This week we bore witness to yet another tragic natural disaster. Tornadoes ripped through the Midwest killing dozens of people, many of them children just starting their lives. In October 2012, we saw Hurricane Sandy kill at least 125 people and inflict at least $62 billion in damage. The storm also killed 71 people in the Caribbean. We experienced a severe summer heat wave and a drought, which may prove more costly than Sandy. Researchers note that the 2012 drought is the worst since 1988 and is on par with those of the 1950s. The drought came amid a year that, by mid-December, had more than a 99 percent chance of being the warmest ever recorded for the U.S.
We have endured an extraordinary season of disaster.
I was struck, however, by the number of people on the national news in this last round of storms who were crediting God for causing the storms and saving them from them. I cringed when I thought about those hearing the interviews whose children were killed. What does this kind of theology imply? God had not saved their children. Did God cause these storms and then save some people while abandoning to death someone else’s child or wife or husband or friend?
Let me go on record to say that if God worked in such arbitrary ways, taking one life here and saving one life there, I want nothing to do with that kind of God. You can count me out. We have long credited God with the events of Mother Nature, but I suggest that we would be better served if we stop crediting or blaming God and take a good look at ourselves.
Rev. Jim Antal, Conference Minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, has been blazing a trail for environmental awareness saying “earth” as we know it no longer exists thanks to human abuse and interference. The acting director of the U.S. National Weather Service, Laura Furgione, said, according to the Associated Press, “The normal has changed, I guess. The normal is extreme.”
Let’s finally be honest: WE have done this, not God. Our pollution of the earth has created extreme weather patterns that will continue to destroy lives and communities. We abdicate our responsibility when we blame God for causing the storms or credit God for saving us from them. We are the cause and the solution. We must change the way we live.
I do believe God is involved in all of this. God is in every heart that offers a kind word and helping hand to the people who are suffering loss. God is in the communities of faith who advocate, motivate, and facilitate calls for environmental justice. God is with the families that grieve the loss of loved ones, grieving with them the tragedy of needless death. I take great comfort in knowing that the God that we have come to know through Jesus was there on the day of Christ’s crucifixion AND on the day of his resurrection. God never abandons us, nor does God dictate our actions. We are free beings, endowed by God with the capacity to create our own heaven or hell on earth. All the while, God hopes we chose wisely.
Join me in praying for the families who have lost so much these past few weeks, and join me in taking responsibility for the ways we are living that are causing such harm to our planet. We can fix this, but not if we are scapegoating God.