Sermon: The Fallacy of Divine Retribution

Last week I stood here, and I asked you to pray for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.  This week I stand here, and I will ask you to keep all of those affected by Hurricane Irma in your prayers. At this very moment, in Florida, people are hunkering down as Category 4 Irma, the most powerful storm in recorded history slams into their neighborhoods. I ask you to keep the people of the tiny Island nation of Barbuda in your prayers. I had never heard of Barbuda before the news reported that 95% of the structures on the island have been destroyed and that as of yesterday, the entire Island has been evacuated. Just for some perspective, the population of Barbuda is 1,638 people who are now homeless. This is a dangerous storm that is not over yet.

I have been encouraged by the outpouring of offers to help from the people right here at Bethany. Last week I sent a letter to all of you asking for donations and we will take a special offering today for Disaster Relief, and all week, people have been sending in checks to the office for us to add to what will be collected and blessed this very day.  While storms are still raging, we are doing what we can. We have a plan in the works to assemble kits that will be sent by our partner Church World Service to devastated areas to assist people in cleaning up. The need will be great, and this will not end anytime soon.

But I have also been rather dismayed by the chorus of Christians blaming this on God’s divine retribution and twisting they’re theological understand for some fundraising or political means.  Keep this in mind, people are literally, as we speak, fleeing for their very lives and fine Christian theologians and preachers are telling people this is God’s anger unleashed on them.  Well let me make this clear, that is a load of you know what!

Here are just a couple of examples; One “Pastor” has said that God is systematically destroying America over the homosexual agenda. An on air personality, and devout Christian, when asked about climate change in relation to Harvey said that Houston’s election of a lesbian mayor was a more credible explanation of Harvey than climate change. And just so you don’t think these people are only on the right of the theological spectrum, a Tampa University professor tweeted, during Harvey by the way, that Harvey was God’s punishment on Texas for voting for President Trump. He was fired. By the way, the other two examples I used, they are both still employed.

Now I am not sure where these folks received their theological training, but I was taught that God is love. The pages of the New Testament are filled with stories of love, not destruction. Now I know what you’re thinking, what about the Old Testament there are lots of stories of smiting and what not, sure let’s look at one, the bog one if you will, the story of Noah found in the 9th chapter of the Book of Genesis.  We all know the story, God finds the righteous man Noah, he builds the ark. All the animals come in. The rains come. The earth is flooded. Only Noah’s family and the animals survive.  Now I have some issues with this story but putting that aside for a moment we tend to skip over that last part of that story;

“I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:11-16

“Never again will I destroy the earth.”  NEVER AGAIN!

That is the 9th chapter of the 1st book of the Bible.  We don’t have to wait long before we hear God say. NEVER AGAIN WILL I DESTROY THEY EARTH! 9th Chapter!

Not enough evidence? Let’s look at a few more.

“For this is like the days of Noah to Me, When I swore that the waters of Noah Would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you Nor will I rebuke you. Isaiah 54:9

But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; And often He restrained His anger And did not arouse all His wrath. Psalm 78:38

I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, And I will not come in wrath. Hosea 11:9

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last because in them the wrath of God is finished. Revelation 15:1

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world, and he watched him die.  He could have smited the lot of us, but he did not, he sent his own Son to show us the way and even after we killed him he continues to show us, love.

Our human minds want to find answers to questions about why things happen, and sometimes there is no explanation, and sometimes things happen because of the choices that we or others make. If we put this all on God reduces God to the human condition, and when we do that, God stops being God!

If we think that God punishes us then logically, we have to believe that God is the source of that punishment which is evil and therefore God is the source of evil. But if we read the Bible we see that God is love. If God wanted us to suffer if God inflicted suffering on us, why would he have sent us his son?

Suffering is part of the human condition but it is not God’s divine retribution and to say that is it is to deny that God is love and to say that God participates in evil.

So where is God in all of this? God is right in the midst of it. God is the one in the boat that comes and rescues people. God is in the science that can predict these things to give people warnings to get out. God is with you when you place your hard earned money into the offering plate to assist others. God is in the midst of the suffering bringing us peace and bringing us strength. I have no idea who the God of Pat Robertson is or the God of Jim Baker, but my God sent his Son not to destroy but to love, and that is the example he has left for us.