Question: Considering the catastrophic devastation in Japan, how can you be so certain that extreme weather, earthquakes, animal deaths, and even nuclear disaster have nothing to do with divine judgment [TBC Extra, 3/11]? Did not God work "signs and wonders" upon the earth as a means of judging Israel as well as Egypt and other pagan nations? Since He never changes, why would God not be using "nature" in this way today?
Response: There is no doubt that God can, and does, intervene miraculously in our world today. Furthermore, His past judgment of Israel, Egypt, and other people groups (like Sodom and Gomorrah) continues to be instructive for modern generations. In fact, Scripture says these things happened as an "ensample" (2 Pt 2:6). In fairness to our Creator, however, these catastrophic judgments were the direct fulfillment of divine "if...then" statements. Although this principle still operates today, it is in the context of God's great grace, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ:
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (Jn:3:17)
This current Age of Grace, however, does not let mankind off the hook: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal:6:7). In many cases, there can be a direct and immediate penalty for sin—as illustrated in sexually transmitted diseases, for example, which Romans:1:27 tells us is a fitting "recompence of their error."
"How long, O Lord?" is an increasingly common cry as believers witness the present prosperity of the wicked. But as the Lord revealed to a humbled and repentant Asaph(Ps 73), this final judgment will be certain and swift—and it is yet future.
In the same way, the present earth is indeed under "judgment" as a result of the fall: "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Rom:8:22). Some of these birthpangs include "natural" disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, which can often trigger further death and devastation, as illustrated by the tragic nuclear plant catastrophe in Japan.
In this dispensation, however, it is wrong to assume that all of these are overt "Acts of God," as the customary insurance term suggests. Rather, it should be clear that most can be understood as the natural result of entropy (sin/death/decay), set in motion by the Fall. Furthermore, as previously discussed, these "natural" disasters can be greatly exacerbated by the sin of mankind, through weapons of mass destruction and lethal technology—including conventional, nuclear, biochemical, and electromagnetic.
Indeed, since the advent of the atomic bomb, many respected prophecy scholars have speculated that the Bible may be describing a future nuclear war as part of the outpouring of God's wrath in the "great and terrible day of the Lord." Although this is certainly possible in the framework of Scripture, it is also important to note that no such weapons were needed to accomplish God's divine judgment at the Flood and in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
We know with certainty that God is a just God, and righteous. He is not the author of confusion and sin. We also know that both the righteous and the wicked are blessed and cursed, at various times, by circumstances and conditions on the earth, and that the Holy Spirit functions as a restrainer against the forces of darkness in this world. Therefore, it stands to reason that evil—including the direct and indirect consequences of sin—although divinely sanctioned, is not divinely caused. Compounding mankind's problems is Satan, who comes to "steal, kill, and destroy." It is the "Great Dragon," not God, who "roams to and fro, seeking whom he may devour."
Of course, the account of Job vividly illustrates this and documents that the atmospheric realm of earth, including its physical properties, is well within Satan's ability to manipulate. Nevertheless, when believers are adversely impacted by forces beyond their control, even these have the promise of working together for good (Rom:8:28) and in no way compromise God's sovereign control.
Jesus warned the disciples of "wars and rumours of wars," and most would agree that these are the result of human-caused conflict. When it comes to "famines and pestilences," however, it has only recently become possible for man to devise technologies that not only alter the weather (helping or harming crops) but also have the potential to cause horrific mass casualties through germ warfare. (Could man's increasing experimentation and industrialization of bio-chemical agents be a potential cause of so many "unexplained" symptoms of sickness today?) In addition, man's poor stewardship of earth's most valuable natural resource—pure water—is increasingly causing concern with regard to drought, famine, and disease.
Furthermore, the ability of modern scientists to "play God" with the sacred building blocks of life (animal, plant, and human DNA) is a very recent achievement on the timeline of history—which may also explain why certain "signs of the times," of which Jesus warned, are increasingly manifested today. It is important to note, however, that Scripture does not attribute any of these signs to God. "Wait a minute!" some will ask. "What about earthquakes? volcanoes? floods? hurricanes?"
Just as the world's most powerful men seek to harness the power of the atom—both for its profitable energy potential as well as its immense destructive force—they also seek to manipulate the earth's atmosphere and ionosphere. Many scientists believe that the earth's electromagnetic spectrum holds the key to the unlimited prosperity of mankind by "directing" geophysical events such as weather. Others point out the possibility of "weaponizing" these technologies, which some scientists maintain can be used to destroy climates and trigger catastrophic seismic events.
In a 1997 interview, William Cohen, Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, acknowledged:
Some countries...are engaging...in an eco-type of terrorism whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes [and] volcanoes remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves. There are plenty of ingenious minds out there that are at work finding ways in which they can wreak terror upon other nations. It's real. (http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=674 )
Does this sound like far-fetched science fiction? So, too, did the atom bomb prior to 1945. Presently, an abundance of evidence indicates that this technology not only exists but has been in "experimental" use for some time. Should this really be any surprise to us today, as our society hurtles into the End Times at the speed of a laser beam?
Recall that in addition to rebellion, one of the primary reasons that God confused the original universal language at the Tower of Babel was out of concern that "nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do" (Gn 11:6b). As Dave Hunt pointed out in 1998, an ad from Lockheed Corporation in Scientific American jubilantly proclaimed that it was "undoing the Babel effect."
Given the fact that Scripture tells us plainly that in the time of the end, "knowledge shall be increased," is it any wonder that science is once again declaring man to be divine? And, that through demonically inspired use of technology, he is now acquiring Frankenstein—like power to "create" and control life—which will lead once again to its ultimate corruption and potential destruction?
Man's frightening manipulation of created matter and energy is unquestionably playing a role in the signs of these increasingly perilous times—but even the "kings of the earth," who work to implement their "enlightened" Master Plan, will one day flee in fear to their underground bunkers and laboratories in their vain attempt to hide from God (Rv 6:15-17).
In conclusion, although Scripture foretells the prophetic signs (Mt 24, etc.) that are increasing today, they are not necessarily direct acts of divine judgment. Doctrinally, they are best understood as events that God allows rather than causes, as He lovingly waits:
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pt 3:9)