Israel Folau is back in the headlines again after suggesting Australia’s drought crisis and the recent spate of bushfires are a taste of God’s coming judgement.
The comments were made during a sermon Folau recently preached at his church in north-west Sydney.
Video taken from the service and posted online on Sunday shows the former rugby star urging Australians to repent of their sins and revert the laws that made it legal for same-sex couples to ‘marry’ in Australia.
“These bushfires, these droughts, all these things, they’ve come in a short period of time,” Folau said. “You think it’s a coincidence or not? God is speaking to you guys, Australia. You need to repent and take these laws and turn it back into following what is right by God.”
Folau continued, “What you see right now, out in the world, it’s only a little taste of God’s judgement… And now the news are saying these bush fires are the worst they’ve ever seen in Australia. Worst. They haven’t even seen anything. We look back on what God done to Sodom and Gomorrah and rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed that city because of the sin that they were living in.”
Of course, Folau’s remarks sparked outrage and sent Australia’s insufferable blue checkmarks into meltdown across social media.
Imagine getting upset at someone for claiming the God you don’t believe in, said in the book you don’t read, that unless you repent of the sin you don’t care about, you will suffer a judgement you don’t reckon is coming, and end up in a place you don’t think exists.
But with all of the criticism he’s copped, most of which is pure emotional vomit, so few seem capable of interacting with Folau’s comments in any meaningful way. All they have for him is self-righteous, indignation from an arbitrary and baseless moral grounding that their own worldviews can’t even sustain.
What we should be asking is whether or not Folau’s comments were biblically accurate. It makes no difference what you personally think about the matter. Your imaginary concept of what “God” is and is-not holds no weight if your ultimate authority is your own personal opinion. The question is, what does the Bible say about the issue and what’s the connection between present suffering and sin?
It’s true that sometimes nations, and even specific people, suffer as a direct result of their sins. God destroyed the entire cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their unrepentant sexual immorality. There are countless examples throughout the Bible of God doing, and threatening to do, the same thing to others.
In Psalm 2, God warns the kings and rulers of the earth to “serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” They’re commanded to, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.”
There is an expectation that kings, rulers, and nations, submit to and serve God. There is a threat of perishing if they refuse to do so.
But that’s not to say that all suffering is a direct result of the sufferer’s sins either. Jesus refuted that idea when his disciples questioned him about a man who had been born blind.
“Rabbi,” they asked, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
The disciples were wrong to look at one man’s suffering and conclude it was necessarily some sort of reflection on his or his parents’ moral state. We can’t measure a person’s standing with God by how comfortable their life is on earth. This man suffered, but according to Jesus, it was not because of his sins.
In a perfect world, however, this man would not have been born blind. Deformities are a consequence of being born of a fallen race into a fallen place, but we would be wrong to assume that those who suffer presently, are by necessity worse sinners than the rest of us.
Jesus was once asked a question about a group of Galileans who suffered a horrific death at the hands of Pilate. The assumption here was that their present suffering was a direct result of them being worse sinners than others.
Jesus responded by saying, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-3)
Jesus continued by raising a second question, this time concerning a tower that had collapsed, killing eighteen people.
“Those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them; do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)
Jesus did not say that their suffering had nothing to do with sin. Instead, Jesus refutes the idea that those who suffer presently, suffer worse than other sinners will. He warns his listeners, what happened to them will happen to you, “you will all likewise perish.” As R.C. Sproul put it, Jesus told the people they ought to have been amazed the tower had not also fallen on them.
Jesus uses these terrible events to highlight the horrors of the coming judgement. These are previews, according to Jesus, of what is to come on all sinners. In other words, his listeners were no better than those who suffered and died at the hands of Pilate or those who were crushed to death by the tower of Siloam. If his listeners did not repent of their sins, their time of suffering would come too.
In other words, everything bad that we experience in life is shouting at us that things are not right. Something is terribly wrong with the world. Things are not as they ought to be. Death and suffering is God’s megaphone calling a world indifferent towards sin to repentance.
In his message titled, Where is God?, John Piper of Desiring God put it this way:
God subjected the creation to futility and bondage to decay and misery and death. He disordered the natural world because of the disorder of the moral and spiritual world — that is, because of sin.
In our present condition blinded by sin and dishonoring God every day, we cannot see how repugnant sin is. Hardly anyone in the world feels the horror that our sin is. Physical pain we feel! And so it becomes God’s trumpet blast to tell us that something is dreadfully wrong in the world.
Diseases and deformities are God’s portraits of what sin is like in the spiritual realm. That is true even though some of the most godly people bear those deformities. Calamities are God’s previews of what sin deserves and will one day receive in judgment a thousand times worse. They are warnings. And that is true even when they sweep away Christ-followers and Christ-rejectors.
If a specific calamity is not the result of a specific sin, then at the very least it’s a warning sign, according to Jesus, that something worse is coming and we ought to “repent or likewise perish.”
Whether a direct result of sin or a consequence of living in a broken world, every horror we hear of should shock us into the realisation that we will all lose everything one day.
Although we like to convince ourselves that bad things only ever happen to other people, the author of Hebrews reminds us all of the inescapable reality we face, that “it is appointed for everyone to die once, and after that comes judgement” (Heb. 9:27).
As Charles Spurgeon once said, “We are like trees marked for the axe. The fall of one should remind us that for every one, whether great as a cedar, or humble as the fir, the appointed hour is stealing on apace.”