Thursday, February 24, 2011

Christchurch: "Why me?"

“Why Me?” “What have I done to deserve this?” These are questions we all ask at times of distress, and now especially those injured or bereaved in the Christchurch earthquake.

As we look to Libya it’s easier to find an answer, or at least someone to blame. Desperate people do desperate things, and the deranged Gadhafi is raining destruction on those for whom he is responsible.

But the answer may be closer to home than we are willing to admit. We are all aware of psycho-somatic illness; that the state of the mind affects the body. Similarly, the moral or immoral state of humankind affects the earth’s stability.

The escalating natural disasters: wildfires, floods, storms, global warming, landslides, and earthquakes are a simple cause and effect, just as the cause of a Libyan’s death is the effect of a shot from Gadhafi’s mercenary.

Scripture supports the claim that the instability of the earth results from sin. It commences with Adam (Genesis 3:18), continues with the nations (Leviticus 18:27–28), and Israel itself (Isaiah 32:12–13).

I can hear your complaint: “Are you suggesting my sin provokes all this?”

There is no hierarchy of sin. Our sin differs from Gadhafi only in degree, not substance. Jesus declared the thought as evil as the deed (Matthew 5:21–22 and 28). And as long as humankind—of which we are all a part—engages in murderous rampage, both in thought or deed, the planet will tremble.

Really, the answer to “Why me?” is “Why not me?” We all share common guilt—as much as we want to distance ourselves from Gadhafi—and all deserve the same fate. What is astonishing is that God offers us forgiveness, through Christ who paid our penalty, if we are prepared to recognize and repent of our sin.

That same amazing grace will finally answer the planet’s instability, when “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

And for those of us who suffer loss from the effects of sin, He offers the comfort we need (Psalm 23:4). 

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Arab Revolution

The remarkable events occurring across North Africa and the Middle East are a turning point in world history. They may prove to be as momentous for the Arab Muslim world as the Reformation was to Europe, the Americas, and Christianity in the sixteenth century.

There are many differences, but a major one stands out. The Christian Reformation was spearheaded by a few men and the simple idea that “the just shall live by faith”—not by works. In contrast, the Arab uprising is virtually leaderless, a spontaneous revolt of common people against decades of tyranny.

Morroco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt across North Africa, and Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, and even Iran in the Middle East are facing thousands demanding democratic reforms, higher wages, and cheaper food prices.

Responses have been wildly different. In Bahrain, the army was pulled back and the police fled. The king is trying appeasement. He has even called a day of mourning for those killed by security forces. Like Egypt, with no clear agenda, the outcome is uncertain.

In contrast, Libya’s Gaddaffi has killed hundreds in the last few days in an attempt to quell the protests. Despite this, today, the Libyan parliament building is burning and police stations are wrecked. Some security forces have defected to the protesters; the country may be poised for civil war.

The Arab nations in the gulf, apart from Bahrain, have so far escaped turmoil, probably because of higher living standards in the oil producing countries, but also the ruthless reign of the Saudi Arabian monarchy. But, like Bahrain, they are not exempt from demands for political reform.

It will take at least the rest of this year to observe how the Arab landscape has changed. It will almost certainly affect the West that still depends on Middle East oil. But the effect on Israel could be disastrous, depending on alignment of Arab nations for or against Israel.

I often wonder why God chose that particular place in the world for Israel to dwell. Any of us could have done a better job of providing a more secure place for the chosen nation. And Christ was clear, Israel has yet to face its greatest distress (Matthew 24:21). Why place Israel in a sea of hostile nations?

God is the Lord of history. He has always been the source of Israel’s defence, but Israel has repeatedly made alliances with other nations for security. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help” has a modern ring to it. But God will be its ultimate liberator:
“like birds hovering overhead.
The LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem;
He will shield it and deliver it,
He will ‘pass over’ it and rescue it” (Isaiah 31:1 and 5)

These events can also encourage us personally. Because as God is the Lord of history and Israel’s defender, He can surely bring us through “our light and momentary troubles . . . For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18).