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For the sake of ten

So, yet again one of Satan’s favorite sock puppets (thanks, Gene!) has turned an incident of natural disaster into yet another instance of God “judging” nations for their sins. I find this curious and horrifying as I’m sure most people do. However, I think sometimes Christians who cringe at these comments don’t really have a response to them because, deep down they think that they don’t really have a biblical argument against this sort of stuff. After all, in the Bible doesn’t God send all kinds of natural disasters as judgments?

The problem here is  quite complex and I don’t intend to offer a master solution it, tout court. However, pretty early in the canon we’re given some pretty good evidence about how God approaches destroying pockets of human civilization as a form of judgment against sin. Witness Abraham’s discussion with God about Sodom and Gomorroah:

Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” (Gen 18:23-32)

Does anyone really think that there weren’t ten honest to goodness Bible-believing Christians (and thus=”righteous” according to evangelical theology) in the whole country of Haiti? Well, according to first friggin book in the Bible God refuses to sweep away the righteous with the wicked, right?

So, just to be clear. No Christian who hold the Bible to be “the inspired Word of God” can believe that this event was a divine judgment unless they are prepared to argue that there were less than ten true Christians in all of Haiti.

These are facts.


  1. Liesl wrote:

    But we must not consider that perhaps we just plain do not love them. No, first we must thank God that we live in a country that makes no such pacts with the devil, then we can stoop down and pick them up.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  2. Gene McCarraher wrote:

    First, you’re welcome, Halden.

    On the question of theodicy, I recommend that everyone read David Bentley Hart’s The Doors of the Sea, a very moving and erudite theological reflection on the tsunami. (It grew out of an essay he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, not usually a venue for serious theological rumination.) It’s an eloquent riposte, not only to the Luciferian sock puppets like Rev. Kill Hugo Chavez, but to certain kinds of Calvinists who were making all manner of callous and haughty assertions about the blameworthiness of the tsunami’s victims.

    I’ll take this opportunity to note that the tale to which Robertson referred — about the “pact with the devil” allegedly made by a Haitian revolutionary — is not verified by a shred of documentary evidence. The Haitian Revolution came about thanks in no large measure to the quite Catholic Toussaint L’Ouverture, and the entire story is related powerfully in C. L. R. James’ The Black Jacobins.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  3. Nathan Smith wrote:

    It seems that the interpretation of natural disasters and the ebb-and-flow of kingdoms is part of the prophetic office. I can’t recall such interpretation coming from any other source in the OT, though perhaps I am wrong.

    And there is neither Jew nor Gentile, so would God still mete out judgment on a national scale?

    Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  4. Steven D wrote:

    Thanks for posting this. In such a time of tragedy, it’s sad that someone always seems to step out and damage the gospel’s love being spread to the poor victims.

    This gets a firm…”Damn it, Pat!!”

    Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Permalink
  5. “In defense of ass-kicking” (God?).
    Folks have always struggled with how to make sense out of tragic suffering. For much of human history people believed that gods were responsible and that through following certain laws, undertaking odysseys, sacrificing children, cattle, or virgins the gods could be cajoled into sparing us some pain. When that failed we divided the cosmos into a tenuous balance between good gods and bad gods with people’s actions and will able to tip the scale of catastrophe in our favor. That spared some cattle and virgins, but did nothing to prevent terrible things from happening. Seemed like the bad gods still kept getting their way and the crops still failed and the rain either didn’t come or came too much, and the volcanoes swallowed up villages and our children kept dying. So we narrowed down the good gods to a more manageable ‘One God’, fired up the barbeques again (for just the animals this time, we only covered up the virgins from head to toe), and when anything went wrong we blamed ourselves and let the good God off the hook. But we were never going to be good enough it seems, there was always a few screwups that got even the good God pissed and the rest of us all punished, and then the hot lava would flow, and our enemies would break through, and our children would die. So we took another look at the evil gods, and decided to also personify them into ‘One,’ and gave it a name and a face and blamed all the bad things on him and let ourselves, and the good God off the hook. But the rains still came too much or not at all and the earth shook our houses down, and our children still died. Then we set the smartest among us (theologians, philosophers, pastors and priests) to study the problem (some call it theodicy) and hoped for one grand, final, solution for it all. But they commenced to bickering (even warring) among themselves, so naturally we divvied ourselves up into ever smaller cliques around all the different answers any of them could come up with, and with all the bases covered we then took to blaming (even warring against) each other, as well as the good God(s), or the no-god(s), or the One evil, even each one of us warring within our own selves, searching for the One evil in our own hearts and the hearts of our brothers and sisters…then we looked to the sky, to the smoldering mountain top, to the rising river, to the fevered child, and we pray……
    Dear God, WTF? obliged.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Permalink
  6. Michael wrote:

    Finally – Someone that’s honest about it.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Permalink
  7. I have a fun thread on my facebook page about this.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Permalink
  8. kim fabricius wrote:

    Exactly. Theodicists deserve a good ass-kicking. Most of them are defending a deity unrecognisable as the Holy Trinity (see, e.g., Hart, McCabe, Tilley). Tongue-tied silence and tears, prayers and assistance – that’s what is called for, not hairbrained explanations and heartless justifications. Certainly, as William Munny (in Unforgiven) memorable puts it, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it” – and Jesus agrees (Luke 13:1ff. – a text astonishingly ignored by the sock puppets).

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 12:04 am | Permalink
  9. Adam Nigh wrote:

    In thinking through why Robertson sounds to me like such an ungodly expert at kicking people while they’re down, I’ve had to see that he clearly see’s no real change in humanity’s situation before God between the OT and NT. The OT prophets certainly made similar claims about natural and military disasters being God’s judgment on ungodly nations – I don’t think saying that Robertson isn’t a prophet is enough to rebuke him with because it would allow that the substance of what he is saying might be true; he just isn’t authorized to say it. I think we have to say something has fundamentally changed because of the life and work of Jesus Christ between Israel’s devastation from a locust infestation or Babylon’s overthrow by the Medo-Persians and now. Christ has taken the sin of all the world on himself and bound us all up in him – this would imply that while we are living in the time between the times of Christ’s accomplishing of atonement and the coming final revelation of that when he comes again, all such disasters can be seen as our participation in the suffering of Christ but only in a way that maintains the solidarity of all humanity. Now that Christ has bound all in sin so that all live under grace, Haiti cannot suffer for the sins of Haiti alone but suffers in participation with Christ’s suffering for all the sins of all humanity. This is a suffering we are all implicated in, Pat Robertson by no means least of all.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 2:32 am | Permalink
  10. Brad A. wrote:

    Ah, but Gene, Robertson is likely to consider Catholic “of the devil” as well, if I understand his “eschatology” correctly.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 6:50 am | Permalink
  11. Brad A. wrote:

    I think David has a nice snippet:

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 7:04 am | Permalink
  12. Chris Donato wrote:

    Perhaps this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, Halden, considering it’s not appropriate exegetically to extrapolate from the Sodom and Gomorroah episode the principle that divine judgment can’t occur when more than a certain number of righteous folks are in the mix (e.g., when Assyria and then Babylon plundered Israel and Judah). Perhaps it does serve to relativize Robertson’s own poor exegesis on this matter (since he no doubt extrapolates the opposite principle).

    Maybe a good response to Robertson is: given your ‘prophetic’ discernment about God’s judgment in this instance, why didn’t you intercede on behalf of Haiti like Abraham did for Sodom and Gomorroah?

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    Chris, I’m not so sure its inappropriate to make the extrapolation you speak of. The whole point of the Genesis passage here is about the character of God as a righteous judge. Can a righteous judge sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Clearly not.

    So, yes its not a matter of getting it down to less than ten. Rather the whole point of the passage, with its constant (de)escalation is that God’s righteousness excludes the notion that he will he will indiscriminately punish.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink
  14. Chris Donato wrote:

    Well, I get it. I really do. And I want to say what you’re saying, but then I run into another instance where it seems God does judge the righteous along with the wicked: the exile, a case in point. One could argue, of course, that God’s sweeping away the remnant along with the wicked in the judgment of exile was in fact his way of preserving them…

    No doubt with respect to God’s character, he doesn’t “indiscriminately” punish. But if we’re speaking of good, exegetical arguments to combat Robertson’s fallacious grandstanding, then something akin to Adam Nigh’s post above might supplement yours and make it even better. In short, it might be more a matter of old covenant (earthly Israel’s theocracy) vs. new covenant (not-yet fully realized kingdom of Christ) and how God worked in and through the former and continues to work in and through the latter.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink
  15. Halden wrote:

    I’m always in favor of being supplemented. : )

    However, I think that the whole issue of exile is a very complex an important point that I should probably write more on. To make it brief I don’t think that exile is, in any straightforward sense “judgment”. Or rather it is only judgment against those who are in outright rebellion to God’s mission. To those committed to God’ mission it is always and only an opportunity, a vocation, a calling. My perspective on this, of course depends on Yoder’s Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited significantly.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  16. Brad A. wrote:

    I’m not entirely in disagreement here, but let’s be careful about dismissing the “old covenant” quite like this. It is “old” in many ways, but there is not necessarily the sharp break between the two suggested here.

    I appreciated Adam’s comment above, but we also need to remember that many, if not most, of the OT judgments were not unrelated to that being judged. More often than not – and certainly in the important cases – judgments were logical extensions of the sins under indictment, i.e., conquest for power politics. It is more in those situations that Yahweh is removing protection from the consequences of their actions.

    Halden, Yoder notwithstanding, I think it would be exceedingly difficult to portray exile as only opportunity and not also judgment. That simply flies in the face of the biblical witness. There is something normative about Israel as it was called to be prior to the monarchy, not merely during exile, and this cannot be overlooked.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  17. Halden wrote:

    I don’t know, Brad. Any honest reading of 1 Samuel requires us to believe that the Israelite monarchy is nothing less than the rejection of Yahweh’s kingship (cf. 1 Sam 10).

    As for exile as normative, see Yoder’s essay “See How They Go with Their Face to the Sun” and Jeremiah 29:7ff. God sends his people into exile as a form of gracious mission to all the world.

    Oh, and who “dissmissed the old covenant” or “suggested a sharp break” anywhere here? Please show me explicitly how and where that happened because I’m not aware of it. I didn’t even know we were talking about this issue in this thread. Again.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  18. Brad A. wrote:

    Let me deal with a miscommunication first. By “dismiss,” I simply meant the way in which Chris’s comment defining the covenant merely as “Israel’s earthly theocracy” suggested that that covenant was obsolete. It isn’t if it has been fulfilled in Christ. I don’t think Christ meant quite that, but I didn’t mean to make a big deal about that precise point.

    I’m not sure what your comment about 1 Samuel means. I obviously agree with that, and have argued it here. I don’t know what you’re responding to there. I said what Israel was called to be PRIOR to the monarchy; I consider the monarchy to be a perversion of the Sinaitic covenant.

    And I understand what Yoder says; I just don’t completely agree with him. That specific point you mention is mostly right (although it begs the question about those left behind, those who were the poor and marginalized, and not of use to the empire), but the sending is more indicative of Yahweh redeeming the situation than of the exile being void of judgment. The latter simply isn’t tenable.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  19. Brad A. wrote:

    Not sure why this reply didn’t go under yours, Halden, but I was replying to you.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  20. Halden wrote:

    Hebrews explicitly says the Old Covenant is obsolete. (Heb 8:13).

    Apparently we agree about the monarchy. That being said, my first question still remains unanswered: “Who ‘dismissed the old covenant’ or ‘suggested a sharp break’ anywhere here?”

    And until you show me how anything I’ve said “isn’t tenable” I’m not convinced of anything. Assertion without argument is easy, but it doesn’t generally persuade me of much.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  21. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, I addressed the “dismissed” comment already. The comments of both Adam and Chris could easily be taken to suggest a sharp break. They don’t have to be, but they could be. I was merely providing a caution. That’s all.

    We’ve also already talked about Hebrews 8 at length. To avoid misunderstanding, let me explain that I was referring to the theopolitical content of the covenant – i.e., what Israel was called to be as a people – which continues in Christ and the church (1 Peter 2:8-10, among others), though they cannot be reduced to it. We’ve already talked about what was going on in Heb 8:8-10 (which would explain v. 13), so I’m not going to rehash that here. Not to mention the fact that Hebrews does not alone determine canonical hermeneutics.

    Finally, I don’t reassert what I consider to be common knowledge between interlocutors. Forgive me for mis-gauging the situation. I don’t see how a claim that the exile is devoid of judgment is tenable in light of the witness of the prophets. There’s just far too much all over the prophetic literature to the contrary. In virtually every case (certainly every case I can think of), exile is located and described within the context of the consequences of Israel’s sin. Exile is preached within discourses directly challenging the theopolitical status quo in Judah, and while indeed Yahweh brought new beginnings of a sort out of it, it was not merely “a new opportunity”; it was a portrayed as the definitive undoing of what went before during the monarchical era.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  22. Halden wrote:

    Brad, I’ve just re-read Hebrews 8 and there is nothing in there that requires or leads any realistic interpreter (as far as I can see) to think that when the Scripture says “In speaking of ‘a new covenant,’ he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear” that it means something other than what it clearly says.

    Now, as to the Yoder question, I’m just going to ask the question. Have you read Yoder’s The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited Or the essay I mentioned above which is also included in For the Nations? Because even though you’ve claimed that “I understand what Yoder says; I just don’t completely agree with him”, I really don’t get any sense from your posts that you’ve addressed any of the arguments in these publications.

    As to the matter of exile, I have not claimed that it is not a judgment against Israel as such. What I am saying is that it does not constitute an indiscriminate judgment against the followers of Yahweh within Israel precisely because God says in Jeremiah 29 that it is a mode of mission into which God is sending his faithful into the nations precisely for their sake.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  23. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, have you re-read our previous discussion? How can the entire content of the first covenant be obsolete if it was fulfilled in Christ? Stop taking that chapter (and book) in isolation.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at in your second paragraph here. I have (somewhat recently) read that essay, and it came up a bit (along with his Jeremianic turn) in my dissertation. I did not address his arguments because they weren’t at issue above; your comments were. I knew full well you were relying on Yoder; I simply was addressing specific things you said. I didn’t see the need to get into a discussion of Yoder at that point.

    I understand your point about indiscriminate judgment, but your statement comes close to overlooking a couple of things: (1) our sin affects the innocent, and if judgments are the logical consequences of our sins, the innocent might well be affected; and (2) that judgment can prompt the unrighteous to repent and then undertake the mission, i.e., both go together in the same case.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink
  24. Brad A. wrote:

    Chris, also, made a point above about judgments and the effects of our sins affecting the innocent.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  25. Halden wrote:

    From your first paragraph I take it that you don’t care to engage the Scriptures in any significant way in regard to this question. This is of course your prerogative, but of course you’ll understand if this reticence to engage the relevant questions fails to convince me of your assertions.

    And if a promise is fulfilled, clearly the promise, as such is now obsolete. That’s undeniable. Like in the dictionary-definition sense.

    The second paragraph above is as clear as a bell. If you’re not willing to answer my question regarding The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, just say you won’t answer. Don’t fall into cheap obfuscation. Yoder’s arguments here clearly have to do with this discussion, specifically this issue of exile as calling and mission. If you disagree with that, I’d expect to hear some reasons why, but so far you’ve provided none.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  26. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, I’m at a loss on this one. I don’t know if we’re talking past each other – which we have a tendency to do – or what, but I find these comments strangely and unnecessarily antagonistic. You have multiple times now attributed motives to me – disingenuousness or ignorance – for my simply addressing specific issues. Even when I do provide substantive responses, you often focus only on what I didn’t say and completely ignore what I did. That happened in earlier discussions, and it has happened here.

    As to your first paragraph here, I can’t imagine, given our previous discussion here:, how you could level a charge like this at me. We already discussed Hosea. Why would I just repeat everything again? If you wish to pursue a new strand of the argument, than introduce it as such so I know what you’re getting at.

    On your second statement here, it’s not just promise, but election and covenant – identity and practices. Jesus decisively fulfills them as the incarnation of Israel, and thus carries them forward into the church. Since Jesus replaces the temple system, we need not practice that anymore; but certainly the theopolitical aspects of Israel’s calling at Sinai are quite relevant and cannot be considered obsolete (and I don’t think you really do). Moreover, there are rather provocative implications of this in Bader-Saye’s book Church and Israel After Christendom: The Politics of Election, which I mentioned earlier, and which you said you haven’t read. I’d encourage you to do so. You will disagree with certain points – as do I – but there’s a lot there to think about.

    Finally, I haven’t “fallen into cheap obfuscation” or tried to take shortcuts out of addressing things. I find it rather odd, not to mention presumptuous, that you think once you throw out a source, I’m bound to respond to its entire content, rather than to the specific point you were making as informed by that source. I thought I was doing that, and in an honest fashion. If you found it inadequate, then instead of questioning my integrity, ask more specific questions. You made one point from the essay, I responded to that specific point, and then you basically accused me of being ignorant of the essay. If you want a discussion on that essay, then post about it, and let’s discuss. Moreover, if you read more carefully, you’ll find that I didn’t disagree with that specific claim – exile as calling and mission – but with the idea that exile was only that. I’ve already said here, at least in a general way, why I think the biblical text does not support your more narrow interpretation. Once again, you ignored that to focus on what you feel I should have said but didn’t.

    I’m sure your readers don’t want to read anymore about this, so I’ll stop. I hope you do understand, however, that I was offering more than you’ve been willing to credit.

    Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

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