Izzy Folau is in the headlines again.
Like last time, he’s been trending on social media. He’s been condemned in the mainstream media. And this time it’s because of a sermon he preached at his church on Sunday.
His sermon was aimed mostly at non-Christian Australia, and Folau linked same-sex marriage and abortion to our recent drought and bushfires:
[Australia], [y]ou have changed the law and changed the ordinances of [marriage and abortion]. Look how rapidly all these droughts and all these bushfires have come in a short period of time. Is it a coincidence or not? God is speaking to you… Australia. You need to repent and take these laws and turn. Find what is right and turn it back to what is right by God – what God says in his Word.
Later in the sermon he says:
What you see right now out in the world is a taste of… God’s judgement [that’s] coming… God is speaking to those able to listen to repent and turn away from this… [That] all these natural disasters are happening is no coincidence.’
At this, mainstream and social media went into meltdown. Even long-time supporter Alan Jones criticised Izzy, and told him to ‘button up’. Prime Minister Scott Morrison found Folau’s comments ‘appallingly insensitive’.
What are we to make of this all?
Well, many Christians would agree with the PM that Folau’s comments are insensitive. Others would applaud Folau for his openness about God’s judgement, and God’s love (Folau did call people to repent and turn to Jesus in his sermon).
But I want to dig a little deeper, and engage with what Folau said about God’s judgement.
When it comes to God’s judgement, Folau has some things wrong. And one thing right.
1) Folau Misreads the Bible When He Links Current Natural Disasters to Same-Sex Marriage and Abortion
Folau links the current drought and fires to same-sex marriage and abortion. These natural disasters have happened, according to Folau, because Australia has ‘changed the law and changed the ordinances of [marriage and abortion].’
He bases this not on any message he’s personally received from God, but on his reading of Isaiah 24:5-6, which reads:
The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, and those who dwell in it are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left.’
Isaiah 24:5-6 (NKJV)
This passage poetically describes God’s judgement on all the earth. Humanity has rejected God’s laws. And so, God’s judgement comes.
In this judgement, the earth will be emptied of humanity (Is 24:1, 2, 6). God will violently shake the whole earth with apocalyptic fury (Is 24:19). And it will be a final judgement on all evil (Is 24:21-23).
And therein lies the problem: Isaiah 24 isn’t referring to a judgement at a particular time and place. Nor is it giving general principles about God’s judgement, that we’re encouraged to apply to our situation today. Isaiah is prophesying about God’s final and universal judgement on the whole planet.
And so, if we try and read in our situation into the passage, we run into trouble.
For example, although God’s judgement against those who forsake his law includes the earth burning, it also comes with numerous people dying (‘…and few men are left’). But at last count, 4 people have died in these bushfires – tragic, yes: but not the same situation as Isaiah 24:5-6.
Our current natural disasters don’t fit into Isaiah’s prophecy.
And this leads to another important principle:
2) God Doesn’t Promise To Reveal the Specific Reasons Why Certain Things Happen
Including Natural Disasters.
God doesn’t promise to reveal all the reasons why bad things happen. While we can glean some general reasons from God’s Word (e.g. God brings suffering to shape our character – Heb 12:7), the exact reasoning remains a mystery to us.
God often stays silent during tragedy. Whether it be the national tragedy of drought and bushfire. Or the personal tragedy of losing a child.
God doesn’t promise to reveal why He allows certain disasters to happen – at least not in this lifetime.
More often than not, when disaster strikes, Heaven is silent.
Yes, there are many places in the Bible where God does reveal his specific reasons for particular calamities. Read through any of the minor prophets in the Old Testament – such as Amos, Malachi or Habakkuk – and God gives His reasons why He sends calamity onto a people (e.g. Amos 4:6-11).
But God hasn’t revealed His specific reasons for these bushfires or drought. The Bible doesn’t promise such illumination. And so, we do well not to speculate.
3) God Doesn’t Treat People In This Life According to Their Sin.
He does good both to the righteous and the unrighteous.
In his sermon, Folau seems to assume that God operates on a spiritual cause and effect principle when it comes to sin in this world. If bad things happen to people, then sin must be involved. If a nation is struggling with natural disasters, then it’s because that nation is guilty of serious sin.
Put simply, the cause of sin leads to the effect of judgement.
But when it comes to sin and judgement in our world, God doesn’t promise to operate in this cause-and-effect way. On the contrary, ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matt 5:45). (That includes 21st century Australians).
Furthermore, a cause and effect view of God also breaks down on the shores of reality.
Take national calamities.
If, as Folau argued, God punishes nations for the crimes of forsaking His laws (as seen in same-sex marriage and abortion), then why did God punish the World War 1 generation of Europeans with the cataclysm of war?
What did the Europeans of World War 1 do that was so much more grievous in God’s eyes, than modern-day Australians?
After all, they didn’t have same-sex marriage or abortion. The majority of Europeans in 1914 were church going (unlike Australia today). And so, why did they suffer so much more than our generation?
It doesn’t make sense.
And the same problem appears at the level of personal tragedy:
I have godly Christian friends that have had all sorts of disaster strike them. Whether still-born babies. Severe mental health struggles. Or infertility.
And on the flip side, I have many non-Christian friends – people who outright reject God – that have been spared these difficulties.
God doesn’t treat people in this lifetime according to their sin.
4) What Izzy Got Right.
The world as a whole is under God’s Judgement and this points to God’s Final Judgement.
And yet, I think Folau does make a valid point, when he says:
What you see right now out in the world is a taste of… God’s judgement [that’s] coming.’
The bush-fires. The drought. Death. These all result from God’s judgement on our world now – ever since God cursed creation in Genesis 3:17-19. The world isn’t the way it’s meant to be. It’s under God’s curse. It’s broken.
And in the Bible this brokenness points forward to a future judgement. It’s a sign that all is not right, and justice is coming.
The apostle Paul writes about creation ‘groaning as in the pains of childbirth’, waiting ‘to be set free from its bondage to corruption’ (Rom 8:22,21). Creation is looking forward to the day when our physical bodies will be redeemed from decay and brokenness (Rom 8:23). In other words, our broken creation is looking forward to Judgement Day. When evil will be punished. And a new resurrected world is ushered in.
Of course, only those who are in Christ Jesus will be saved from Judgement on that day (Rom 8:1-11).
So along with Folau, we can look at the bushfires, and the drought, and say ‘these awful things point to a day of judgement that’s coming on the whole world – but those who have bowed the knee to Christ Jesus will be rescued from it.’
5) Jesus Didn’t Blame People for Natural Disasters
But used them as a reminder of the God’s Final Judgement.
Jesus was asked about a tragedy that occurred in his day – namely when the tower of Siloam in Jerusalem fell onto 18 people, killing them all (Luke 13:1-5).
Jesus’ answer to this tragedy is illuminating:
Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus’ hearers were asking ‘what did these people do wrong to deserve such a death?’. Not unlike Folau, they assumed such tragedies are God’s judgement for specific sins.
But Jesus doesn’t link tragedy to specific sins that the victims did. He doesn’t blame people for the tragedies that happen to them.
Instead, He uses these tragedies as a warning for the rest of us: ‘these people weren’t any worse than you. So unless you repent and turn to God for forgiveness, you too will suffer judgement at God’s hands.’
6) Folau’s View of God’s Judgement is Too Optimistic
It implies if a nation steers clear of certain sins, God’s judgement won’t come.
Finally, Folau’s view of God’s judgement seems too optimistic.
When it comes to his view of judgement in the here and now, he assumes that if a nation steers clear of gross immorality (like abortion and same-sex marriage), it won’t suffer God’s judgement (at least not in the form of disasters like bushfire and drought). God only cares about the big ticket items of sin, it would seem.
But these ‘big ticket’ items of sin – whether as a nation or as individuals – are only symptoms of a deeper, bigger problem that we all face. Namely the rejection of God’s rule over our lives. Of falling short of His glory. It’s not a problem that we can fix by passing the right laws (or repealing bad ones).
Yes, we can and should call out such acts of evil as abortion and warped views of marriage. We should promote God’s way as the best way.
But no amount of political or moral change will remove our problem of sin, or avert God’s judgement. (Folau did call on all people to repent and turn to Jesus in his sermon, which was good: it wasn’t merely about living morally to avert God’s judgement).
#IstandwithFolau on Religious Freedom, But Not On Bushfires and Judgement.
There are many things that I admire about Israel Folau. His character, his determination to stand for religious freedom (even though it has cost him so much). I’ve defended Izzy’s religious freedom many times on this blog, and so let me be clear: when it comes to religious freedom, #IstandwithFolau.
But when it comes to his view of bushfires and drought being a form of God’s judgement, I respectfully disagree. I pray that Folau becomes clearer on God’s judgement, and speaks into the public square with more sensitivity to the nation’s emotional temperature – but that’s for another blogpost.
Originally published at AkosBalogh.com