Hurricanes and Divine Wrath

Hurricanes and Divine Wrath September 17, 2017

One can understand the inclination to think of hurricanes as expressions of anger. Even the metaphors we use – furious howling winds, lashing rain, and so on – draw from such imagery.

But there are problems with attempting to take this view literally, especially in light of our meteorological understanding of climate, weather, and storms, but even just in terms of the way God ends up being thought of when one views God as attacking sinners with a scattergun that does so much collateral damage.

I shared a meme about this some years ago, which seems worth sharing again:


The worst heretics often come out of the woodwork during hurricane season. Ken Ham is a perfect example. Young-earth creationists want at the same time to be biblical literalists about Adam and Eve bringing sin into the world, but they also want to pander to modern ethical sensibilities and so refuse to say that God cursed the ground and brought all this pain and suffering into the world as punishment. And so they will say that these things result from human sin – as though humans rather than the Creator are the ones who control weather and climate.

Allan Bevere offers a much better example of how Christians can interact with these issues. In a recent post he wrote, “if such natural disasters are the result of God’s judgment, then God’s judgment is quite indiscriminate. There’s certainly much collateral damage incurred, and yes, I think dead children are collateral damage. One would think if God wanted to judge the guilty parties only, he would be capable of performing surgical strikes on the right people. If God does not have the ability to do this, perhaps God should have a conversation with the military.”

See also Neil Carter’s insightful treatment of the different ways that people are prone to interpret circumstances when a hurricane devastates some and spares others.

Christians, we can do better.

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  • You wrote, “Allan Bevere offers a much better example of how Christians can interact with these issues. In a recent post he wrote, “if such natural disasters are the result of God’s judgment, then God’s judgment is quite indiscriminate. There’s certainly much collateral damage incurred, and yes, I think dead children are collateral damage.”

    However, tragically, many, maybe most, conservative Christian leaders at present claim that ALL humans even infants are guilty of Original Sin, so that their sorrowful deaths in disasters are actually just punishment by God.

    According to them “dead children” aren’t collateral damage, but only receiving the righteous destruction they deserve:-(

  • Pseudonym

    Why does Republican God never send natural disasters as divine retribution for greed, or usury?

    • Nick G

      Come now! Didn’t He smite the very centre of the oil industry? I’m sure all the leaders of the religious right have been preaching about how He is warning of the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions! Haven’t they?

      • Pseudonym

        “The nations raged,
        but your wrath has come,
        and the time for judging the dead,
        for rewarding your servants, the prophets
        and saints and all who fear your name,
        both small and great,
        and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
        – Revelation 11:18 (NRSV)

  • Jerry Hollingsworth

    One of the problems many like Ken Ham appear to have is the inability to recognize that the entirety of creation began to decay when Adam sinned or perhaps, upon expulsion from Eden. Worldwide, people love (among other things) to blame what are natural (and necessary) processes on this or that group or associate their problems with those unlike themselves. Hmm, religious xenophobia? While Ken does get it right occasionally, he’d better serve believers and non-believers alike by sticking to what God authored and leaving the rhetoric in the loo where it belongs. Great article here and impressive blog!

    • You sound (at least from your comment as worded) that you have the same issue as Ham – attributing to the result of human action the transformation of animals from herbivores into carnivores, the creation of viruses and bacteria or at least their recreation into something that causes harm, the decay of cellular telomeres or perhaps their very existence, and much else. Are you really going to take that activity from the Creator and try to give it to human beings?!

      • I agree with James McGrath, Decay and Death Existed Since “The Beginning.”

        I used to be a young-earth creationist, but realized I could not defend the idea of “no death before the Fall of Adam and Eve.” For instance, plants are alive, their cells have the same basic structures as those in animals, like a nucleus, cytoplasm and cell wall, and they died per Genesis 1, not because of sin, but because they were given as food. And the mere fact that ‘food’ had to be given implies that death by ‘starvation’ was also possible “in the beginning.”

        I also realized that larger animals probably could not have avoided ingesting smaller ones, or stepping on them, unless via yet another unmentioned miracle, their movements were finely choreographed. Extinct species of gigantic fish, sea reptiles and sea mammals, chewing off gigantic mouthfuls of seaweed would have had to carefully spit out even the tiniest fish that was also feeding on the seaweed. Gigantic species of herbivores biting off a bunch of leaves could accidentally ingest small living things among the foliage. Gargantuan dinosaurs like brontosauruses, or gigantic mammals like Baluchitherium could easily have inhaled insects, and they would have to dodge ants, beetles, worms, frogs, snakes, and even much smaller mammals with each gargantuan step. And spiders would have to assist in the release of any insects that flew haphazardly into their webs.

        And what if NO living things died, at all? A single bacterial cell that divides every twenty minutes would multiply to a mass four thousand times greater than the earthʼs in just two days.

        A single oyster, left to its own devices, produces more than one-hundred-twenty-five million eggs in a season. Thatʼs more than enough oysters, if none died in eight years, [10 to the 89th power number of oysters] to crowd the water out of the oceans and make it cover the earth.

        If all the eggs from one mother housefly lived, she would produce more than five trillion offspring in just one season.

        A sunfish sometimes lays three hundred million eggs.

        A female sea turtle lays a hundred or more eggs.

        There are even more bountiful numbers from the world of fungal spores right up to seed-bearing plants.

        What about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and decay? They goes with death, right? But is decay due to ‘sin?’ I read an exchange in The Creation Research Society Quarterly between two young-earth creationists, Henry Morris and Robert Kofahl, in which the latter argued that the Second Law of Thermodynamics must have existed in Eden before the Fall because the animals and Adam had to break down the molecules in the food they ate, and the necessary biochemical reactions would not occur without the Second Law of Thermodynamics being in effect. See also Creation Matters Sept/Oct 2001, “Did Entropy Change Before the Curse?” in which a young earth creationist argues that “Reasonable evidence exists from the Scripture that heat did indeed flow before the Curse, which would imply a change in entropy.” He argued that when God created two great lights to light the Earth, and their light shone on the earth, and if that included a transfer of thermal energy to the Earth, “then, from the standpoint of classical thermodynamics, there was a change in entropy before the Curse.” And, in Genesis 3:8, just after the Fall but before the Curse, “notice that God came down during the ‘cool of the day.’ That sounds like the temperature changed. If the temperature changed, then wouldnʼt thermal energy flow? If the answer is yes, then entropy changed before God instituted the Curse… Therefore, Creationists should refrain from claiming that entropy did not change before the Curse was implemented.” In fact not even the existence of ‘friction’ would follow without the Second Law being in effect. Talk about a slippery Eden!

        But if the Second Law was in effect, and the animals and first couple digested their vegetarian dinners might they not have expelled gas, the product of such decay? Or defecated? And if there were helpful E. Coli bacteria in their guts (half of fecal matter is the waste produced by E. Coli including dead E. Coli) might not their fecal matter have had an odor? What about the bacteria living on the bodies of every living thing, such as in the armpits of Adam and Eve, and the waste produced by those bacteria? Did it also have an odor? What about the bacteria in their mouths and the waste products it produced, along with possible odors? Morning breath? Did God feel the least bit obliged to give Adam and Eve the recipe for soap? How about mouthwash? In other words, wouldnʼt Adam and Eve have felt just a LITTLE embarrassed (perhaps even ‘ashamed’) of discovering such odors for the first time, even before they discovered they were ‘naked?’ So if one insists that the original creation was so perfect there was no death, nor any signs of decay, one might retort with, “No decay my rear end!” Or should I say, “Adamʼs rear end?” Or, as Adam once put it, “Eve, pick some of those soft leaves next time, Iʼm getting chafed!” There was also pain in paradise. How do I know? It says in Genesis that God ‘cursed woman’ by ‘increasing or multiplying’ her pain in childbirth, and you canʼt ‘increase or multiply’ what isnʼt already there.

  • Faced with horrors the ancients interpreted them by imagining that their nation’s high god was communicating His “displeasure, anger and/or jealousy.” Even when the ancient Israelites were the aggressors, committing atrocities on surrounding peoples they claimed they were murdering and/or obtaining more land, because Yahweh was “giving them” such land, and imagined Yahweh was “pleased” with such behavior and had “blessed” them with victory. They gave Yahweh the “praise” when their conquests were successful, but whenever things took a turn for the worse they tried all the harder to standardize and centralize worship to try and quell what they imagined was Yahweh’s “displeasure.” Such interpretations were commonplace back then. After Babylon was plundered by Assyria the next king of Babylon interpreted the invasion as a punishment sent by Babylon’s own high god to teach his people a lesson:

    “[The citizens of Babylon] had oppressed the weak, and handed the weak into the power of the strong. Inside the city there was tyranny, receiving of bribes, people plundering each other’s things, sons cursing fathers in the street, slaves cursing masters, they put an end to offerings [to the gods], they laid hands on the property of the temple of the gods, and sold silver, gold and precious stones… Marduk [the high god of Babylon] grew angry and devised evil to overwhelm the land and destroy the peoples”–W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford U Press 1960), p. 5.

    At other times ancient Near Easterners were dumbfounded when their nation’s high henotheistic god seemed to have let them down during times of suffering. Their gods remained silent, leaving people with nothing but lamentations. Think of Job, or the Psalmists’ cries for Yahweh to not keep his face hidden. Compare this with biblical psalms, prayers and lamentations for help:

    A Hittite Plague Prayer Offered by the King

    Hattian Storm-god, my lord, and ye, Hattian gods, my lords! A plague ye have let into the land. The Hatti land has been cruelly afflicted by the plague. For twenty years now men have been dying. As for me, the agony of my heart and the anguish of my soul I can no longer endure. When I celebrated festivals, I worshiped all the gods. I never preferred one temple to another. The matter of the plague I have laid before all the gods in prayer, making vows to them (and saying) “Hearken to me, ye gods, my lords! Drive ye forth the plague from the Hatti land! The reason for which people are dying–either let it be established by an omen, or let me see it in a dream, or let a prophet declare it!” But the gods did not hearken to me and the plague got no better in the Hatti land. The Hatti land was cruelly afflicted. Hattian Storm-god, my lord, (and) ye gods, my lords! It is only too true that man is sinful. My father sinned and transgressed against the word of the Hattian Storm-god, my lord. But I have not sinned in any respect. It is only too true, however, that the father’s sin falls upon the son. Because I have confessed my father’s sin, let the soul of the Hattian Storm-god, my lord, and (those) of the gods, my lords, be again pacified! Take pity on me and drive the plague out of the Hatti land! Suffer not to die the few who are still left to offer sacrificial loaves and libations!

  • James, Wouldn’t you agree that an ancient Israelite or Babylonian would have been puzzled by our modern hesitation to attribute such major natural activity directly to the will and power of a divine overseer?

    And contra your post, this is not a case of merely reading texts differently. It is a matter of upending an entire ancient world view that assumed in story after story and psalm after psalm in the case of Israel’s ancient writings, that their nation’s high god was in direct personal control of the natural world and forces of nature, a pervasive worldview assumption throughout the ancient world. So it is the THEOLOGICAL WORLD VIEW OF THE ANCIENT ISRAELITES that you are questioning, not merely reading texts differently. See this discussion of the theological world view of ancient Israel:

    And if you claim as in your post that it doesn’t make ethical sense for God to inflict punishment by way of indiscriminate and severe weather events then one is claiming that moral philosophy trumps a well attested biblical world view. And what is one to make of the Bible’s other well attested world view that God employs nature to specially bless individuals and nations? If one is going to argue that punishments that afflict whole cities or nations are indiscriminate and immoral what of divine actions that bestow natural blessings on whole cities or nations indiscriminately? Both are part and parcel of ancient worldviews of Israel and surrounding nations.

    Indeed, what if one looks at ancient Assyrian inscriptions and affirms they are inspired? One could claim they communicate what the Assyrian god, Ashur wished to communicate to Assyrian kings and elites as well as to contemporary readers. Furthermore, what if one took a “progressive” view (like how progressive Christians view their scriptures) of ancient Assyrian texts and did not claim they were inerrant, and even allowed they contained some fake news, fake history, internal contradictions, and contradicted modern science in some respects, and added that those who argued that such texts were inerrant should be ashamed of themselves, because the inscriptions were none the less inspired and reliable for all religious matters of which they speak, properly understood. Could anyone use reason to disenchant such a “progressive” believer in the inspiration of Assyrian writings? Probably not, Praise Ashur!

    • The way you write, it seems as though you are surprised that these ancient human texts reflect ancient human viewpoints, and seem to think that modern liberal religious people are of the view that the corpus of texts associated with their tradition are “inspired” in some special way. Anyone who studies religious literature across cultures will know that there are things to learn from ancient Assyrian sources, too – but, as with Israelite and Christian texts, not because they are something other than human writings. Are these ideas really new and unfamiliar to you? Have you really paid so little attention to what I’ve written on this blog? Do you only comment at length, but not also read what I write?!

      • Not surprised at all, so it appears to be you who is misreading me. I would be surprised if you happened to put much stock in the OT at all, including its overall theological worldview. Inspired writings? Tell me in what way? What would be your methodology and evidence if you still consider such writings inspired?

  • Bruce Brown

    I find it interesting that those who would think this a sign of God’s wrath would most likely be those who would deny human caused climate change. If the intensity of these storms were influenced by climate change, then we could say they were the result of human sin (against the good creation). Perhaps the right’s understanding of human sin and God’s wrath are too small.

  • It would certainly help if the good lord had a hand in here somewhere, but I’m not holding my breath. Here’s a song beseeching my old friend Jesus to get off his butt and come back and save us, like he said he would.

  • histrogeek

    I always like to put it as “God is an abusive parent with bad aim.” Then there is snark about how God actually meant to warn people from living in hurricane-prone areas or along mega-thrust faults or in flood plains but it was interpreted incorrectly.

  • Lark62

    I think it is important to consider the wealth to be made and power to be claimed by self appointed spokesmen for any number of invisible deities.

    Back in the day, the list of sins and conditions requiring blood sacrifice was quite long. God got the blood. The priests got the best meat. The greeks were actuality quite blatant about it. Their gods reportedly said flat out that it was only necessary to burn the inedible parts of the animal. According to the spokesmen, it was perfectly fine for them to keep the best cuts.

    And every mysterious event was used to scare the flock into handing wealth over to priests. Eclipses were especially useful. “You want the sun back? Obey me and pony up.”

    Even in 2017 with our thorough understanding of weather patterns and the solar system, there were televangelists saying the eclipse was a message from god. Send money. Hurricanes? Obey me when I tell you what you’re allowed to do with your own genitals. And send money.

    It’s refreshing for a christian to say “Nonsense. Cut ot out.”

  • John MacDonald

    I don’t know why people defend God. It’s the whole “God is to thank for everything, but blame for nothing.” God should be prosecuted for “depraved indifference” to human life. In United States law, depraved-heart murder, also known as depraved-indifference murder, is an action where a defendant acts with a “depraved indifference” to human life and where such act results in a death. In a depraved-heart murder, defendants commit an act even though they know their act runs an unusually high risk of causing death or serious bodily harm to someone else. If the risk of death or bodily harm is great enough, ignoring it demonstrates a “depraved indifference” to human life and the resulting death is considered to have been committed with malice aforethought. The example that comes to mind for me is God creating a world with earthquakes, which have killed millions over our history. On the average about 10,000 people die each year as a result of earthquakes. God could have easily created our world without earthquakes. The same goes for hurricanes. If God was a human, he would be in jail – or in the electric chair.

    • John MacDonald

      Suppose you had a loving father who cared for you, watched over you, and had goals for your life – and who was also a serial killer. If this was the case, would it really matter that your father was loving and caring to you?