Is Hurricane Harvey a Judgment from God?

Hurricane Harvey

Every time a calamity hits the United States, some religious leaders make the claim that it’s a judgment from God for the sins of our nation. But is this view doctrinal? Is God pouring out judgment, or wrath, on the world at this time?

I admit I used to believe this, but I now believe that ministries which focus on God’s judgment on America are teaching wrong doctrine that doesn’t hold up under scriptural scrutiny because they ignore the forbearance aspect of Christ’s atonement.

1 John 2:2 says, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Why does it say the blood of Christ was shed for the whole world? I don’t believe this means there is a universal salvation, but that the atonement of Jesus provides a universal forbearance of God’s wrath against the nations.

The word “propitiation” means “to appease wrath, cover.” Through the blood of Christ the world is in a state of peace or favor (as announced by the angels on the day of Jesus’ birth) with God until a specified “day of wrath” to come.

As I read the New Testament, I see that there is a “Day of Wrath” (Revelation 6:17, Romans 2:5) and a “Day of Judgment” (2 Peter 2:9, 2 Peter 3:7, 1 John 4:17). In other words, God’s judgment is delayed; it isn’t for now. The powerful blood of Jesus is holding it back!

This “day of wrath” will finally come when Jesus opens the seventh seal of the scroll. The scriptures teach that only Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, is worthy to open the seals on the scroll:

“And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” (Revelation 5:9)

After the sixth seal is opened, the sun is darkened, the church is gathered to meet Jesus, and we see the people of the earth hiding and crying out:

Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”   (Revelation 6:17)

It’s important to explain that according to Jesus, God isn’t judging anyone at this time. “For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son.” (John 5:22) This is important because Jesus isn’t judging at this time, either. His atoning and propitiating blood which was poured on the mercy seat is holding back wrath until the appointed Day! This gives all people an opportunity to repent.

During this space of time, the patience and forbearance of God is in effect for the whole world. Romans 2:4 says:

“Or despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance. But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” 

Notice that God’s wrath and judgment will be revealed in the future. (Note also that it’s not the judgments of God that lead to repentance, but the “goodness.”

There are many problems with saying that things like hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks are judgments which have come directly from the hand of God. For one thing, the use of mass calamity to indiscriminately pour out the wrath of God on the just and the unjust would mean that God is not a righteous judge.

We know that when God revealed his wrath to the world for the first time, Noah preached for a long period of time, yet none received his message. It was only then that God allowed the rain to fall. We also know that when God revealed to Abraham that he was judging Sodom, there were no righteous men to save, but God rescued “righteous Noah” and his family, and Lot and his family, before he poured out his wrath.

So, if Hurricane Harvey was a judgment, as some ministries have proclaimed, then God’s judgment has fallen on the saved and the unsaved, the just and the unjust. This isn’t God’s pattern of judgment. Instead, the scriptures promise that Jesus will gather his church before wrath is poured out on the earth. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says, “God has not appointed us [Christians] to wrath.” Were any Christians harmed during Hurricane Harvey? If so, how could it be the wrath of God, since Christians are not appointed to wrath?

But you might ask, what about Romans 1:18?:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)

I believe this verse is merely an explanation of the wickedness of the Gentiles and why God judged them. The phrase “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven” is true. The wrath of God is being revealed to us from heaven–through the Word.

This scripture is explaining that God destroyed wickedness once before, revealing His wrath against evil, but this doesn’t mean that His wrath is being poured out at this time. Remember that the Father judges no man, but has committed that judgment to His Son, whose blood atonement is holding back, or appeasing, the wrath of God for a time.

This is why the rest of the verses in Romans 1 are in the past tense. They refer to things that happened in the past (the world before the Flood and before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah).

Part of the purpose of the letter to the Romans was to show that the Jews believed the Gentiles were deserving of God’s wrath, and somehow they, as God’s chosen people, could escape it, but Romans 2 explains that the “us/them” predisposition to judge the Gentiles was wrong because the Jews were guilty of sinning also! This is why Paul reminded them: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)

It was this mindset that Jesus warned his disciples against when they wanted to call down fire from heaven in judgment against the Samaritans for rejecting the ministry of Jesus. (Luke 9:52-55). Jesus was upset with James and John for suggesting this and turned and rebuked them, saying, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” (Luke 9:55) Jesus also explained that it was wrong to assume that things like falling towers were judgments against particularly bad sinners. (Luke 13:4)

This present attitude of forbearance is also to be carried out by the church. We are commanded to turn the other cheek, forgive seventy times seven, love our enemies, be patient, be kind, and judge not lest we be judged. Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor when beginning his ministry. We are to carry out this same proclamation! But the proclamation isn’t going to be true forever. That is why Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

If Romans 1:18 means that the wrath of God is constantly being poured out on humanity in judgment against sin, then why are there appointed days of wrath and judgment? Is there a pre-“Day of Wrath” wrath? Is grace now being mingled with wrath? Is the blood of Jesus not strong enough, so God loses his patience and occasionally bursts out to “smite” the nations?”

No! Romans 1 is merely explaining that God’s wrath, poured out (past tense) during the Flood, or on Sodom, has happened before, and is now (present tense) being revealed to us through the Word as a warning that it will happen again.

The other position—that God’s wrath is constantly being revealed (in a physical sense) against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness”—is inconsistent with the rest of the New Testament. It’s even inconsistent with the rest of Paul’s letter to the Romans which says that there is a day of wrath (Romans 2:5), rather than a continually manifesting wrath.

Yes, there are other explanations for natural disasters, terrorism, and economic collapse. A nation can reap what it sows. Evil exists. We can be experiencing birth pangs as the return of Jesus draws nearer, but these things are not from God! God is not judging any man or indiscriminately pouring out His wrath. Instead, the whole world is under a period of God’s grace. That is why “NOW is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthian 6:2)

Is it possible that much of the church (myself included) could have overlooked this important aspect of the atonement of Jesus? And is it possible that we have disparaged the character of our God, by ascribing to Him actions that are unjust and incompatible with the Gospel?

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