Signs of the Times

[From an editorial in the Canadian Churchman, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Oct. 25, 1923]

Has it struck you as significant that the terrible disaster in Japan has stirred up so little theological comment? We are hearing but little in the press from people who used to be ready with one solution for all such life puzzles,—it is the act of God; a visitation upon pagan and materialistic Japan for her grievous sins; a divine chastisement! On the contrary, the press is full of expressions of humane and Christian sympathy and of calls to minister to a sister-nation in dire distress. Which of the two proclamations is nearer to the heart of the New Testament and to the teachings of our Lord and the revelation of God as Father ... few will have difficulty in deciding. It is, as we have said, significant. It means that our modern world, with all its faults and shallowness, is sounder in its spiritual intuitions than some earlier generations. We would be shocked to-day, and count ourselves perilously near blasphemy, were we lightly to explain this appalling disaster as wholly explicable, being an "act of God," as the law books taught by the older theology still aver. This revulsion of feeling is a sound instinct. That the feeling is modern means nothing; but that in these days we are more sensitive to that view of the race and its tragedies which is more in agreement with our Lord's supreme revelation in himself and on his cross, is full of meaning. We do well to meditate upon the substitution of the call to mercy for the proclamation of divine chastisement. For, let us understand quite clearly, you cannot have both. If God sent this visitation upon Japan for her sins, then it is presumptuous of us to interrupt His providential discipline by acts of mercy and relief. We should be working to thwart His good purposes. The simple logic of this situation is not always apparent to those who, in the past, have so lightly settled the whole mystery by attributing it to Providence. For many have preached divine retribution by word, and humanitarian mercy by deed. But the two cannot walk together, for they are in essential disagreement. Some of the sterner sects of the Calvinists used to be completely conscious of this, when, ... believing an illness to be a direct chastisement of God for exact sins, they would resolutely refuse all measures either of relief or cure.... Let us be thankful that our age is more conscious of the presence of God the Father and of our Saviour Christ among the sufferers in Japan through the love of our missionaries and their self-denying service, than through the ravages of earthquake, flood, and fire.... That, whatever else you learn God to be, the first fact about Him you must make sure of is that He is our Father. This conception of God must dominate all others.

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June 7, 1924

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