“… if God cares for so much for all creatures, why didn’t God create a world in which there would be no natural disasters?”
One of the more significant passage in the Old Testament for shaping our understanding of God — or perhaps a passage that if we take it serious will shape our view of God — is the Flood Story.
What do you think of his sketch of the God of the Flood Story? How do you explain Genesis 6:5-7?
Terence Fretheim in Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters (Theological Explorations for the Church Catholic), is probing into the question above and he does it through the lens of the Flood Story. He generates idea after idea in this study, so I’ll keep it to a minimum:
First, he begins by exploring how “judgment” by God in the Old Testament is about the effects of human sin, not so much a penalty or punishment by God. This means that the relationship of sin and its consequence is more intrinsic than forensic. [That's a big idea, but this post would get too long if we developed it.]
Second, God chooses to subject himself to this just created order [which God designed]. God gives creatures freedom; there’s a looseness to the causal weave in the created order; God uses agents and God is at work in the agent, but the agent is the one who does the deed. Thus, one text can say God did something and another one that a human (or flood) did it: Jer 13:14 and 21:7. That is, God portrayal is conformed to the agents God uses. [Another big idea.]
Thus, in the Flood story: God is at work but God doesn’t act until later in direct terms. The actions are those of the “flood of waters” and the “fountains of the great deep burst forth” and the “windows of heaven were opened” (cf. Gen 6:11-13; 7:11, 17-20, 24).
So, for Fretheim, we get a reshaped characterization of God in the Flood Story:He develops ten themes:
1. Relationships: God creates a world where there is a web of relational networks, and God is in that web.
2. Agents: God uses agents: storm and flood and water; the moral order of sin and consequences gets tied into cosmic and natural orders; and God uses Noah, the righteous man, to redeem.
3. Emotions: God is affectable in the Flood Story. This means God is involved in the network.
4. God’s regret: can’t get around this one so I’ll quote it. Gen 6:
6:5 But the Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time. 6:6 The Lordregretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended. 6:7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – everything from humankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.”
5. God’s plans: Fretheim says God’s regret assumes God not know for sure that humans would turn to evil; he puts it this way: “God knows all there is to know, including all possibilities, but there is a future that is not yet available for knowing, not even for God” (58).
6. Human resistance: humans can and do resist God’s plan and will. He speaks here of “divine vulnerability” (58).
7. God’s change of strategy. There is change within God in this Flood Story.
8. God’s grief: God’s “heart was filled with pain” and the word “pain” is the same as the one found in Gen 3:16-17. Grief is the godward side of judgment and wrath.
9. God’s suffering: a big theme for Fretheim. Since humans resist God and sin after the Flood, the pain of God about sin continues. Suffering is central to the theme of God in the Bible for Fretheim.
10. God’s promises: God makes promises and this limits God; a divine self-limitation. God will contain himself within his promises. This broaches God’s utter faithfulness.
He sees natural disorders as reflecting part of this divine self-limitation of how God will act in this world. God will not bring the world to an end, as God did before, and that means God will permit the world to wreak vengeance on itself in the sin and consequence moral order.