Why Israel Folau is Right about Disasters and the Judgment of God

26 November 2019

4.5 MINS

Izzy Folau is in the news again for saying something offensive. This time it’s not because of something he posted on social media, but what he said in church. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to listen his twelve-minute sermon before reading any further…

Posted by The Truth of Jesus Christ Church Sydney on Saturday, 16 November 2019

However, this time it was not only those in the unbelieving media who were quick to pour scorn on Folau, but many within the Christian Church were eager to distance themselves as well. Everyone from the Prime Minister Scott Morrison—who said that Folau’s comments were “appallingly insensitive”—to Brian Houston who wrote on Twitter:

But Houston’s tweet exposes two major flaws that are common amongst Christians today. The first is that Houston seems to believe in a kind of theological ‘deism’ where the LORD is not in control of everything that occurs, but only there to provide “goodness and grace”. But this is far short of the Biblical picture of God being sovereign even over disasters (see Amos 3:6; Matthew 10:29; Revelation 6).

The other problem is it not only lacks pastoral sensitivity, but seems to suggest that we should never emphasise the judgment of God. Ironically, the quote from the second half of James 2:13 seems to suggest that God is again only interested in showing mercy and not judgment. But the words just before this show that it’s talking about how we should relate to one another, rather than how the LORD relates to us.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Maybe it’s Pastor Houston, though, who should be showing his fellow believer ‘mercy’ rather than ‘judgment’ in publicly condemning his words…?

But as if these two examples were not bad enough, then along came the Centre for Public Christianity, who issued the following media release:

Once again, there are a number of significant flaws with this particular statement. In fact, one could even argue that each and every paragraph is erroneous —

First, how can a Christian organisation state that they categorically reject the statement that “bushfires and droughts should be taken as warning judgments from God” without also denying the sovereign hand of God in all things calling on people to repent? (i.e. Psalm 2:10-12; Revelation 9:20-21) As John Piper writes:

Diseases and deformities are God’s portraits of what sin is like in the spiritual realm. That is true even though some of the most godly people bear those deformities. Calamities are God’s previews of what sin deserves and will one day receive in judgment a thousand times worse. They are warnings. And that is true even when they sweep away Christ-followers and Christ-rejectors.

Second, to say that “such an interpretation of tragic events does not represent historic Christianity” and “has more to do with superstition… than a robust understanding of the Bible and its teaching” is not only inaccurate, but just plain wrong. Christians have always believed that disasters are part of the judgment of God, as can been seen here in this article by Andrew Atherstone.

Third, it is wrong for Simon Smart, the Executive Director of CPX, to say that “it is extremely problematic to attribute to God’s judgment any disaster” without qualification, since this is what the Bible itself does on multiple occasions in both the Old and New Testaments (see Genesis 19; Obadiah; Acts 5, 12; 1 Corinthians 11:30; James 5:14-16).

Fourth, it is disingenuous for Smart to also claim that is it “cruel to link droughts and bushfires to those who have lost life and property in the recent fires or suffered through the drought”, since Israel Folau himself never made any such connection to the individuals concerned. Instead, his words of warning were to the people of Australia as a whole.

Fifth, it is also wrong for CPX to assert—again without any qualification—that “it is theologically problematic to believe that anyone could know that a specific disaster is the judgment of God”. Theologically “problematic” for everyone, or only people living in the New Testament without a gift of prophecy? Because the Bible often makes the link between a specific judgment and a specific sin in both testaments (i.e. Genesis 19; 1 Corinthians 11:30).

Sixth, it is misleading to say that “Jesus actively discouraged making convenient (or easy) links between negative events and specific human behaviour”. While we are never to make a one-on-one correlation between sin and suffering (e.g. Job 1-2; Luke 13:1-5), Jesus does sometimes make a direct connection between disaster and people’s behaviour (Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24; 23:28-31).

And finally, seventh, while God is always calling on people to repent, it is naïve in the extreme to suggest that disasters are not especially effective in motivating people to do so. As C.S. Lewis famously wrote in his classic, The Problem of Pain:

We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

All of which is to say, there is more Gospel courage in Israel Folau then there is currently being portrayed in most Christian leaders in Australia today. Especially in his willingness to confront behaviours—such as homosexuality and abortion—which our culture currently champions as being ‘sweet’ when the Scriptures declare that they are ‘bitter’ (Isaiah 5:20).

It may not be in vogue to say so, but disasters are always a sign of God’s judgment calling on mankind to repent of our sins. As Research Professor D.A. Carson says in his devotional For the Love of God (Vol. 2, November 9), reflecting on the ecological devastation that the prophet Joel declares is about to occur in the Promised Land:

The locust plague pictured in Joel 1 is a phenomenon well known in some parts of the world today. Once locusts have swarmed, they are almost impossible to stop. Really terrible plagues of locusts were recognized for what they were: the judgment of God.

This is a good place to reflect for a moment on how we should think about disasters. We should not adopt the stance of fatalists. If we can stop locusts today (satellites can sometimes spot incipient swarms that are then stopped by trucks with pesticides), then we should do so—in exactly the same way that we should try to stop war, plague, AIDS, famine, and other disasters. But in a theistic world where God is sovereign, we must also hear the summoning judgment of God calling His image-bearers to renounce sin’s selfism and cry to Him for mercy.

All of which is to say, Israel Folau’s sermon is essentially right about the theological connection between disasters and the judgment of God. And we would do well to heed their warning before something even worse occurs to us (John 5:14).


Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash.

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  1. Marilyn Partridge 26 November 2019 at 9:21 am - Reply

    I agree. We must stand for the sovereignty of our wonderful God but also know there are consequences for disobedience. Why would someone film Israel unless they have a desire to incite hate. Why not go round churches and film the sermons. At the mosque? The statement of the rain falling on the just and unjust alike shows we will all experience times of plenty and times of blessing. But at the end of the day God will only look at where our hearts lie. Praise God He is in control!

  2. Helen Brown 26 November 2019 at 10:20 am - Reply

    Thank you Mark, I’m surprised, but then I probably shouldn’t be, at how many Christians are saying that God’s grace wouldn’t allow us to be judged in such a way, but one day that judgement will come. The other thing is that there is so much emphasis on our laws around marriage and abortion being changed and yet, sins such as anger, greed, selfishness and just plan ignoring Him are rarely mentioned. There is no grading system in God law on sin: Sin is Sin. It seems that for many Christians in this debate, God’s grace is there to cover everything that we do wrong. It does in that, if we have accepted His gift of Salvation then we will not be shut out of our eternal reward just because we did things wrong here. However, I find it hard to believe that any loving father would allow his children to run rampant around the house, breaking his rules and not try to pull them into line eventually. So, our God, who is the perfect parent, is going to let us continue to flaunt His rules without consequences! I find that even harder to believe. Even in earthly households, innocent parties have to suffer earthly punishments brought on by unruly siblings. Right now, for those who are believers, these times, I believe, are sent to challenge us to trust Him no matter what, who those who don’t believe, then they are a way for God to get there attention and challenge them to accept His grace. God is also trying to give us a glimpse at what life would be like without Him in it at all, and I wouldn’t like to be there.

  3. Warwick 26 November 2019 at 11:05 am - Reply

    Another great article on a difficulty but needy subject. Akos and Mark do a good job of this.

  4. David 26 November 2019 at 1:36 pm - Reply


  5. Paul du Toit 27 November 2019 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Great article Mark. At the heart of this I believe is who we believe is in control. If not God, then who? If God, then how come disasters are excluded from His control ( Like some of these leaders believe)? I believe God is in control of everything, as explained by Izzy, and confirmed here. Just like everything else in life we can head the warnings, or we can turn our back on God. There are only two sides to pick from.

  6. Melinda Rau-Wig 27 November 2019 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    Brilliant & Scripturally sound.
    A breath of much needed God-inspired Fresh air amongst the polluted stench of political niceties…

  7. Ess Grubb 28 November 2019 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    Thanks for addressing this head on with sound Biblical truth: very much needed in the “Candyfloss Christianity Eras” we now live in. God bless the work you do.

  8. Debra Mieth 20 December 2019 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this article with which many of us agree even before Israel gave his sermon. I was following him on Instagram when this news came out. There was a backlash, but also a very positive response from unbelievers asking what they should do, should everyone repent, and worrying so much about judgment they were wanting to know how to change their lives. It’s been a wonderful message, and I find myself hoping he will give up football to become an evangelist, even to the world. I’m even thinking of going to Sydney to visit his church..

  9. […] of God in our current droughts and fires. I note the recent article by Mark Powell titled “Why Israel Folau is Right about Disasters and the Judgment of God” and the responses. But in view of my friend’s and others’ experiences, I would like to […]

  10. […] by natural disasters are under God’s judgment. Nevertheless, Jesus did point to such disasters as God’s call for us to return to Him. This is a consistent theme of Scripture, beginning with the flood of Noah […]

  11. […] a Christian then it’s also a God-given opportunity. We know this because the Bible teaches that all disasters are under His good and gracious hand (see Matt. 10:29-31; Rom. 8:28-39; Rev. 6:1-11). As the Rev. Dr. Peter Barnes, Moderator-General of […]

  12. […] is to come before God in humble repentance. You don’t have to go the “full-Folau” to acknowledge that this latest pandemic is part of His holy judgment (see Revelation 6:1-11). […]

  13. […] they sin against You—for there is no one who does not sin— and You become angry with them and give them over to their enemies, who take them captive to their own lands, far away or near; […]

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