians we should be praying that God will turn hearts from ridicule to repentance, because He can do that as well. And in the meantime, we should stand with David Silvester and continue to proclaim the good news of salvation from God’s wrath, through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.