Alwyn Lau

For good news, use drama. For bad news, use statistics. For really bad news? Use other people. Tweets at @alwyn_lau.

NOVEMBER 13 — Padang Besar MP Zahidi Zainul Abidin’s comments on the Penang floods being indicative of karma from bad practices aren’t the first to tie natural disasters with spiritual/divine connotations. And they won’t be the last.

When people suffer, religious people make them suffer more. How? By saying stupid “mentally unsound”s***.

Floods turn towns into swamps — oh! That must be an impersonal cosmic quasi-consciousness paying you back for your nonsense! An earthquake destroys RM6.2 billion worth of businesses and livelihood — toldcha! You must’ve done something which made God angry!

But that’s hogwash. At least from a Christian biblical POV. 

Let’s check out three of the baddest “natural disaster” Bible stories which were also judgments God visited upon the earth. The three cases, all taken from the Old Testament, are as follows:

  1. The Flood and Noah’s ark — when the whole world became an aquarium for 40 days and nights.
  2. Sodom & Gomorrah — when God barbequed the cities by hurling tar-pits at them.
  3. Egypt’s 10 Plagues — in which this Ancient Near-East empire was obliterated economically, socially, politically, militarily and spiritually.

All three examples above are occasions of divine judgment. So if it happened then, could it happen today? And were the recent floods an example? No way, José.

When we read these stories carefully, it’s clear that at least two principles stand out with regards to divine judgment and natural disasters. It’s also clear that our Malaysian floods simply don’t fit the principles. Let’s jump straight in:

Principle #1: Judgment is always fore-warned and sufficient time given to escape disaster.

In the case of the Flood, there was about 50 to 70 years between Noah being told to build an ark and the first rain drop. Simply imagine hundreds of people watching, sneering and jeering at this dude building a box-shaped ship (see Note 1) in the middle of nowhere. 

This means there were decades during which Noah would’ve done a zillion impromptu ceramahs about heeding God’s warnings and so on; a lot of time for any passer-by or sight-seer to join him. 

(Note: The Bible also talks about a 120-year “countdown” to the Flood, so you can imagine the warnings began way before construction of the ark itself started.)

For Sodom and Gomorrah, a sepak takraw team of quasi-angels visited the place prior to Judgment Day. Instead of listening to what these visitors had to say, the men of S&G tried to rape them. 

This shows the extent of evil that S&G were “into.” Note, too, that the Old Testament declares that God heard the cries of those on whom the people of S&G had inflicted suffering (and if God heard it, do we think that the S&G folks did NOT hear it?).

My point: We have some very public and very serious occurrences of evil and injustice — any judgment on the cities would be hardly a surprise!

Finally, if there’s one thing Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods & Kings (20th Century Fox, 2014) did NOT portray dubiously, it was the Egyptian Pharoah’s absolute reluctance to let the Hebrews go when Moses warned him (over and over again) about terrible things to come. 

The Pharaoh could’ve let the Hebrew people go even before the river turned bloody but, no, he had to let Egypt endure nine more plagues (culminating with the death of his firstborn) before telling the Hebrews to leave. 

Finally, even Richard Dawkins can hardly blame God for the annihilation of the Egyptian army. No one told the Pharoah to pursue the Hebrew refugees to the point of charging into a mysteriously parted sea which, of course, folded back and drowned the Egyptians.

The point is when God strikes in judgment with a natural disaster, it is justified, forewarned and much delayed. Indeed, a familiar biblical complaint is about God being SLOW to act against injustice — could this be because He’s waiting and hoping for the bad guys to stop screwing up their communities?

Back to Malaysia. 

There is nothing in the Bible suggesting that God was about to judge a majority of the people in Penang, or on the east and north coast of our peninsula, washing away their homes and possessions. 

There is no case to suggest that Malaysians in Penang, Kelantan and Terengganu are any more corrupted or wicked than people in other areas.

Penang was hit by its worst ever floods earlier this month. The disaster claimed seven lives and left many homes damaged. — Picture by Sayuti ZainuddinPenang was hit by its worst ever floods earlier this month. The disaster claimed seven lives and left many homes damaged. — Picture by Sayuti ZainuddinPrinciple #2: Judgment is always performed reluctantly and involves “extracting” a righteous remnant.

In the Flood, Noah and his family went into the ark as the rain started to fall. For Sodom & Gomorrah, Lot and his family were removed before the flames devoured the city. And the entire point of Egypt’s plagues was to bring liberation to the Hebrews in slavery. 

Isn’t that cool? It’s like an ultimate Search-n-Rescue mission.

Indeed, the S&G story reveals quite a bit about the God spoken about in the Old Testament and how He “does” the whole judgment gig. 

When God told Abraham that He was going to turn S&G into the world’s biggest fire-pit, Abraham pleaded with God to show mercy. To shorten a long story, God ended up agreeing to Abraham’s request to not destroy S&G should even 10 — just 10! — righteous God-fearing people be found in the cities.

Alas, the family of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, were the only good people there; and so the firestorm was not aborted. The point remains, however, that God is a God who — if He must destroy in judgment — looks for people to rescue. 

Applying this to Malaysia, it is clear that many righteous people and innocent families suffered. This is clearly NOT something in line with the pattern of God’s judgment in the Old Testament. 

This will be hard to believe, but the Old Testament claims that God does not enjoy performing judgment, even when it involves wicked people. 

Judgment is God’s “strange work” and an “alien task” for Him (Isaiah 28:21). God is no Rambo or James Bond who derives gratification from terminating bad guys (Ezekiel 18:23). 

Indeed, that climactic scene in Man of Steel (Warner Bros, 2013) in which Superman snapped General Zod’s neck, and his agony and grief for having to do it, more accurately resembles how God feels when He must “execute” the wicked.

The floods and storms our country has suffered has nothing to do with God “raining down” bizarre justice on the nation. To conclude so is just as simplistic as suggesting that if God exists, billions of ringgit cannot be lost to a monsoon.

But when any of us reaches out in providing supplies or donating funds or offering simple prayers for the victims, I’d say: That’s the hand of God right there.

* Note 1: See Genesis 7:15-16 for the measurements of the ark, the final shape for which was a rectangle structure. Why wasn’t it designed like a normal ship? Because it wasn’t designed to sail or cruise for 2N/3D between Singapore and Phuket. Noah’s ark was meant to do only one thing, and do it extremely well: Stay afloat in a super flood.

** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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