The Urgency of Repentance

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; 7 let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 55:6-7 (ESV)

Tourists were lounging on the beach near Phuket, Thailand, when, without warning, a massive tidal wave swept over them. Those who died on that beach were joined in death by tens of thousands of others killed by the South Asian tsunami on December 26, 2004. From Sri Lanka to India to Indonesia, the death toll and property destruction were staggering.

No doubt, many righteous people died in the tidal wave. Certainly, thousands of innocent children were killed, some even ripped from their mothers’ arms. And as Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), he surely wept over much of what He saw December 26.

The missing-persons postings in the Phuket Gazette were filled with descriptions sent in by friends. Some mentioned telltale tattoos, others distinctive swimwear or jewelry. Reading down the list, one cannot help but be struck by the number of unmarried couples who were sharing rooms there—from Sweden, America, Norway, Austria, Germany, Canada, France, Portugal, and England. Some were of the same sex. And if descriptions of Phuket are correct, some were there for anonymous sex, even with children. Many of those who died were living in sin, thinking it would cost them nothing. Many others were also living apart from God as though tomorrow would most certainly come. Needing to “seek the Lord,” they sought only self-gratification.

The prophet Isaiah preached during the tumultuous years following the death of King Uzziah in c. 740 BC (6:1). An aggressive dynasty had risen in Assyria. Hungry for empire, they defeated and deported the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722. Twenty years later, King Hezekiah of Judah disobeyed the Lord and revolted against Assyrian domination, whereupon Sennacherib invaded and almost shattered the little kingdom. God intervened to save Jerusalem (37:36-37), but by the end of Hezekiah’s life, a new threat loomed, conquest and enslavement by the Babylonians (39:5-7). The only way out was repentance, and this was Isaiah’s call on behalf of God.

His message fell on deaf ears, so the nation collapsed into the hands of aliens. It was only when the Israelites had languished for a season in Babylon that their hearts were ready for restoration. Only then did they experience the “compassion” and “pardon” (v. 7) God promised to the contrite.

Who can know why a sovereign God allowed, or even caused, this event? Perhaps the wave saved many of the children from a “fate worse than death” at the hands of sex traffickers. Perhaps the Lord decided to send spiritual shock waves throughout South Asia, America, and Europe, from which many of the tourists had come. God can work that way, as He did in Isaiah’s day. When men and women will not hear, He is perfectly capable of raising His voice.

Amid reports that the tsunami caught everyone by surprise, Thailand and other nations of the region resolved to purchase and install early-warning devices in the oceans surrounding their shores. Even then, many people may choose to ignore the signals, but at least the authorities did what they could. The Church has the same responsibility to sound the merciful call to repentance, faith, and obedience in hopes that many will flee to the safety of God’s high ground.