2013 marked California’s worst year for rainfall in recorded history. 2013 also marked the 40th year of abortion being legalized, and the year same-sex marriage was fully legalized in California. Are these major, historic events just a coincidence? Or are they a sign of judgment.
Although rarely heard today, in America’s recent past, both leaders in the church and civil government regularly called people to examine their ways and repent after tragedies like drought, disease, war, and other catastrophe’s once known as “Acts of God”, but today called “natural disasters”.
A remnant of this forgotten perspective can still be seen today if one looks through our legal codes and observes the term “Act of God” still mentioned. Law dictionaries define this term as “a legal term for events outside human control, such as sudden floods or other natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible.”
This legal term originates from the past understanding that God is in control of nature – including droughts, as Amos 4:7 says, “I have withholden the rain from you… and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.”
Summarizing early America’s view of the Bible’s teaching on the source of droughts and other calamities, Pastor Jacob Cushing preached in a 1788 sermon, “And it may be noted, in general, that when public calamities were inflicted upon them, whether by the more immediate hand of heaven, as drought, pestilence, famine, and the like… it was always as a just punishment for their national iniquities; their idolatry, irreligion and abounding wickedness. And upon their repentance and reformation, these calamities were removed, and their prosperity restored.” (1)
Another example is found in Pastor Whiteford Smith’s response to an 1849 deadly disease outbreak in South Carolina, who called on people to “humble ourselves in the dust, to repent, to fast, and to pray, if peradventure God may turn away his anger from us, and in wrath remember mercy.” (2)
In the Bible — and many of these older sermons — we often see a focus on personal repentance, but we also see that when Daniel was told by God of an impending 70 year judgment, Daniel responded by confessing the sins of his whole nation, saying: “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments” (Daniel 9:5).
Although we must exercise caution in presuming to know God’s specific purpose in a calamity, perhaps it is best to see it as an opportunity to examine ourselves, confess our known personal and national sins, and enquire of the Lord as David did in 2 Samuel 21:1, “Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the LORD.”
end notes:1. Sermon: “Divine Judgment Upon Tyrants”, Jacob Cushing, 1798. 2. Sermon: “National sins: A call to repentance”, Whitefoord Smith, 1849.