Disaster and Sin
These past few weeks, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy throughout the Northeast has been plastered across our TV screens and Twitter feeds. The scenes have been pretty gnarly. Flooding through the first floor with families trapped on the second. Houses wiped from foundations. It is pure and unadulterated devastation. Whether folks experienced the storm first hand or “experienced” the storm through CNN, the natural first question that comes to mind is “Why?” It’s a natural question because we live in a Newtonian world, ruled by cause and effect. We see the effects of the storm and we want to know the cause. Why this? One answer is a meteorological one. The storm was a result of winds, precipitation, barometric pressure, and what not. Most people know that. The real question they want answered is “Why did this happen to us?” This answer is not so clear and you’re likely to get a wide range of responses. There is only one answer I am interested in addressing, though, and that is to those who assert that these national disasters, these graphic scenes of rushing waters, shattered and battered trees, and desolated houses, these homeless and lifeless souls affected are a result of rampant sin in our country. Most notably, the hotly debated sins: homosexuality and abortion. Some say that because these sins exist in our society, we will continue to suffer from harsh natural disasters. God sends tornados, hurricanes, thunder, and lightning to us until we repent of our sin and return to his way of living. These disasters are our own fault.
I take issue with this particular kind of thinking. And if you will allow me, I will explain why. To think that natural disasters are a result of rampant sin in our society, and thus, are punishment from God, is to believe that God sits in the sky as the moral score keeper. And at the bottom of eighth, the sinners lead the saints. God keeps the box score and updates the state of the game either through natural disasters or great bounties of harvest. There are a number of reasons why this isn’t true, one being that there are so many people in Illinois, in the United States, in the world that it is impossible for any human to keep track of wrongdoing and good deeds in order to determine what the appropriate response will be. There is absolutely no way to record the score of game. And the score changes so rapidly that no prolonged storm could possibly be the result of losing the moral game. What if mid-Sandy, I helped an old lady across the street and hit a sacrifice fly into deep left to put the good guys back on top? Does the storm suddenly go away? We find that truth exists because we experience and test it in our life. There is no way to test if God has accurately kept the score of humanity.
All of that goes without even mentioning Job. He was a man who had things going for him, a man the Bible describes as “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). This was a man who was winning the moral game. One day, however, a messenger came to tell Job that his livestock had been stolen and his servants murdered. Then came the news that “the fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and servants” (Job 1:16), then again the news that “[his] sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they [were] dead” (Job 1:19). The Bible gives us the story of Noah and the flood, but it also gives us the story of Job, showing that God is not a God who keeps the score and punishes when we lose. Job was blameless but suffered the greatest.
You may not believe in this God yourself. You may say that this disaster is a result of any act that is less than perfect. God cannot stand sin. Anytime we commit one of these so-called sins, like homosexuality, abortion, or even flipping the bird, we bring judgment upon ourselves. God punishes us for these imperfections with natural disasters. It is true that we are all sinful. It is not true that God punishes us through the use of natural disasters, mainly because if this was true, we would be experiencing natural disasters all the time, nonstop. Rain jackets would be the most popular fashion and pruned skin the most desirable physical feature. Thank God we enjoy both rain and sun, and that pruned skin is the result of long baths and summer swims. Folks that hold this particular worldview must have gotten bored and put their Bible down somewhere around Habakkuk because their worldview plainly ignores Christ’s work on the cross. It is a work that defeated death and sin. We no longer sacrifice to clear our name because the tomb is empty.
I hesitate to say this, but I do not blame anyone for thinking this way. There are stories in the Bible that could suggest that this sort of event happens. For example, as I mentioned earlier, the old world was sinful and God commanded Noah to build an ark as he flooded the Earth (Genesis 6-9). It is a story that seems to highlight this type of thinking. Unfortunately, this story is not an isolated incident. It has context. It is trapped, sandwiched, and squished in between other stories that collectedly tell the tale of humanity’s relationship with God. That relationship does not consist of mass punishment through natural disaster. So to answer your question of why Hurricane Sandy devastated the lives of so many Americans, I will tell you that I don’t exactly know. And I’m not sure I ever will. There are some things in this world that will forever be mysteries and we may never know until the great curtain has been pulled back. Be reassured that we don’t need to know. All we must know is that day and day again we are offered God’s graces.
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