In the Jonah story, Jonah doesn’t like the task God assigned for him. He flees in a boat, and then a terrible storm comes up. The sailors draw lots (which is portrayed in the Bible as a reliable way of discovering the truth) and discover that Jonah is the problem, which Jonah admits. They throw cargo overboard but that’s not enough. The storm finally stops only when they throw Jonah over.
God caused the storm. The Bible even admits that God causes all evil:
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, Jehovah, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7).
Is it not from the mouth of El Elyon that both calamities and good things come? (Lamentations 3:38)
This idea that disasters are caused by God continued in the medieval period. With the Black Death, which killed roughly half of Europe’s population from 1346–53, the Christian continent again thought that only God’s rage could explain the pandemic. The best way to protect oneself from this terrible disease was penitential activity such as public and bloody flagellation (see the painting above), pious commemoration of the dead, and persecution of those groups that God was probably angry at such as the poor, beggars, or minorities like Catalans or Jews.
Our approach to evil today
Things are different today, with modern science to tell us what causes storms and disease.
Or maybe not. When it suits them, some apologists and politicians will dismiss the science and fall back on superstition. Remember what Jerry Falwell said on Pat Robertson’s television show two days after the 9/11 attack:
The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say, “You helped this happen.”
Remember Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005? God was obviously mad about something, but what was it? Maybe racism (Louis Farrakhan’s conclusion) or abortion (Pat Robertson) or America’s insufficient support for Israel (an Israeli rabbi). Or, of course, the gays.
Remember the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed 300,000? It was the result of that pact they made with the devil. Just ask Pat Robertson—he’ll tell you.
If you think for one skinny minute, God is going to stand idly by and allow [same-sex marriage] to go forward without repercussions, you better back up and rethink this situation. . . . You think Ebola is bad now, just wait.
(For even more examples of everything that’s the gays’ fault, check out this list from The Advocate.)Remember when Texas governor Rick Perry prayed for an end to the 2011 drought in Texas? A California State Assembly member in 2015 thought that God was similarly involved with her state’s severe drought, and she made clear what God was livid about this time: abortion.
Remember John Hagee’s groundless fulminating about the “Four Blood Moons”?
A little reason
Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson both backed away from their hysterical 9/11 slander. The first major rain after Rick Perry’s 3-day public Days of Prayer came six months later. And Hagee ignored the failure of his Four Blood Moons hysteria and launched off into flogging some other groundless catastrophe.
Do these Christians know their own Bible so poorly that they’ve forgotten this verse?
The prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. (Deuteronomy 18:20)
(Maybe it’s not these Christian readers of tea leaves that have forgotten the Bible but their own timid followers who keep giving them attention and money.)
We know what causes hurricanes, lunar eclipses, disease, and droughts. We understand terrorism. We know that homosexuality is natural. God isn’t part of the equation. Pointing to God as the puppet master behind the world’s disasters is an empty claim. It’s like pointing to Halley’s Comet as the harbinger for the victory of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
It’s hard to believe that it’s the twenty-first century, and Christian leaders still make these claims. Or that their fans accept the claims and then come back for more after they fail. And what does it say about their God that they can easily imagine that he’s behind all the natural evil in the world? What catastrophe could possibly happen that God’s followers wouldn’t bounce back and praise him for his fabulousness?
I can do little but suggest that that’s what our imperfect brains can do, that we’re all susceptible, and that we must be continuously on guard. And to offer this bit of insight from author and professor Kathryn Gin Lum:
This instinct [to fear an angry God] is also why conservative evangelicals care so deeply about same-sex marriage and abortion even though they don’t engage in those activities themselves. It’s why people who are anti-big-government want the government to intervene in affairs that don’t seem to have that much to do with their own lives. This is why some evangelicals take a laissez-faire view of the financial markets but a highly interventional view of the government’s role in policing others’ individual choices.
I also love seeing it described by Michelangelo and Beethoven.
I’m appalled at seeing it described by William Lane Craig and Ray Comfort.
— commenter Richard S. Russell
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 6/22/15.)
Image credit: Wikimedia, public domain