COVID-19 Nature’s Judgement?

The Pope is quoted by a British newspaper as saying the corona-virus pandemic is “certainly nature’s response” to our failures in regard to climate change. I am not Catholic and I am not too familiar with the person of the Pope and what he might mean by this comment but I do find it interesting and want to follow the idea he presented as I understand it. I see some issues here that many Christians might be grappling with and I hope to provide clarity about the times we find ourselves.  

In this article the Pope personalizes nature and speaks of nature as if nature is sentient. Now he must be simply speaking in the same way one might personalize a boat or car and that is fine except as leader of Catholic Christians it is confusing especially when there are other religions that believe in “mother nature” contrary to the Christian Church. There is only one God and he created the physical world that makes up nature. Further down in the article the Pope is quoted “Fires, earthquakes … nature is throwing a tantrum so that we will take care of her.” Nature is not a personal being and we might casually give nature a personality when speaking about issues like hurricanes and pandemics however our leaders should be much more precise.

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. Romans 8:20-22 ESV

Paul writes that all of creation, the earth, the universe, animals, and people are groaning under the weight of corruption. Nature is in the same boat as men. Nature is not apart from human kind. All of the creation is under a curse that came from Adam and Eve. The creation is subject to God and God should be the focus when we look at death and destruction. The Pope asks why a pandemic? And his answer is because we are bad stewards of the earth. This may well be true but it is only a small truth not the full truth. My frustrations with the Pope’s comments beyond personalizing Nature in the way he has done is that he limits our response to God.

God is in control of nature. God controls the wind, waves, and pandemic. They all move according to his will. Even if we were perfect stewards of this earth, and the Bible tells us we can’t be because we are sinners, the Earth would still be groaning and decaying because “the creation was subjected to futility” by God himself. This earth, this life, this world, and even this universe is no longer permanent. Just as my body is aging and will die not matter how much I take care of it so too the earth is aging and will one day be destroyed.

7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 2:7 ESV

 Modern man is no less able to hold back God’s hand in wind, waves, and pandemics, than those that came before us. The Pope is not wrong that bad stewardship brings physical consequences. However, we must also know that God never promised a life free of hardship, a life free of death, or a life free of pain. What God promised is that if we trust him here and now and submit to Jesus Christ that he will give us peace in the storm. The storms will rage but my hope and my peace remain because of God

While we are in the midst of the COVID-19 storm where does your trust turn? In the Creator of nature and the person of Jesus or in the fallen dying creation be it science, government, or nature?

The Easter Goat

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Easter is upon us and just like clockwork a story to undermine Easter makes the news cycle. Easter is a holiday event marking the weekend of the good news of the gospel that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and then left the grave to provide salvation. So of course, there is breaking news to pull against Easter and that news takes the form of a story that claims the Pope believes there is no eternal Hell (To their credit the Vatican is denying the Pope said this). If true this is news because it breaks with thousands of years of Church teaching and seemingly conflicts with the words of Jesus himself. It is also news because many people want this anti-gospel this anti-Easter view to be true. The reported conversation linked here claims the following quote from the Pope.

“They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

This idea of a limited or nonexistent hell is not a new idea and if one accepts this view it changes everything about our relationship with God. Here are a few consequences of accepting the idea that Hell is nonexistent or is not eternal.

No Hell = No Consequence

Those that reject God and continue on in their rejection of the creator will have virtually no consequence for the life they live. One might live the life of Hitler or a child abuser and know that at the end of the day the consequence will simply be to “disappear”. It will be as if one was never born. Jesus taught something much different.

5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:5-6 ESV

If you are an unrepentant abuser and you destroy the soul of a child with perversion then it would be better to be drowned in the bottom of the sea than to face the judgment of God (as if one could escape from God to begin with). Jesus went on even further in the same verses.

7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. Matthew 18:7-9 ESV

Jesus makes the point that it would be better to live life on earth broken and damaged than to be “thrown” into the “eternal” hell. Consequence to sin is a heavy price, it is a scary price, and Jesus was not shy about making that reality clear to his listeners. Many people in their heart hope that hell is not real because being unmade and disappearing forever would be welcome relief to the reality of eternal fire.

No Hell = God will be Mocked

The atheist preaches that when one dies the chemical reactions stop firing in the body and brain causing the self to end. Only the material is real. There is no immaterial soul that continues on. Darkness overtakes the mind and death is the end. If there is no hell and rebellious sinners just cease to be then the atheist is mostly right about their view of God. God who is true will then be replaced by the lies of men. People will be free to set themselves up as god and make themselves in whatever image they want. There is no right or wrong only what mankind states as the truth. This short life we live right now will be the only thing that matters. Why does God even need to communicate “woes” if God and truth become relative?

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 ESV

No Hell = No need for Jesus

Finally, if there is no Hell then what did Jesus die to save me from? What is the point of Easter and the gospel of Christ? What do I need salvation for?

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes Romans 1:16 ESV

Salvation is defined as deliverance from destruction. While true that Salvation could be a deliverance to eternal life from a destruction of nonexistence that is not the context that Jesus taught and it is not the context of day in which Jesus taught. A timeless existence is the context for both those with God and those opposed to God. God through Jesus made a way to save the creation so that we are able to glorify, worship, and have a loving relationship with God the Father for all eternity. Jesus is the good news of salvation. I pray that everyone would submit to that plan. The alternative is not going to be peaceful nonexistence.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-33; 41; 46 ESV