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For Correction, for Land, or for Love

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Elihu, the angry young man who speaks up near the end of the book of Job, comments on the powerful forces of nature under God’s control, saying, “Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen” (Job 37:13).

He had been speaking of thunder and lighting, tornados, ice storms, and torrential downpours. Storm systems “turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world” (Job 37:12). Elihu’s point is that nature, over which man has no control, proves the great power of God.

What does he mean when he elaborates by saying the blizzards, whirlwinds, gales, and squalls are “for correction or for his land or for love?” The middle item seems to be out of place. That is why one translation connects it with God’s love: “He brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love” (NIV). Elihu points to two basic motivations governing God’s power over the forces of nature: his wrath and his love. These are two sides of God’s nature we cannot afford to ignore. As Paul says, “Note then the kindness and severity of God…” (Rom. 11:22).

In the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Haiti, many believers have wondered whether God’s hand was in the devastation. Televangelist Pat Robertson raised eyebrows with his declaration that Haitians had made a “pact with the devil” and have been “cursed” ever since.

To say God sent an earthquake to punish Haiti for some specific sin that happened in the past is to oversimplify Elihu’s point. Only a narrow-minded person would draw such a conclusion. Is Haiti the only sinful nation on earth? Where was the earthquake during Stalin’s regime? Why didn’t China melt in a volcanic eruption during the Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse-tung? In the real world of natural calamities, good nations often suffer tragedy and bad nations get a pass.

This is not to say that God has never used an earthquake to punish sinful nations. Amos’s prophecy came two years before God sent a deadly earthquake to punish his people (1:1). But the circumstances in Amos’s day were very different from what we are seeing in Haiti. Israel had been given a clear prophetic warning prior to the devastation. No such warning was heard in Haiti. In the rare cases where God has used calamity to punish sin directly, he has always communicated his plans to the people who would be affected, giving them opportunity to repent.

Still, God uses tragedies like the one in Haiti to correct. The Bible clearly teaches that suffering is God’s discipline (Heb. 12:5-11). Not all discipline is strictly punitive. There is too little space to write about the many rewards that come from suffering. Suffice it to say that when something happens of the magnitude of the Haitian earthquake, the world is reminded of its need for God. Self-reliance and indulgence are corrected. People begin to look upward for answers.

At the same time God uses nature to correct, he also uses it to show his love. Of course, we know he “sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45), but his love is not restricted to benign weather patterns. Even a malignant terror like an earthquake can create conditions for God’s love to be manifested in his people. As I write these words, hundreds of Christians are pouring personnel, resources, and wealth into a country that had been largely forgotten until now. Doubtless, many will hear the gospel in the aftermath of the tragedy and will be reborn, so to speak, out of the pains of childbirth.

God works providentially in this world for correction and for love. His people must recognize this so that they can be the channels through whom these two sides of God’s nature may benefit mankind.