As long as there have been men on the earth, there have been fools who have believed in a simple god who acts more like a vending machine than he does a Great and Benevolent Judge. We find these scattered throughout the Scriptures in those like the friends of the afflicted, yet righteous Job who sought to discover Job’s sin so that they could validate his plight by their theology, and likewise in the question of the foolish disciples concerning the blind man at Siloam, asking, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn. 9:2). And these men with simple theologies have not ceased since that time, seen more recently in the “elucidating” commentaries of the Jerry Falwells and the Pat Robertsons concerning 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and, most recently, the great earthquake in Haiti. These view God as a cosmic vending machine who dispenses wrath when evil is put in and dispenses blessing when righteousness is put in.
Yet despite such claims, these fools have no answers as to why the righteous must suffer in this age (cf. Rm. 8:17-39) and why the wicked prosper. They have no answers for the affliction of the martyrs (chief of whom being Jesus Christ), and they have no answers for the prosperity of the Las Vegases and the San Franciscos. Nevertheless, these idiots come out like clockwork after every great disaster giving “inspired” commentary upon those disasters.
How then are we to understand these great calamities that the strike the people of this world? Jesus Christ was not silent on such matters, and he gave an answer to a Pat Robertson of his day who charged that the Galileans were greater sinners than the rest of the Jews since Pilate had killed them and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. Christ responds:
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 (Lk. 13:2-5).
Notice how Christ responds. First, he does not charge that these men who died were innocent, but he asks, “Were these men greater sinners than others who were not there?” The answer to this is a clear, “No,” and thus these Pat Robertsons could not explain these two calamites by their vending machine god. They rightly knew that those who died were indeed sinners, yet they knew full well that there were greater sinners than those who perished who yet lived.
Secondly, Christ does not say that these calamities were a fluke or that God had no hand in them, but he intimates that these things should be to sinners who still live a call to repentance, for he says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (v. 13:5). In other words, these calamities were not the result of grosser sin but neither were they simple tragedies. These events were foretastes of the wrath of God that will one Day consume all sinners, therefore, between that Time and this, the people should repent lest they suffer the same fate.
How this applies to the earthquake in Haiti is clear, and thus it should provoke in us the same response. Were the people in Haiti greater sinners than we? Did they indeed make a pact with the devil himself? The answer to this is a resounding, “No!” yet these people were sinners as all men are sinners, and they have made “pacts” with the devil as all men have. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (Rm. 1:18), and unless men cease from their unbelief, they likewise will not be spared (cf. Rm. 11:19-22). Therefore, the great travesty that befell Haiti is a call to us who remain to pause upon the kindness and the severity of God and to repent lest we perish as well (cf. Rm. 11:22; Rm. 2:4). To those who fell in Haiti apart from Christ, that earthquake was to them the last taste of the severity of God on this earth, for nothing ill befalls the men of this world that is not wholly merited by them.
Yet there is another side to calamity that men neglect, and that is the perishing of the righteous. For I greatly doubt that there were none on whom their houses fell in Haiti who were not in Christ, therefore how can we say that the wrath of God fell on them when Christ had absorbed their wrath on the Cross? We cannot, and thus we must consider that while God’s wrath was meted out to the unrighteous upon their death, to the elect it was the blessing of their passage from death to life. Furthermore, we must consider the grander scheme that is hearkened to remembrance by this event. For our Lord says:
See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains (Mt. 24:4-8).
In other words, as in all catastrophic events, especially earthquakes, we must remember that these are the pains of birth for a fallen world. And just as immense pain is necessary in the birth of child, so too are these things necessary in this present evil age. But, just as in childbirth, these pangs will one Day cease, and they will, at the Coming of our Lord, give way to glory and resplendence at the dawn of New Life and Creation. But until that time, we must endure to the End and preach the Law and the Gospel as a testimony of these things to all the nations (cf. Mt. 24:13, 14).
Therefore, beloved, we should not fall into the foolishness of the Pat Robertsons who view history as the scattered judgments of God upon the utterly wicked, yet we cannot deny that God is indeed present in this age revealing his wrath generally so as to call all men to repentance. We should use this time to show the love of Christ that has been shown to us particularly to the people of Haiti and to all the people of the nations, calling them to repent and to turn to Christ lest they likewise perish forever at the Coming of our Lord. Amen.