Throughout the world at any given time, a natural disaster may occur. Earthquakes, typhoons, wiwildfires, volcanic eruptions, tornados, hurricanes, floods, drought….the list is overwhelming. When natural disasters occur, when people’s lives are overturned, when there is a loss of life and destruction of property, people often ask questions like why did this happen to me? Why did God allow this to occur? Why did God do this?
I lived for a time in South Florida. During my first year there, in 1992, Hurricane Andrew struck. It was devastating. While I did not experience the brunt of it, there was damage in my area and loss of power for days. At a special service held at my local church meant to be a source of comfort and inspiration following the hurricane, my good friend and colleague, the Rev. Grant Lynn Ford, reflected on God’s role in Hurricane Andrew: “Living in South Florida means that we live in hurricane alley. It’s not that God did this to us. Instead, we chose to live in a place where hurricanes are likely to occur.” Grant was right. The disaster wasn’t about God sending a storm into our lives. Instead, we lived in a place where storms occurred. By making South Florida our home, we would likely be impacted by a hurricane.
While certain types of preachers claim that the sins of some group caused God to send a natural disaster, such preachers promulgate a theology that is morally bankrupt. A deity who causes natural disasters is nothing less than capricious and sadistic. Beliefs in this kind of deity reflect an understanding of the forces of nature prevalent in the Iron Age when people had no idea what caused storms or earthquakes. Belief in a capricious deity is fundamentally contrary to the teachings of Jesus.
The author of the Gospel of Matthew conveys Jesus understanding of God’s role in natural events: “God made the sun to shine on the evil and the good and rain to fall on the just and unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45). Disastrous events don’t happen because people sin; they happen because they happen because they are part of nature’s cycles.
Further, in reading the teachings of Jesus, I find that the belief in a deity who is beyond us and controls and manipulates events is untenable. The teachings of Jesus are very clear. Throughout the gospel narratives, Jesus is portrayed as saying that the realm of God is here and now (Matthew 4:17) and that the realm of God is within each of us (Luke 17:20). As George Fox, the founders of the Quakers stated: “There is that which is of God in everyone.”
Natural disasters occur. They are as certain on our planet as the rising and the setting of the sun. Recognizing this, rather than asking questions about a deity’s motivation for disastrous events, I believe we need to consider how the Divine, whose presence is within each of us, responds when disaster strikes. The presence of God in the world is not disembodied. Instead, the Divine Presence in the world is manifested through us. When we respond with care and compassion, God is responding with care and compassion. When we act on the science that clearly demonstrates that climate change correlates with more intense natural disasters, then God is caring for the planet. When we work to assure that needed relief is provided to people whom we will never know, whose lives and cultures are far different from our own, then God is providing relief to them.
As a follower of the teachings of Jesus, I fully believe that when a cup of cold water is offered, then God is present (Matthew 10:42). When we stand against profiteers who deny climate change and, in turn, harm the planet and all life on it, God is present (Matthew 21:12-17). When we seek to create right-relationships with people, to respond with compassion to others, to live in a way that recognizes our own limitations (Micah 6:8), then God’s realm is made known in the world.
God does not cause natural disasters. Yet, God is present in the midst of suffering, binding up wounds and providing a way forward when we respond and make the realm of God a reality in the world.
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© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.