I've been watching and listening to a number of different Christian voices and it is truly perplexing to see what appears to be such contradictory perspectives. distinctive camps have already formed in terms of interpreting the significance of the recent political upheaval and natural disasters. what are these different camps and what are they saying?
one camp is what I would call the apathetic camp. not apathetic toward the suffering of those affected by the natural disasters and revolutions, but just apathetic about these events indicating anything about the end of the age. I would venture to say that most of the Body of Christ would be in this camp. they seem to just disregard what is happening in the world as having any eschatological significance (i.e. signs of Christ's Return). there are probably several reasons for this - one is that many have "been there, done that" at some point of time in their lives having thought the end is near (remember Y2K or even 9/11?) or maybe they were a part of a movement (like Calvary Chapel in the 70's and 80's) which emphasized the imminent Return of Christ even to the extent of naming dates!
I find myself influenced by this apathetic perspective. a massive earthquake followed by the tsunami in Japan and yet if we are honest, most of us have simply moved on in our busy lives and unless the news shows us a newly discovered spectacular amateur video of the destruction, we have mostly lost interest. If I am completely honest, I'm mostly thinking about other things now. (actually it is an interesting phenomenon that our interests are often dictated by what is being shown on the news which is particularly ironic when the Church so regularly admits to the biased nature of the majority of the media outlets.)
another reason that I think there is such apathy is that much of the Church doesn't really take seriously those passages where the End of the Age is being referred to (like Matthew 24). Actually a whole camp interprets this passage as being entirely fulfilled in AD70! And when it comes to the Book of Revelation, forget it - we can't interpret and understand that book anyway. I was like that for years. I didn't really want to try and understand a book that is admittedly interpreted so diversely.
A second camp takes the Scriptures very seriously but seems to minimize the passages that speak of God's judgments in the context of living under the New Covenant. They don't see anything happening in the world today as possibly being part of God's judgment. I find myself very sympathetic with most of what this position is saying. We live in a world where awful stuff happens all the time because the world is fallen and even the creation itself has been affected by sin and rebellion.
A weakness in this position is that it tends to think that nothing can or will be the judgment of God. This ignores massive sections of the Scripture that speaks of God judging sin at the end of the age. I'll come back to this in a moment.
A third camp seems to look at each earthquake, tsunami, flood, etc. through the lens of God judging sin. Those who emphasize God's omni-control of things would fall into this camp. If an earthquake happens, God sent it for a purpose (or sometimes they use the words "allowed it" to soften it a bit - but they mean exactly the same thing). Since these disasters are destructive and people die, they must therefore be part of God's judgment.
Others who have a very pessimistic view of the end of the age also fall into this camp. It's all going downhill, darkness is ever increasing and these earthquake and wars are all just the "signs of the times".
Angry holiness preachers (a term I first heard coined by Mike Bickle) would also fall into this camp too. They always view God as extremely angry at sin with "his hand on the trigger" ready to dish out the latest disaster to judge sin somewhere on the planet.
At this point, if you don't sense something confusing, I am not writing clearly. Don't you see things in each of these 3 positions that you can identify with and that seem Biblically sound? It is 100% true that there have been horrible natural disasters, wars and famines throughout history. Why should we be so certain that "our generation" is "that generation" which will witness the Lord's Return? Jesus said "no one knows the hour".
We also know that it is God's kindness that leads to repentance. Isn't He slow to anger? In every case where God brought judgment upon His people, He warned them explicitly. He raised up prophets to tell them. He often waited hundreds of years before finally bringing the judgment. The question is, just how clear were the Japanese people that an earthquake and tsunami were on the way? How many prophets were wandering around that nation with revelation from heaven about the impending judgment about to hit their nation? I am also wondering just how much more sinful those Japanese were in rural northwest Japan as compared to the "saint-like" Japanese in sex-crazed, materialist and proud Tokyo. Did God miss His target? Or, was it not a judgment of God at all? (It sure doesn't look at all like it met any of the OT qualifications with all the prophetic warnings, etc.).
But then again, the Bible teaches that God judges sin and will bring judgment upon the planet in the future - how can Revelation be interpreted to deny this? (that being said, I know that some have done just that).
The "God doesn't judge sin anymore" position just strikes me as a theological camp that wants to "cut out" huge sections of the Scripture and announce that "they don't apply any more". This seems to be dangerous territory indeed. What if they are wrong? What if God is still in the business of seriously judging sin?
So how can we know what is what? What is the result of sin and the Fall? (even the Cosmic Angelic Fall). What is the direct onslaught of the devil and his kingdom of darkness? What is God's judgment on sin? How can we know if we are living in the End of the Age close to Christ's Return? He did tell us there would be "signs", but how can we know if "these signs" are "the signs" spoken of in His Word?
The answer I believe is to found in Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians - "eagerly pursue the gifts of the Spirit, ESPECIALLY the Gift of Prophecy" (1 Cor. 14:1). The ONLY way that we can know what is what, and when is when, is if God reveals it. Cause/Effect relationships in a free will universe are far too complex to sort it all out UNLESS God shows us what is happening.
This leads me to how seriously I will consider any "voices" in the above-mentioned camps. Is this just "their interpretation" of Scripture? You can justify and defend each of the positions with many "favorite verses" - I mentioned a few of them above that are quite convincing! When somebody says, "this is God's judgment"? I am compelled to ask them, "On what basis are you saying this"? Have they had a dream or a vision? Did an angel come visit them? This is the way God announced such things in Scripture and He has NEVER changed, right? Before the next Christian leader gets on CNN and tells them that something is God's judgment, they had better be basing that on something more than "their own wise interpretation"!
But it's not just their revelation, but it must also be OUR revelation. I think that is what Paul's letter makes explicit. God's people are to be a "prophetic people" - a PEOPLE who hear and clearly interpret God's special, supernatural revelation. Some prophetic people have been given a public platform (most of us have not). I can be confident, that as I pursue God in a prophetic community of people (which I have around me) that God will reveal TO US (note the emphasis on the "we" aspect of our community) "the source" of a natural disaster if it is important for us to know. I fully acknowledge God's freedom to withhold information that He deems irrelevant for us to know.
So I have heard the 3 voices - the earthquake and tsunami 1) basically mean nothing and are merely the result of living in a fallen world 2) they are attacks from satan 3) they are God's judgment (and to be honest I've heard people who mix two of these together or have developed a variation on one of them).
However, of all of them, the one that has been most compelling is from the people who "saw it coming with specific detail" and with humility they have been the most hesitant to identify "the cause". Why? Because they didn't receive the revelation as to "why" it happened!
I know this - it is time for us to "seek the Lord" and ask Him to reveal to us what it is we need to know. I will also ask Him to "confirm" things He has TRULY spoken to others. I emphasize "truly" because many voices at this point are speaking with a confidence that I find disturbing - so positive that they know exactly what these things are and what they are not. How ironic that the people who arguably have heard most clearly (because they received what they did through both dreams and visions) are demonstrating the most humility in attributing the cause!