In August 2017, millions of Americans traveled to see a total solar eclipse. With sophisticated astronomical calculations, scientists could predict exactly where and when to see this celestial phenomenon. But in the pre-scientific era, people told stories to make sense of the sky’s blackness. Societies who worshiped the sun, such as the Egyptians and the Greeks, spun tales of dragons and demons who were trying to devour their god. To scare off these malevolent figures, ancient peoples tried making loud noises, ringing bells, or banging pots and pans.
Whether good or bad fortune, ancient peoples attributed divine causes to everyday events. Moderns, on the other hand, tend to view such explanations as primitive. But what are we to make of today’s key verse? Doesn’t it insist upon God’s sovereignty, even in geopolitical events? And doesn’t Paul’s theology in the opening chapter of Ephesians—that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”—suggest we should see God’s agency in everything (Eph. 1:11)?
According to the book of Job, we would be wrong to see every misfortune as divine punishment. But the prophet Amos says that the disaster Israel faced was God’s work (3:7). This punishment took the forms of natural disaster (hunger, drought, pestilence) and human violence (war), and Amos is clear to say that these misfortunes come from God’s hand and are intended to return God’s people to Him (see 5:4).
God’s people had not only failed to love Him, they had also failed to love their neighbor. Today, we have further details about that negligence. They were materially prosperous—and actively oppressed the poor. They lived in luxury—and crushed the needy.
APPLY THE WORD
The “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). What local organizations help the needy in your community? How can you and your church participate in the work of justice on their behalf?