Q&R: 2 Chronicles 7 – When is God the Cause?

Question:

It’s that time again when everyone brandishes 2 Chronicles 7:12-14! In Bible Study, a questioner honestly admitted NOT quite seeing how God would prevent rain, command locusts to devour the land or send pestilence among the people:

“Why is God so mean and controlling, etc?”

I know you have shared this (maybe A More Christlike God?), but I would love to give her a succinct, Christological answer!

Response:

First, the text in question:

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

That passage certainly represents God as the direct cause of temporal blessings and curses. And between the lines, we also see these blessings and curses caused by the people’s obedience or disobedience.
 
The author records God’s speech, reported by a character (Solomon), in the context of a dream. The way the Bible describes it says a lot about both the worldview of those who recorded the account and also how the language of “cause” works in normal language.For instance, what causes a wooden chair? (1) The need to sit somewhere, (2) the tree that provided the wood, (3) the tools used to assemble the chair, or (4) the carpenter who built it? All of the above in their own way.
 
So too, what causes a disaster such as a plague? (1) Human sin? (2) The laws of nature? (3) The virus itself? (4) The animal or insect or person who spread it? (5) Or did God send the plague?
 
The big problem with such language is that it might be partly right, but it also easily slips into blaming God for human sin or blaming human sin for natural processes, etc. Who can make such judgments? Typically, that route leads to lots of sloppy finger-pointing, which God expressly forbids!
 
On the other hand, aside from the mysterious causes for the ebb and flow of our lives, it is also true that any disaster or blessing can be an occasion to remember and reorient our lives toward God and open our hands in praise and receptivity to divine grace.
 
In all of this, Jesus brings his own perspective in Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus saw his Father as the ultimate cause of all good things, regardless of how we bring good things or bad events on ourselves. For Jesus, the Father is the “first cause” of every good thing (which is different than micro-managing every breeze or sprinkle). His point is that our Father in Heaven is generous and gracious without exception or favoritism.
 
As the Psalmist said, “He is good to ALL and has compassion on ALL that he has made.” 
 

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