I was supposed to fly to New York City tomorrow to preach at a church in Brooklyn. But they were hit by a hurricane on Monday (see fake picture at right). Best that they have their own pastor there on Sunday. Sandy was a magnificent storm. Had it stayed out at sea, we would have marveled at its immensity and power, but then switched over to Monday Night Football. But because Sandy came ashore, we marveled at its immensity and power, and then suffered its devastating consequences. We couldn’t change the channels. Those of us witnessing the calamity didn’t want to.
The Huffington Post featured a conversation with clergy about the role of God in natural disasters. On the one hand, the faithful attribute the power of nature to God, but few are comfortable with attributing to God the intentional use of that power.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, asserts that “God as moral,” but “nature as not.”
Nature is value-free. It can’t tell the role between the deserving the undeserving. God’s role is not to decide where the hurricane goes and how severe it is. God’s role is to motivate people to help neighbors and improve methods to predict hurricanes. God is found not in the problem, but in the resilience.
I don’t disagree with this. It makes me feel better about a God who presumably is more powerful than nature. But I’m not sure I’m supposed to feel better when disasters like Sandy strike.
In Luke’s gospel, the closest we come to a natural disaster is when this tower collapses and kills eighteen people. Where was God? He was over in the next county. Commenting on the disaster, Jesus says regarding the people who died, “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Apparently God is not in the natural-disaster-aversion business.
He remains, of course, in the business of new creation and resurrection from the dead. It seems part of Jesus point here is that if a hurricane doesn’t get you, something else will. This life is not all there is.
As always, the responses of so many whose homes were lost and lives upended on Monday were to thank God and ask for prayer. Call it instinctual, call it delusional, call it faithful: the king of pain Job put it like this: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21).