When Hurricane Katrina hit, some Christian talking heads proclaimed that the storm was God’s judgment upon New Orleans, because the city was, they said, a den of iniquity.
They were wrong.
I’ve been waiting for a similar declaration regarding Harvey. I’ve seen some minor ones, but not the attention-grabbing headlines as with Katrina.
People love to look at events and make decisions about them as if they can read God’s mind. If I am blessed with good things, then God must be smiling upon me for being a dandy person, and if bad stuff occurs then it clearly is God showing displeasure with me.
There are religions and philosophies which teach this notion, that their definition of god, or their understanding of the universe, balance things out in this manner, or reward or punish individuals for their behavior. Nowadays, it is popular to hearken to karma, that the universe gets even with us or rewards us based on how we live.
(Properly understood, the Hindu teaching of karma is that it is past lives which affect the present life, not the actions of the present life affecting a person as this life progresses.)
Since Christianity remains the religion of more Americans than any other, and Christian thought permeates the American landscape, Christians leaders who have the ear of the media get the headlines. Sadly, the media don’t use orthodox theology to sift out bad teaching, and bad teaching makes for outrageous, attention-grabbing headlines.
It is just as likely that your great aunt or brother-in-law is filling the air with their prophecies.
According to the Holy Bible, God the Father meted His wrath upon His Son. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. … God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:19 & 21).”
Jesus Christ bore the sin of the world. By His death He satisfied the wrath of His Father, which was proven by His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. God has no wrath left for the world. He does not zap cities with hurricanes, or individuals with illnesses or tragedies.
If He did, if God plagued us every time we did a wrong thing, we’d be toast on a daily basis.
So, you’re wondering, why do bad things happen? Hurricanes send fifty inches of rain, and cancers take over bodies, and wars break out, and spouses cheat on their mates, and unfairness and inequity occurs on a regular basis because the world does not work right.
As a pastor, I would return my congregation to Adam and Eve, to the original sin which corrupted the world, and to its permeating all humans and the entire creation. For the sake of writing here to a wide audience, I don’t have to hearken to the Holy Bible, because the mess is obvious to all, no matter one’s religion or lack of one, whether or not a person believes in a god or is an atheist.
We love to find someone to blame—it’s important when a crime has been committed—or to be able to point to a cause—vital when diagnosing an illness—but there isn’t always a place to satisfy our curiosity. When it comes to hurricanes and other natural disasters, the cause and blame always go to the same place: that’s how this world works, and it doesn’t always work in ways which are beneficial.
Returning to questions of God, if not as punishment might there be a purpose to the suffering produced by storms like Katrina and Harvey which devastate huge numbers, and by individual suffering—illness, untimely death, job loss, and the like? Absolutely, yes.
Whether to our person, or to a community, or to a nation, these things teach us that we really are not in control of our lives. If you think you are powerful, then, please, the next time the electricity is knocked out in your house because of a bad storm, use your powers to restore it. If you think you are the master of your fate, then no car accidents or other similar negatives should ever happen in your life. If you are in control of your destiny, then you will have no problem staving off diabetes, or high blood pressure, or Alzheimer’s, or, shoot, the common results of aging.
You can’t even stop a cavity from needing a dentist’s attention, or your child from doing the exact opposite thing you taught him to do, or the raccoons from raiding your garbage can.
Did God zap the Houston area with Harvey? No. Is He happy that people are suffering? No. Does He desire that we learn from this catastrophe, so that we recognize that we are not in charge? Yes.
Punishment and discipline are not the same thing. The following is a vital truth regarding the purpose for our undergoing discipline:
Is it God’s will that we use the catastrophes and tragedies of life to make us better people for the sake of our families, and neighborhoods, and communities, and countries, and the entire world? You betcha.
Love and compassion for each other is always the goal.