Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Some Thoughts On Natural Disasters And The Mind Of God

“If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is, ‘God is crying,’ And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is, ‘Probably because of something you did.’” (Jack Handy, Deep Thoughts, 1992)

As America recovers from yet another massive natural disaster – or “act of God,” in insurance company lingo - the inevitable question resurfaces in Christian circles: Why is God crying? What is God angry about?  Why does it his some and not others? What did we do or not do right? I've written about this before, but I want to revisit this based on some conversation I know is taking place in Christian circles. 
This is a popular topic  in Christian circles every time a storm hits, especially if it hits where we don't live. Usually, the apparent target of God’s wrath is a particular situation or people group about which the person claiming clarity happens to feel very strongly:

  •  It’s the abortion doctors! 
  • It’s because of international policies! 
  • It’s the Middle East conflict! 
  • It’s liberal, feminist Marxists! 
  • It’s the greedy Wall Street 1%! 
  • It’s evolution in our schools! 
  • It's the President! 
  • It's megachurches (yes, I saw that one online)
  • It's for someone with whom I am displeased!”

There’s quite a list that gets generated in the aftermath of a disaster like hurricanes or tsunamis. Apparently, God has lots of options.

This is not new information. Even Jesus pointed out that the net we cast for sin gathers in quite a large catch.  Jesus was once asked if a tower’s collapse in Siloam was a judgment from God on a particularly bad group of people.  Jesus’ response: 
“Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? No! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:4-5) 
In other words, if we are trying to figure out who deserves judgment, everybody does in some fashion, and we should probably start by looking at ourselves and wondering why it's getting so cloudy.  
Many Christians today don’t cast the net as widely as Jesus did.  Like those who observed the tower of Siloam fall and assumed God was not pleased with a particular target group, hurricanes like Sandy or Harvey clearly means God is seriously upset with a particular target group, right?  “Thank God it’s not me!” (said all those who lived far enough away). 

For that matter, they sometimes note that they prayed and they were spared from the disaster they expected. "God heard our prayers!" As if God did not hear the prayers of other, less impactful, prayers. God apparently waits for the weak prayer link, and diverts disasters to the areas of little faith. 

This perspective blatantly ignores the perspective of Jesus. If Hurricane Michael is for some, it’s deserved by all. Ignoring that fact is bad enough, but there is a more fundamental question that needs to be addressed: Does God use natural disasters to punish the evil or reward the pious? 
The Old Testament is full of stories where God used nature to further His purposes or to send a message of blessing or judgment. I’m not questioning this. I’m asking if God still does this today in America. I believe He does not, and I have several reasons.
First, if we have been hammered because of God’s wrath, why is God so angry? Is it the election? International politics? New York City’s decision to hand out more contraception? The cast of Jersey Shore? The lobster industry? Abortion? Homosexuality? Greedy 1%ers? Wall Street? Racists and/or the antifa response?  The rejection of refugees? Does anybody even know?

And if God is altering weather patterns for some prayers and not others, why? 
The Bible does not portray a God who makes people guess why. The prophet Amos once wrote to the Israelites that God…does nothing
 without first telling his prophets the whole story.”  (Amos 3:7).  A punishment or a reward without a known reason accomplishes nothing.  Noah warned people for decades before the Flood (and I would argue that all those impacted by the flood got the message). We do not have record that Pharaoh ever said of the plagues, “What was that all about?” When God blessed the Israelite nation, they always knew why. 
I’m not trying alleviate any discomfort people feel about God’s ways. They are mysterious; that’s a topic for another time. For the purpose of this article, I simply want to note that when God brought judgment to a situation in the Bible, there was a pattern:  people were engaged in known, obvious wickedness/righteousness; they received a clear, prophetic call to repentance/promise of reward; if punishment, they were given an opportunity to escape.  The book of Jonah provides a great example of how this works. 
Second, if large natural disasters are loaded with some kind of message, what do local storms mean?  Is God mildly irritated with places that get wind and rain, along with a few downed trees and power outages? If a tree falls on my neighbor’s house but not mine, should I read something into that? I don't mean to be snarky; that's actually a comment that I read in an article online. Are spared homes automatically the dwellings of those who are pure of heart and strong of faith? Are the downed ones a sign? If God diverts a hurricane from its path, does that mean those in the path or more deserving of suffering than those who were spared?
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus noted, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).  Right. A bunch of Christians said that rain during President Trump's inauguration was a sign of God's blessing. Right. It rains on Las Vegas too. It’s tough to use any kind of weather or its impact to gauge God's perspective. 
Third, if we can use natural disasters as a means of gauging God’s disposition, why aren't more obvious targets being consistently leveled or blessed?  Take Vegas.  it’s Sin City; it’s the poster city for pretty much everything for which Christianity grieves. On an international level, why doesn't Amsterdam (with all its decadence) get nailed? Those would seem like easy choices. Syria should be leveled right now (with its persecution of Christians). The United States isn't even close to having the highest percentage of Christians.  We are surpassed by American Samoa, Andorra, Andora, Anguilla, Antigua, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba - and that's just the  list from countries that start with "A". (I counted 77 countries with a higher percentage of Christians. How is it that the United States enjoys so much prosperity if blessing is connected with godliness as kind of a quid pro quo?)
We've got to stop making assumptions about how the weather reveals God's thoughts and plans. The Bible records times that God used His creation to accomplish His purposes and reveal his perspective on situations. 

But until the Bible records God's thoughts on why natural disasters hit or miss us today,  we ought to refrain from offering ours. 

It doesn't, so we shouldn't. 

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