What do you think? from http://abpnews.com/news/news_detail.cfm?NEWS_ID=480 Blackaby says tsunamis God's judgment; missions experts question theology By Ken Camp DALLAS (ABP) --"Experiencing God" author Henry Blackaby believes the tsunamis that hit South Asia were God's punishment of an area where Christians have experienced particularly intense persecution. But some missions experts with links to the region question both his theology and his assertions about persecution. Blackaby told a Kentucky pastors' conference workshop he recognized God's hand of judgment in the tsunami after he saw a map published by Voice of the Martyrs showing areas of intense persecution of Christians worldwide. Many of the areas highlighted on that map "match to a T" the tsunami's impact, he said. He later told a reporter for Baptist Press: "If you read the Old Testament, especially, God is very concerned how the nations treat his covenant people. The nations that persecuted, offended and killed his people, God came down and destroyed them. And he's the same God today. He's just as concerned about his people." The idea of God using natural disasters as instruments of punishment is "a biblical concept," said Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Some Christians in South Asia have expressed the idea that the tsunamis were God's punishment for some wrongdoing, he noted. But Johnson urged caution before definitively linking any natural disaster to divine wrath --particularly without the benefit of long-range hindsight. "It's so difficult to know," he said. "We don't want to write God out of the equation, as the secular world would do. But the problem lies in interpreting an event" either as God's judgment on evildoers or as a "wake-up call" to Christians. Keith Parks, who served 14 years as a missionary in Indonesia before becoming president of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board and later coordinator for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Missions, agreed it's risky for Christians to try to interpret natural calamities as God's instruments for accomplishing his plan. "My personal view is that God's way of working is so far above us and his thoughts are so far beyond our thoughts that we're on very uncertain biblical ground when we try to define God's purpose in natural disasters," he said. He pointed to the New Testament account in which Jesus asked whether some Galileans who were killed by Pilate or some people on whom a tower in Siloam fell were worse sinners than anyone else. "It's hard for me to believe that these folks (in South Asia) were the most sinful people in the world," he said. Even if God either caused or allowed the disaster in South Asia to accomplish some corrective purpose, Johnson pointed out that while some persecution of Christians has occurred in the region, the most intense persecution was not in the areas hit hardest by the tsunami. "It just doesn't make quantitative sense in that respect," he said. Indeed, reports on the Voice of the Martyrs website indicate persecution of Christians in three countries hit by the tsunamis -- Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. But ethnic strife between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia has been centered in portions of the country not greatly affected by the tsunami rather than in the hard-hit Aceh province, which is almost entirely Muslim. Aceh province is the only part of Indonesia specifically authorized to implement Islamic law, but the U.S. State Department in its report on the country last year noted "no criminal sanctions for violators ... either Muslims or non-Muslims." Spokesmen for Voice of the Martyrs were out of the country and unavailable to respond to questions. The U.S. Commission on International Freedom listed only two tsunami-affected nations -- India and Burma -- as "countries of particular concern" regarding religious freedom abuses. Burma suffered minor losses from the tsunami compared to other neighboring countries. And the commission was divided in its decision to name India as a country of particular concern because conditions appeared to improve there after the ruling fundamentalist Hindu party lost in the most recent national elections. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, served on the U.S. Commission on International Freedom at the time the group issued its listing of countries of particular concern. Land was unavailable for comment. Regardless whether persecution is more intense in South Asia than in other parts of the world, Stan Parks, international liaison with the Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated WorldconneX missions network, said he would "categorically disagree" with Blackaby's assessment. "If anybody deserves judgment, it's Christians who horde the gospel and who lavish God's blessings on themselves with bigger buildings and finer homes," he said, adding if God gave people what they deserved, American Christians would have more to fear than non-Christians in South Asia. Parks recently returned from a nine-day trip to Indonesia -- where he served 10 years -- to meet with Christian leaders, as well as business and governmental representatives. He acknowledged some Christians in the region saw the tsunami as evidence of God's wrath. But they viewed it in terms of divine judgment on themselves for not sharing the gospel more diligently with their non-Christian neighbors. Parks noted that people around the globe who haven't heard the gospel already are in the middle of "a spiritual tsunami, sweeping them into an eternity of separation from God," and in some respects, the tidal waves that hit South Asia were evidence of God's mercy rather than his wrath. While disasters happen in a "sinful and fallen world," it appears God has used this natural tragedy to "break down barriers," he said. Rather trying to discern the meaning behind disasters, Parks said Christians have a responsibility to respond to new opportunities to share God's love with needy people who have not heard or seen a Christian witness.