Monday, December 05, 2005

Discussion on New Orleans and God

This discussion took place on the Peace and Justice Forum of the PNMC:

Thank you for this information. I know some of us may not be comfortable with this or with the idea that God speaks prophetically today such as this. I am most concerned when we who call ourselves followers of The Way disregard the written Word of God. I for one was very thankful for our conference Bible teacher, William Higgins, when he responded to J. Denny Weaver on the “Workshop on a Non-violent Atonement” as J. Denny simply disregarded many scriptures to propagate a theory which ignores that God Himself provided the sacrifice for our sins and God alone determined the manner in which it would happen. God alone (Deut) established that there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood. Isn’t it marvelous that Jesus shed his blood for the whole world so there is no longer a need for the blood of others to be shed! Byron Shenk

“I found those 2,000 verses on the poor. How did I miss that? I went to Bible college, two seminaries, and I got a doctorate. How did I miss God's compassion for the poor? I was not seeing all the purposes of God. The church is the body of Christ. The hands and feet have been amputated and we're just a big mouth, known more for what we're against."
Steve, this something you sent some time ago. How do you reconcile the two? I can agree more with the above quotation than with the essence of the prophecy. I have spent much of my life under the leftovers of being taught that God is a vengeful God rather than the loving God that sent us Jesus to show to us what is a cross-bearing life that we are challenged to follow other than in name. But to me that does not mean condemning people. It seems to me that Jesus might have felt more at home on Bourbon Street in N.O. than in the temples of the megachurches or perhaps in some of the smugness in the Mennonite and other well-known evangelical churches that wish to remain orthodox above every thing else.
I admire you, Steve, for your work with the homeless. Would that some more of us would feel the same passion. So it saddens me a bit that your are distracted by prophecies that wherever their source seem to be in disagreement with the loving God incarnated in the loving Jesus and who seeks to be incarnated in us.
Larry Eby

Thanks for your response, Larry. I understand your confusion. It would be difficult to reconcile a God of full mercy with a God who judges. But Jesus' God is a God of mercy who assists everyone (Matt 5:44), and also a God who judges the wicked, especially the oppressors and the hypocrites (Matt 23; Luke 13:1-5). And God is the same now as then.

I read last month an article by Tony Campolo about how Katrina couldn't be God's judgment because the poor were the ones worst hurt by the hurricane, and the poor are God's people, he couldn't be judging them. While I firmly agree with Dr. Campolo that the poor are God's people, I respectfully disagree with him that the hurricane isn't God's judgment based on Amos 6.

Yes, the poor were terribly hurt by this. But the poor in New Orleans were hurt, not because of God's judgment, but because the wealthy and powerful in New Orleans and Louisiana did not provide for the poor, what they could easily provide-- transportation to escape. All of the poor would have left, staying in shelters somewhere else, if only it had been provided them.

As I have written previously, the powerful didn't help the poor simply out of their ignorance, not out of hatred of the poor. However, it is the responsibility of those who have resources and wealth to provide for the needs of those who do not have. And the poor being harmed in New Orleans is the result of the attitude of focusing one's compassion only on "one's own".

I understand that this seems contradictory. It is not. If you can't understand it, I respectfully recommend that you meditate on it. Otherwise the Bible and the God of Jesus just makes no sense.
Steve Kimes

While I appreciate your work with the homeless, Steve, I can't let your interpretation of prophecy pass without a comment. My first question is how do you know that New Orleans is or was more deserving of judgment than any other American City? Just because New Orleans is well known for its drunken debauchery doesn't mean that God automatically regards that city as more sinful and deserving of judgment. What about all the American suburbs filled with self-satisfied people who are ignoring the needs of the poor? Aren't they equally as sinful? Why didn't the hurricane hit them instead?Secondly, if God really intended to make New Orleans the target of his judgment , then why didn't the French Quarter get destroyed? One can make a very convincing argument that it is the most visibly sinful section of the city. Since the flooding barely touched the French Quarter, I must conclude that God either has a very bad aim or else that he intended to target the poor black sinners of the Ninth Ward and leave the wealthy residents of the French Quarter relatively unscathed.In my opinion, it's this kind of nonsense we get into whenever we fallible humans try to decide who is or who is not deserving of God's judgment. I prefer to focus on my own foibles and leave the judging to God.
An alternative interpretation is that God lets us suffer the consequences of our own stupidity. Building a city on ground that is well below sea level and then destroying the wetlands that protect the city is the ultimate in arrogance and hubris. Perhaps the message we are to receive from God is that it is folly to think we humans can control either God's creation or even our own destiny.Love in Christ, Joe Blowers

We only can know whether or not a catastrophe, like tsunamis, earthquakes or hurricanes, or military attacks like the attack on New York city, or America's attack on Afganistan are naturally caused, or divinely caused through the testimony of prophets. Bad things happen on earth that are not necessarily the hand of God (though I believe He is still sovereign over all). In the old testament, disasters and military invasions happened all the time like they do today. But it took the prophets to interpret the meaning of the disaster or military invasion.So the issues today are...a). does God still judge through military invasions and disasters. not all catastrophes, but specific ones.b). are there still prophets functioning?c). how do we test the prophets?These questions need to be answered generally before we can deal with specific events. If a person has no criteria for testing prophets then they'll blindly accept every prophecy they hear. If a person doesn't swallow the notion that God still judges through events that affect both the guilty and the innocent, then they won't accept a prophetic interpretation of an event.Personally, I believe that God does still judge this way and I believe that there are prophets still functioning. The only one I give attention to is David Wilkerson who ministers in New York whose heart is broken for New York pleading that they would repent and turn back to God. I know nothing of the prophet that Steve quoted. I believed that the New Orleans disaster could have been the hand of God just as i believed that the attack on the twin towers and the attack on Afghanistan could be the hand of God. But without confirmation of a prophet I trusted, I wasn't willing to commit to such, or to preach such. So where I struggle is with c). how do we test the prophets. The messages of prophets are often hard for us to accept because they make us very uncomfortable by railing against the status quo. And the temptation is to pridefully accept the message of a prophet when it is pointing at everyone but me. But if they are doing God's work, they will make _me_ uncomfortable. Or they will cause my heart to break for the people who under God's judgement.While I don't question the appropriateness of this subject to this forum, I wonder as a followup how this issue impacts us from a peace and justice perspective. Do we only use the term "justice" when it speaks of fair treatment of the oppressed and not use it to speak of appropriate measures for the oppressors? Would it not be a measure of peace to warn a group that they are susceptible to God's judgement if they do not repent? Was Jonah a peacemaker? I think he was. It seems that we only do peacemaking when it is testifying to the government to not use military action. But were we peacemakers by warning Sadaam Hussein that if he did not repent and turn from his sins, God was going to bring judgement on him and his nation. I think peacemaking is both sides of the coin, though we only give attention to one.
Jeffrey C. Long

Jeff, I think this is a very good point. I think that as peacemakers, we do not have the right to take the measure of justice against oppressors ourselves. We do not harm our enemies. However, we have the responsibility to warn oppressors that they would be judged by God. We don't necessarily have the responsibility to force change to oppressors. If people want to do that, it might be okay, but the more humble position is to speak to them God's truth and allow them to make their own decisions.
BTW, I do have a teaching which lays out how to test a prophet.
Steve K

1. I never said that New Orleans was worse than other cities. I said that God declared that a city isn't destroyed without his plan, and that he doesn't do it unless a prophecy is declared ahead of time to that effect. Since there WAS a prophecy to this effect, and the timing was right, I believe that we can confirm that it was done by God.

2. New Orleans, however, is a good target because they had a number of issues: They promoted sorcery, they also ignored their poor, and what was worse, they promoted the abuse of Christian tradition as an excuse for drunken debauchery-- Mardi Gras in particular.

3. I am not the one second-guessing God's plan or work. I have evidence to that effect. Where is your evidence that God does not act that way? What texts prove that God would never act in judgment? It seems that the requirement of proof is on the side saying "God wouldn't act that way"-- since we have clear evidence all throughout the Scripture that He does.
Steve Kimes

Of the answers I've read so far, I find that I agree most with Joe. Are we afraid to trust in a loving God who, as in the story of the prodigal, allows us to go our own way, but is waiting, not to hand out the punishment we deserve, but with open arms to welcome us back? This God, described by Jesus, is the one I choose to follow.
Tom Brenneman

Jesus prophesied destruction as well.
Jeffrey C. Long

The one thing that many people don't recognize when the use the prodigal son as their paradigm of salvation is that the prodigal repented of his sin first.

The paradigm of the prodigal son is as follows:
a. Rejection of the Father
b. Lifestyle of sin
c. Destruction due to lifestyle of sin
d. Realization of salvation of the Father
e. Return to Father
f. Confession/Repentance
g. Acceptance by the Father

New Orleans actually fits the prodigal son paradigm-- it's just that they are in the destruction part of the story. Some individuals are in the "realization" stage. But all of them still have the opportunity to repent and be accepted by the Father.

Jesus and Paul and Peter and the whole bible recognizes that God sometimes initiates destruction in people's lives. The New Testament paradigm is that God does it in order to save some people. This is certainly God's purpose for New Orleans.
Steve K.

Steve, your interpretation depends on what you mean by"first". I have heard this preached differently(multiple times). The father accepted the prodigalson before the son did any confession or repentance,as evidenced by the father's running to the son andembracing him upon the mere sight of him. It was*after* this acceptance that the son made hisconfession. Yes, the son had *planned* to repent,which is what led him home. But the father didn'trequire the words; he was just overjoyed to see hisson back home!This is a subtle but key distinction in thisdiscussion. And it is one that has always bothered meabout those who supposedly preach "salvation bygrace". Even though they profess this claim thatworks are not required, they still require the "work"of repentance prior to acceptance by God. In otherwords, they say that God won't love or accept us untiland unless we repent.In contrast, if God's love for us is constant and hiswelcome is always available, the "requirement" ofrepentance is only for our sakes. In other words,*we* can't accept God's love for us until we re-turnto God and recognize that God is there waiting for us,arms open wide. Repentance is crucial, but notbecause God requires it before he'll love us.

I appreciate your comments, and this discussion is helpful, I believe.

I understand that you have probably heard quite a bit of preaching on the prodigal son, but, of course, what we should most be interested in is what Jesus' point is, not any given pastor's point.

Jesus had given three parables about acceptance in Luke 15, and the main point is the same with all three. Jesus' explanation is given in this way:
"I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." and "In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:7, 10). If one looked at each of these parables-- that of the woman looking for a coin and a man looking for a sheep-- no indication of repentance is given. But Jesus inserts repentance into his interpretive statement of them.

In the prodigal son, the son did repent before the father accepted him. On the human level, the father would not have known about that repentance. All that is well and good. But we need to accept Jesus' interpretation, not restrict it to human limitation. Jesus' interpretation, and the reason the son is given a paragraph to describe his repentance before he reaches his father, is that the repentance is a pre-requisite of the father's acceptance.

This does not mean that God does not love everyone. Of course he does. He sent his son to die for everyone in the world because he loved the whole world-- Hitler, Stalin, Herod, everyone (John 3:16). And he offers rain and food to everyone, without exception to their sin (Matt. 5:45). But he does not offer his blessings, his kingdom, his full promises to everyone. Some are accepted, and some are judged (John 5). And some are judged in this life, by God's hand (Acts 5). That is how God works.

God is the God of mercy and forgiveness. And he is the God of judgment and vengeance. If God never gave vengeance, then it would be foolish for us to be sacrificed for peace. The way of the cross is founded on the fact that God judges the wicked. And those who do not repent will be judged (e.g. Luke 6:24-26; Luke 13:1-5).

And here's something that perhaps you didn't notice-- that even our forgiveness of other's can be limited by whether the sinner repents or not (Matt 18:15-17; Luke 17:3-4).

By the way, I never called myself a "grace" theologian. I am just interested in teaching what Jesus taught, doing what Jesus did-- no more, no less. To the degree Jesus showed grace, so will I. Inasmuch as Jesus limited grace, so will I. Jesus is the Savior, not I, so I must depend on Him to show me who to declare salvation to. And I still find that I usually have to preach "do not judge" and "forgive" more often than "rebuke the sinning brother".
Steve K

No comments: