Repentant Hope

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The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. – Genesis 19:23-29

Water Lily Center Afire | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

On May 27, 1997, one of the most violent tornadoes in modern U.S. history produced close-to-unfathomable damage on the outskirts of Jarrell, TX, located about 40 miles north-northeast of Austin. … The Jarrell tornado broke many assumptions about twister behavior. It also left a grim toll, including 27 lives lost (Weather Underground). One photo taken after the storm shows plumbing actually pulled out of the concrete slab on which a house had stood. Storms such as these are rare, and we seldom attach a particular sin or unique evil to those who suffer such catastrophe. We must take to heart Jesus’ teaching, “And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too” (Luke 13:4-5).

I recall also hearing that the tornado in Jerrell had sucked up all the grass from the fields and lawns in its path. Total devastation. Utter destruction. Such was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And this is one case to which we may lay God’s direct cause. Moses makes it clear: God overthrew these cities. Overthrew. This is not evil caving in under its own weight. This is not a matter of life and trouble in a fallen world. This is God acting. Judging. Condemning. Overthrowing.

We are rightly cautious about attributing any and all troubles to a particular person’s or community’s sin. Jesus teaches about that in the healing of the blind man (John 9). Neither this man sinned nor his parents. This was for the glory of God. That glory would be revealed when Jesus healed the man born blind. 

God punishes sin with sin. When you see the evil spiral of one vicious agent of evil taking out another, you’re seeing how true this is. Gang wars. Organized crime. Ill gotten financial empires crumbling. Even governments succumb to their own corruption. (Sometimes not soon enough for our sensibilities). 

So every time we see catastrophes of one kind or another what are we to do? We must not judge. We’re all sinners, living in a sinful world. We need not pronounce it as the visitation of a just and holy God. Though it may be just that. We must, however, repent. We must follow the lead of Nehemiah who, upon learning of the ruined walls of Jerusalem, prayed and confessed his sin, and the sin of his forefathers. 

And while we must not too quickly attach God’s direct hand on every evil, the words of Amos come to my mind:

“I brought hunger to every city
    and famine to every town.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord.

“I kept the rain from falling
    when your crops needed it the most.
I sent rain on one town
    but withheld it from another.
Rain fell on one field,
    while another field withered away.
People staggered from town to town looking for water,
    but there was never enough.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord.

“I struck your farms and vineyards with blight and mildew.
    Locusts devoured all your fig and olive trees.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord.

10 “I sent plagues on you
    like the plagues I sent on Egypt long ago.
I killed your young men in war
    and led all your horses away.[a]
    The stench of death filled the air!
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord.

11 “I destroyed some of your cities,
    as I destroyed[b]Sodom and Gomorrah.
Those of you who survived
    were like charred sticks pulled from a fire.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord.

12 “Therefore, I will bring upon you all the disasters I have announced.
    Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel!”

13 For the Lord is the one who shaped the mountains,
stirs up the winds, and reveals his thoughts to mankind.
He turns the light of dawn into darkness
and treads on the heights of the earth.
The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies is his name!

I’m really hesitant to impute to God actions of doom and destruction. But I am ready to be reminded in whatever circumstance I may find myself, that God is constantly calling us to repent and believe the good news of his reign and rule over all things. I am thankful for that gift which we may receive through faith in Jesus Christ. He will one day destroy every work of the devil. Until that time we wait in repentant hope. 

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