After the devastating Oklahoma tornadoes, some were quick to use the event as evidence of God’s non-existence. The day after, J.M. Green at Debunking Christianity asked Why do Christians pray after disaster?
Who would want to be comforted by someone who was able to help during a crisis but stood idly by? …If you are a Christian, does something like this shake your faith in God at all? Do you feel an inner conflict about praying for the victims of a disaster in which their own prayers for protection and deliverance were unanswered? Can you truly speak of ‘miraculous’ survivals, while ignoring all those who did not survive?
Frankly, those are good questions. Of course, the conclusion that Debunking Christianity assumes is that natural disaster proves the non-existence of a benevolent, loving God. As I argued HERE, natural disaster and random human suffering could prove lots of things about the nature of the Universe. Here’s just four:
- God exists, but is evil.
- God exists, but is indifferent and morally neutral.
- God exists, but is powerless to do anything.
- God exists, but allows such calamity for another purpose
Then, on the other hand, you have those believers who are quick to attach divine judgment or retribution to such calamities. Like pastor John Piper who, within 24 hours of the event, tweeted this:
Lest you think that’s not what Piper’s inferring, consider that the day after tornadoes and storms slammed the Midwest in 2009, the prolific author and pastor claimed the tornado was a “warning” to the Lutheran denmoination against approving homosexuality. Then there was Piper’s take on the Asian tsunamia as a warning to “Repent!”
Frankly, this is one of my problems with the neo-Reformers of today and Calvinism in general.
Is the Oklahoma tornado a chance for us to repent? Indeed! In fact, waking up this morning was also a chance for me to repent. Every day we live and breath is a chance to repent. Could a natural disaster be one reason? You bet. But so could winning the lottery.
Underneath all this is a question many Christians seem reluctant to face: Does God still use natural disasters as a means of judgment? And, if so, could the Oklahoma tornado be one of them?
One cannot read the Bible and not come to the conclusion that God is the God of nature, and can use it to do His bidding. Earthquakes, floods, and famines are clearly at God’s disposal. So the issue is not whether God can and does use natural disasters, but knowing when said catastrophes are direct judgments from God. I mean, is every fire, every volcanic eruption, every typhoon a heavenly rebuke?
Complicating the issue is this — if the Chinese earthquake, Katrina, or the Asian tsunami were judgments from God, why were so many Christians affected? In the Old Testament, God spared His people from wrath (the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.). Likewise, many Christian organizations existed in Haiti before the 2010 earthquake. Yet they were not unaffected by the earthquake. So why would God judge Haiti and allow so many of His children to be injured, even killed? Were they just collateral damage?
The danger in attributing natural calamities to the judgment of God is not in associating God’s judgment with said calamities, but in claiming to know what specific calamities are or are not part of that judgment. This, I think, was Pat Robertson’s problem when he claimed the Haiti had a pact with the devil and this was the Divine result. Who gave him a heavenly Bat-phone? How can he possibly know if this was God’s doing or just part of living in a fallen world? The truth is, none of us can perfectly know these things. At the least, events like the Oklahoma tornado should humble us, remind us of our own frailty, and reawaken our need for God. Not force us into making judgments, predictions, and altar calls.
But this begs the question: Does God still use natural disasters as a means of judgment? I think there’s three reasons why Christians are reluctant to answer that in the affirmative.
First — We fear that if we concede an event might be part of God’s judgment, we relinquish having to help the victims. The Bible clearly speaks about helping orphans, refugees, the homeless and hurting. But what if their suffering is due, in part, to the judgment of God? And does conceding that judgment let us off the hook? It’s a bit of a conundrum for believers, so we avoid answering in the affirmative.
Second — If we concede that an event might be part of God’s judgment, we fear that bringing assistance would be meddling. This was what prompted Sharon Stone to suggest that helping victims of the Chinese earthquake was “bad karma.” By helping victims of bad karma, we short-circuit their cycle. (Frankly, it’s also one of the things that has made American evangelicals so slow to respond to the AIDS crisis. ) However, Scripture does not put stipulations on when we should show kindness and mercy, and when we should withhold it.
Third — Christians are afraid to concede God’s use of natural disaster because of what it potentially makes God look like. I think many Christians are on a mission to rehabilitate God’s “Old Testament” image. They dislike having to concede divine judgment of any kind. It’s led to a lot of theological hogwash, like those who conclude God is a recovering practitioner of violence. But either God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), or He isn’t. As such, we must believe that the “Judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25) shall do right.
Any literate, Bible-believing Christian would have to conclude that God can still use natural disasters as a means of judgment. The important thing is where we go with that conclusion once we make it.