“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land, or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. “ (2 Ch 7:13-14)
“There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places . . . ” (Luke 21:11)
The word God spoke to Solomon after the dedication of the temple, and the prophecy Jesus gave His disciples about the coming destruction of that same temple are strikingly similar. That shouldn’t be a surprise: God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. His character, will and purposes don’t change, and He makes clear what they involve for our character, our purposes and our will.
Unlike God, we mostly opt to take the “good parts” of His revelation and ignore the other stuff. It’s little wonder that we end up with a very lopsided view of God and our relationship to Him. We choose not to see Him as He is, but as we would like Him to be. In fact, we often try to create God in our own image.
In the rush to focus on God’s love and provision, we can breeze right past His holiness and justice. We like the Scriptures about being rescued and miraculously healed. We don’t talk so much about the times when judgment was imposed on people who refused to listen to repeated warnings.
When I read the 2 Ch. verses, it’s impossible not to think of the recent devastating droughts and resulting wildfires in both California and Australia. Currently, hundreds of billions of locusts are devouring East Africa’s food supply as famine threatens. There’s no escaping the impact of the worldwide plague that is Covid-19.
Why, we might ask, would God bring about such drought, devastation and disease? A better question would be: “Why would we?” Another one is, “What is God trying to tell us?”
Throughout the ages, God has exercised incredible patience with us. He has warned us, clearly and in no uncertain terms, of what rejecting what is right and insisting on doing our own thing will lead to. The warnings haven’t been whispered or hard to access. They haven’t been given just a few times or to just a few people. And, sadly, we’re no better at listening than those who came before us.
We are good, however, at hearing these warnings as directed to other people, and not us — at least I am. I’m very aware of many of my shortcomings (I seriously doubt I’ve recognized them all), but I usually don’t think of myself as bad. If I do, there are always people who are worse. But shifting the focus to others keeps me from paying attention to what God wants me to hear. I’d much prefer not to hear it, so it’s easy to think it doesn’t apply to me.
This human propensity to twist the truth into what we want it to be is pointedly evident right now. I don’t have to look further than my own neighborhood (I couldn’t anyway, because it’s where I’ve been constantly for the past several weeks). While many people seem to be putting their community first and following public health instructions, there are some who are having regular family visits, socializing with neighbors, and driving somewhere at least once a day. They’re hearing the same warnings as the rest of us, but appear to have decided they are immune. That their disregard could be devastating for others doesn’t seem to occur to them. They don’t believe the situation is serious; therefore it isn’t. Clearly, their interests are paramount.
Throughout the Old Testament, God repeatedly warned His people when they were going astray. When they persisted and persisted and persisted in not listening, He pronounced judgment. It was clearly not something God wanted or enjoyed. It was, however, the only thing that seemed to get their attention and galvanize them to turn things around.
I’m convinced God has been trying to get our attention. Part of His justice is allowing us to take the consequences of our own actions. I believe the severe storms, devastating fires, floods and earthquakes we’ve experienced in the recent past are the consequences of rampant greed and exploitation of the earth’s resources with no thought for future generations. Now, throughout the Western world at least, people tired of self isolation are clamoring to get back to “normal.”
If “normal” means a return to the frantic pursuit of money and indulgences, a lust for more and better, a self-imposed busyness that leaves no room for God, a deterioration of family life, an ingrained “me first” mentality, and a pronounced sense of entitlement, then I fervently hope things will never be normal again.
With all my heart, I believe that God is calling us not just to stop, but to think. We need to do some serious reflection on how — or even if — we relate to Him, and about how we should relate to others. What do we value, and what priority do those values have? Do we really need all the latest clothing made by impoverished people in unsafe factories? Does our convenience really justify filling the oceans with plastic? How much carbon do we need to put into the air because we forgot one thing at the grocery store or just want to drive around when we’re bored?
Most important of all, how might God use us as witnesses to His salvation? How hard are we trying to listen to His promptings? Who might He lead us to befriend just because He put them in our path?
Has He got our attention yet?
Precious Father, I pray that we will humble ourselves, and seek Your face. I ask that we will turn from our self-centred ways and pave the way for You to forgive us and heal our land. I ask it in the precious and powerful name of Jesus. Amen.