I remember a TV advertisement for cheese-filled steaks from the 80’s where the waiter says “It’s in the center Mr. Venter”. Actually I have a vague memory of that expression dating back to my teens when the response was “In the middle Cyril”. Please don’t ask me what it meant though.
What we put in the center isn’t cheesy or frivolous, it is vitally important. The bye-line for both the church and seminary I founded is ‘Bible based, Christ centered, Spirit led’, and even here Christ is placed in the middle.
Carl Barth, a great scholar of the mid-20th century, was known as a Christocentric theologian. This simply means Christ-in-the-center. I too am passionately Jesus-centered and believe that we should interpret all of scripture and life from a Christ-centered perspective. By this I mean that we should seek to understand the Bible and interact with the world around us from the perspective of what the Lord Jesus revealed concerning the values, principles, and priorities of the Triune Godhead. I call this the Christocentric Principle.
Most, if not all evangelical scholars would agree that we should regard the entire Bible as pointing to Christ. We are all familiar with the old adage ‘the new is in the old concealed, the old is in the new revealed’. Most people also know that the Old Testament is replete with prophecies and pointers to Christ. Again, most evangelical theologians would acknowledge that a doctrine is not complete until and unless it includes what Jesus said or modeled concerning it.
Jesus revealed the mind of God because ‘in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9), He is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15), and ‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ (Hebrews 1:3). If we want to know what God thinks and feels then we look to Jesus (John 14:9). In this way we have the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16).
A question that many people ask is ‘did God send the Tsunami to decimate northern Japan?’ I have heard and read several answers to this question. They range from ‘God predetermines all things’, to ‘God was warning the Japanese to repent and so let’s pray for them’, to ‘God didn’t send it, bad things just happen in a sin-sick world’. How do we answer such a question?
To seek an answer we look into scripture and find that in the past God has indeed used natural catastrophes to punish people groups (Ezekiel 38:19). Of course this doesn’t mean that God is responsible for all natural calamities although some believe that God is the author of everything that happens in the natural world. This is called determinism which in my opinion is very hard to support from a comprehensive understanding of the whole biblical revelation. It is particularly incomprehensible when we look to how Jesus spoke and acted.
Still struggling for an answer we enquire as to whether God sent prior warnings to the Japanese. The testimony of scripture is that God always warns and allows much time for response before He punishes. Examples range from the great flood of Noah’s time, to the way God dealt with the city of Nineveh. Besides these and other examples, the scripture declares that ‘the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets’ (Amos 3:7). As far as I know there is no evidence of God sending prophetic warnings to the nation of Japan.
Another, and for me more decisive, way to deal with the dilemma is to ask ‘would Jesus do this?’ In this particular case the question is ‘would Jesus send a Tsunami to kill thousands, among whom were surely many of His faithful disciples?’ The Jesus revealed in the Bible healed, restored, and raised to life. Indeed He did warn and admonish but never with destruction and death. He rebuked the disciples who wanted to call down fire from heaven on His detractors (Luke 9:54). When one of His followers cut off the High Priests servant’s ear Jesus admonished the disciple and healed the ear.
So the answer to the Tsunami question is determined in the final analysis by taking account of what Jesus revealed of the mind of God concerning such things. So no, I do not believe that the recent Tsunami was a divine judgment.
I believe that perhaps we would all be a lot clearer in our thinking about the ways of God if we adopted the Christocentric Principle. I also believe that it would help us agree more and divide less over our interpretations of the scriptures. What we acknowledge is in the center makes all the difference. It’s in the middle Cyril – Jesus is the center.