We cannot fail to be moved by the pleas of superstorm Sandy’s victims as it slammed into New York and New Jersey earlier this week. The pictures of devastation and their wrenching cries are just too close for comfort.
Of course, the earth is bombarded by disasters of this scope on a regular basis, but the closer a geographic event, the more likely it could have claimed us. We desperately seek a reason for the calamity that might help deter another from happening.
So it’s not unusual for some people to consider a catastrophe punishment from God for the general sin of the nation. And self-loathing, that some Americans seem to revel in, becomes the focal point of this event—we deserve what we get!
This idea creates a problem: why were these particular people singled out by God for punishments of various degrees—death, bereavement, personal injury, loss of home or possessions—and does each punishment really fit each person’s “crime”?
If not, the alternate question arises, why were the good and bad all affected the same? Innocent children, good living people, as well as the local crooks and blaggards? After all, didn’t God know what was in the heart of each one?
A further question: why hasn’t God struck us in a similar way? After all, similar sins abound in our neighbourhood, even in our own hearts. Clearly, either God is unjust, or perhaps we can be proud of our own righteousness, temporarily extended to sinners around us, providing a cone of safety from God’s wrath.
The upshot seems to be: our Father in heaven, not only causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, but is just as generous with His disasters and as capricious with His judgments.
None of this can stand up to scrutiny, and is just as unsatisfactory to me, a Christian. I believe there is a more logical and scriptural response that suggests reasons, not only for these catastrophic events, but the increasing severity of them.
Is it all tied to climate change, and are we responsible for it? Yes, but not in the way it is generally portrayed. Our exploitation and pollution of the planet are only an extension of human action denying responsibility for how God has created us to live.
The first clue is the result of Adam’s sin. Our first mistake is believing that the earth’s faulty functioning—thorns and thistles—were an unrelated penalty for disobedience. But God’s ways are not capricious; The effects of sin—now, and then—are consequences, not punishment.
Adam’s sin was not simply eating of a prohibited fruit. If it was, sin imputed to the whole human race would have been extraordinarily “cruel and unusual punishment.” No simple act of disobedience deserved that.
In his book, Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell shows that Adam and Eve’s disobedience was only a symptom of an underlying decision “throwing off the whole deal.” God had created them for responsibility to develop and nurture the planet.
He goes on to say “The choices of the first people were so toxic because they were placed in the middle of a complex web of interaction and relationships with the world God had made. When they sinned, their actions threw off the balance of everything.”
If that first sin had the effect of destabilizing the earth’s normal functioning, then today’s increasing secular dismissal of God from His world, can plausibly be the cause of increasing catastrophies. That together with an increasing population expanding that desire, may trigger increasing severity.
If God is no longer welcome in the world he created, and we consider we can run our affairs opposing the guidance He has given for optimum performance—even in a fallen world—we can only expect increasing disasters around us, and greater turmoil in our lives.