God's Judgment

After the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo mused, "I think it is tembatsu (divine punishment)" presumably for the Japanese being tainted with egoism and populism. Meanwhile, a Russian Orthodox priest, Alexandr Shumsky, wrote (use Google Translate to read an English translation) that the catastrophe must be a judgment of God, significant as occurring during Lent, for the technological progress toward a new world order and for an offense some in Japan caused against the motherland of Russia.

A recent poll showed that while 56% of Americans believe God is in control of everything, 38% of Americans responded that natural disasters are a sign from God with 29% believing that such disasters could be divine punishment. Among white evangelicals, 53% believed that God punishes nations for the sins of its citizens.

I've recently been reading some sections in the Book of Mormon that have some relevance to this issue. This post provides some reflection on the issue: "Does God use calamities to accomplish His work, and if so, how?"

In Helaman 12:3, Mormon summarizes a lesson learned after Nephi asked that the warring among his people be replaced by a famine so that the people would repent: "And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him."

At the death of Christ at Jerusalem, the Book of Mormon records earthquakes and great destruction among its people. The people cried, "O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and then would our brethren have been spared, and they would not have been burned in that great city Zarahemla" and "O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and had not killed and stoned the prophets, and cast them out; then would our mothers and our fair daughters, and our children have been spared, and not have been buried up in that great city Moronihah" (3 Nephi 8:24-25).

Finally, the voice of God directly connected the destruction to the wickedness of the people. "
It is because of their iniquity and abominations that they are fallen!" (3 Nephi 9:2). He then declares the fate of many cities, adding that they were destroyed "to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up any more unto me against them" (3 Nephi 9:8). Of those who survived, Mormon summarized, "And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not; and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared" (3 Nephi 10:12).

In fact, the voice of warning to repent is a thread throughout the Book of Mormon, aligning with the covenant God made with Israel, that in righteousness they would be blessed but in wickedness they would be cursed (Deuteronomy 28). For example, Enos wrote, "And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction" (Enos 1:23).

Modern revelation continues the warning voice. Joseph Smith recorded: "For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand. And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds" (D&C 88:89-90).

The official Proclamation on the Family of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes the statement, "Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."

So what are we to make of these statements? I think the scriptures make it clear that natural and man-induced calamities are in the heavenly play-book as instruments to draw us back to God's influence. But this is not to say that all calamities are God's punishments. So how on earth can we know heaven's intent regarding calamities? In my view, most likely this shouldn't be our question.

The Savior taught directly to this subject during His ministry. Speaking of a massacre of Galilæans, He asked, "Suppose ye that these Galilæans were sinners above all the Galilæans, because they suffered such things?" And he also asked, "Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?" To both questions, he responded, "Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (See Luke 13:1-5.)

What conclusions can I draw?
  • Calamities should always serve as a voice of warning, an opportunity to reflect on my need to repent.
  • God has warned, through prophets, that destruction will come when the people are fully ripe in iniquity. More recently, latter-day prophets have warned that calamities will follow because of the disintegration of the family.
It is, gratefully, not my position to determine when a disaster represents the judgment of God, even though my faith leads me to believe that such judgment must ultimately come. A more sensitive question seems to be if it is possible that a calamity might be a judgment, particularly in the case that obviously good people suffer in that calamity.

This is a blog. That will have to wait for another post.

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