Thursday, July 05, 2007

Proclaiming God's judgment

As reported in the London Telegraph, one Church of England bishop is getting attention for daring to suggest that the recent flooding in England might be a sign of God's judgment and is interpreting it as a call to repentance. As reported:

The Rt Rev Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, argued that the floods are not just a result of a lack of respect for the planet, but also a judgment on society's moral decadence. "This is a strong and definite judgment because the world has been arrogant in going its own way," he said. "We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation, as well as the environmental damage that we have caused."

Of course, the angry ones insist that this is all about sex. However, Bishop Richard Chartres of London, concurred with the call to repentance (and of keeping things in perspective) when he said: "We are all part of the problem and part of the solution. Instead of living as if we owned the earth we need to recover a sense of being participants in a web of life with responsibilities to other life forms and to our children."

It made me think back to the wonderful little book The Christian Priest Today, by the late Archbishop of Canterbury A. Michael Ramsey. He has a chapter in the book called "Preaching God Today" in which he notes the following (spelling has not been americanized):

There is another kind of "death of God" malaise, very different from the foregoing. There are people with keen minds and a religious spirit whose sensitivity to the suffering widespread in the contemporary world sets them asking: Where is God, and what is God doing? We claim that God is sovereign, that the world is in his hands, that he has re­deemed it by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But where is he in the world today? Is he asleep? Has he gone away? Is God dead? The will to believe is there; reflection upon contemporary existence smashes it.

Here I would suggest the beginning of our answer. Recall a biblical doctrine too often forgotten, the doctrine of divine judgement. When men and nations turn away from God's laws and prefer the courses dictated by pride and selfishness to the courses dictated by conscience, calamitous results follow. God is not absent from the contemporary scene; he is present, present in judgement through the catastrophes which follow human wilfulness. And nowhere is the divine judgement as the working out of the consequences of human folly put more trenchantly than in the words of the Psalmist: "So he gave them their hearts' desire, and sent leanness withal into their souls". God is not dead, let that be our message; God is here, here in judgement. And as the judge­ment of God is accepted and felt, so in the same moment may his loving kindness and mercy be found. "My song shall be of mercy and judgement", to quote the Psalmist once again. Let it however be remembered that divine judgement falls first upon God's people the Church. It was so under the old covenant, it is so under the new, for St Peter reminds us that "judgement begins at the house of God" (1 Peter 4.17). The Church shows the message of divine judgement to the world as she sees the judgement upon herself and begins to mend her ways. . . .

The recovery of the doctrine of the divine judgement about which I was speaking is a direct appeal to biblical truth. But let the appeal be to the whole of the biblical concept, adumbrated in the Psalms and maturely gathered up in St John. The supreme act of the divine judgement is the coming of Christ: "and this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light for their deeds were evil". It must be in the figure of Jesus crucified and risen that we present the divine judge­ment and the divine mercy. I see no other way of bringing the themes of sovereignty, power, compassion, judgement, home to our contemporaries except in terms of Jesus in whom these divine actions are focused.

While I think human disasters present a clearer example than natural disasters, I think the critics of Bishop Dow's comments on God's judgment and the recent English flooding have a fundamental misunderstanding. It is not about assigning blame; it is about taking advantage of every opportunity to heed the call to repentance and faith. The ministry of proclamation is to facilitate that process.

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