I’m not sure of the final death toll in the Haitian earthquake. On 10 February the Haitian government reported the death toll to have reached 230,000. However, an investigation by Radio Netherlands has questioned the official death toll, reporting an estimate of 92,000 deaths as being a more realistic figure. It’s still a lot of people. The Tsunami caused by the earthquake in the Indian Ocean supposedly killed over 230,000 people in fourteen countries,
These and many other disasters are often called ‘Acts of God’. Whether it is fair to designate them thus, there is one ultimate disaster that God does lay claim to: the great universal Flood that wiped out all humans on earth bar eight. Of course, we don’t know how many humans there were on the planet at the time, but I think we can assume that in ten generations from Adam, each generation living for hundreds of years, there were many millions.
How could God justify killing so many of his creatures?
Atheists reject the idea that morality should be based on God’s ideas. They believe that mankind has ‘evolved’ a higher morality by which even a supposed ‘god’ must be judged. They would not accept a ‘god’ defence if such a morality were transgressed. People like David Koresh or Jim Jones could not fall back on the excuse “God told me to…” any more than a suicide bomber could, and if the Israelis justified exterminating the Palestinians in the same way that they exterminated the Amalekites, then they believe the whole world would be justified in turning on them.
Of course, if you believe in a just and righteous God then you have other ideas. For a believer God is the fount of all righteousness and true morality, and if something about modern morality does not gel with God’s ideas then modern morality must have the flaw.
Atheists, who believe God is a figment of men’s minds, are in effect judging the actions of previous generations of men, and doing so outside the historical context. Their judgment will be human, not divine, and historically biased.
So on what basis would God judge? As before, he would do so on the basis of ownership and eternity. All creatures belong to the Creator. We are his to do with what he likes. Should the clay say to the potter, “Shape me this way?” It’s ludicrous. Secondly, our wisdom is temporal. We do not know the future, nor what is best for us. It is hubristic to believe that we do. In history there are many occasions when all the evidence would point a particular way for a course of action, but the unknowns, were they known would demonstrate those actions as foolhardy. Our decisions are always contingent on the knowledge available. Thus we have Truman’s decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Was he correct? Philosophers continue to argue over the morality of the nuclear strike. From a utilitarian point of view it might be seen as the lesser of two evils; from a pacifist point of view it might be seen as an act of wanton evil. What absolute decision can be made?
God, who knows the future must be relied upon to do what is right. The hymn says that he is ‘slow to chide and swift to bless’. Consider the Flood.
After the sin of Adam and Eve, humanity multiplied rapidly, filling the earth, but just as humanity itself multiplied, so also did the sin of humanity. The sin of humanity reaches a crescendo up to Genesis chapter 6 when things get so bad that God regrets that he made man. Far from disdaining the sin of Cain, Lamech multiplies it.
Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. (Genesis 6:1-2)
There is some controversy over who these “sons of God” were. Some consider the sons of God to be fallen angels inter-married with women. However, we know that angels do not procreate (Mark 12:25). In Genesis 4:26 it indicates that the family line of Seth were known by the name of the Lord. Therefore, ‘the sons of God’ probably refers to the lineage of Seth and Enoch. Enoch, the seventh from Adam warned of judgment to come, “See the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his Holy ones to judge everyone and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 14-15) But now Seth’s offspring were intermarrying with evil families, diluting the lineage that followed after God. As a result, with the exception of Noah and his family, Seth’s offspring are now just as evil as the lineage of Cain. Humanity is now so sinful that God could not tolerate their sin any longer. If he were to save any he must act.
The Nephilim, which literally means “to fall upon,” were powerful, mighty warriors who would “fall upon” others. They were violent men who, in the tradition of Lamech, routinely killed and committed violence upon others (Genesis 6:4).
Every intent and thought of man was wicked (Genesis 6:5).
The earth was filled with violence and corruption. Murder had become the order of the day. Humanity no longer gave any regard to the image of God, but routinely exterminated that image for their own benefit (Genesis 6:11-12).
At this point there was only one family remaining who walked with God. So in the midst of this wickedness, God calls out Noah. He calls him to build an ark in which his family would be preserved through an oncoming flood of water. For 120 years Noah prepares the ark according to God’s specific instructions.
Did you notice that 120 years? Imagine what people would have said about this strange guy who was building a huge boat on dry land. This boat was a visual image – a sermon in gopher wood. In Peter’s second letter, Noah is called ‘a preacher of righteousness’.
The patience of God is remarkable. Such is his love for his creation that it is not his will that any should perish, but that they would turn from their wicked ways and live. But he could not force it. Mankind has freedom not to choose God.
So the people disparaged Noah and would not harken to him. In the end the rains came and flood arose and Noah and his family spend a year and twelve days in the ark. When they emerge, there is no-one left. Noah is in a sense a second Adam, a new creation, a fresh start.
God waited for generations until the wickedness became so corrupt and so pervasive that there was only one family left which followed Him. He did not systematically punish those who were evil, but waited until the evil was so bad that all hope was only one family away from being wiped out. This shows the longsuffering nature of God and the protection God desires for those who follow him.
The sin of humanity reached such a critical point, where if he had not acted, Noah and his family would have been destroyed, and so with him, the destruction of the Messianic line. Without the ark, the seed which was to become the salvation of humanity would have been lost. So God delivers Noah and his family.
It shows that God does not haphazardly dispense judgment. He waited until there was only one righteous family left, and even then he spared this family, not a pristine family, indeed still sinners, but one from which hope would emerge.
Many today would look at the world around us and see the same evil intent on our society. When we see genocide and murder rampant in our world, and we watch the persecution of Christians in Africa and Asia, we wonder why God with holds his judgment on this world.
The apostle Peter, writing to persecuted Christians in the first century, reminds us of the forbearance of God. He is withholding his judgment from the world, so that there might be time for more to repent and be delivered from judgment.
“…in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? ….when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that …the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2Peter 3:3-9)