Another earthquake has hit Iran. Is God sending a message?
In the view of some people, God must be both very angry and very busy. After voters in Dover, Pa., ousted school board members who sought to introduce “intelligent design” in the curriculum, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson proclaimed: “if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God. You just rejected him from your city.”
At least Robertson did not say God was going to destroy Dover. Others might not have been so reticent.
Rev. Flip Benham, National Director of Operation Save America, suggested God asked through hurricanes Katrina and Rita: “Can you hear me now?” Benham pointed to abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality: God “will not be silent.” Benham believes that God is not just on his side, but is smiting people to demonstrate how much God is on Benham’s side.
Internet columnist Don Feder was less certain, yet suggested that Katrina, which occurred one week after the Israeli government withdraw 9,500 settlers from the Gaza Strip, might be God’s punishment for supporting Israeli policy. He also noted New Orleans’ (im)moral character.
Journalist Bill Koening observed that “nine of the 10 costliest insurance events in American history” occurred “on the very same day or within 24 hours of U.S. presidents Bush, Clinton and Bush applying pressure on Israel to trade her land” as part of negotiations with the Palestinians.
In fact, nearly 25 percent of Americans believe that recent hurricanes were deliberately sent by God.
I, too, believe that God is sending a message: We are being punished for twice electing George W. Bush president.
But if God is sending messages, why start with Katrina and stop with America? More recently there are Iranian and Pakistani earthquakes and Guatemalan floods.
But the deadliest disaster of the 20th century was the 1917 flu epidemic that killed 20 million people. Obviously God was punishing the fools who started World War I.
The second worst catastrophe was the Soviet famine in the early 1930s, killing upward of 8 million people. God presumably used it to punish Russians for allowing the Bolsheviks to triumph.
Thousands routinely die in droughts, earthquakes, epidemics, floods and tsunamis around the globe. Yet America didn’t rate even one of the 100 worst natural disasters of the 20th century.
Still, God’s relatively gentle attention doesn’t mean that he isn’t irritated with us. The “Hurricane of Independence” roiled the Atlantic Coast in September 1776, killing four times as many people as did Katrina. Presumably God was punishing the loyalists for resisting independence (since we know he was on the rebels’ side).
Another 6,000 to 8,000 people died in the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the deadliest in U.S. history. God might have been angry for several reasons: Jim Crow laws, lack of women’s suffrage, and brutal occupation of the Philippines.
Hurricane Camille killed 256 people in 1969, probably because the United States had yet to forge a sufficiently close relationship with Israel. Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida in 1992 – perhaps he was angry that U.S. Jews were settling in Miami rather than in Jerusalem.
Fall 2004 was a full season, with hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. They obviously were warning against re-electing President Bush.
Nor should we ignore terrorism. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oka., blamed Sept. 11 on America’s insufficient support for Israel. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson suggested that God was smiting the United States because of the activities of abortionists, feminists and gays. Perhaps the Oklahoma City bombing was punishing hypocrisy, because it occurred in the fabled Bible Belt.
It has never been easy to reconcile a loving God and human tragedy. God’s gift of freedom is essential to the human person, but also the cause of much suffering.
The God of the Universe may still use natural events to send a message. Certainly there is much in America (and the world) to displease him, including abortion, which I believe to be a moral wrong, a licentious and degrading culture, the plight of the poor, and a world filled with violence and indifference. But while God undoubtedly is offended by much, it is presumptuous to act like we know his mind.
Why does any particular disaster kill whom it does? Only God knows. It seems unlikely that he has briefed the ministers and commentators so busy advancing their political agendas.
However, natural catastrophes do illustrate the uncertainty of life. God calls us to love him and our neighbors, create a culture that values the life and dignity of the human person, and repent of our sins. And to do so now, because we never know what the future holds.