Catholic Theological Union Learn@CTUCatholics on CallCatholic Common Ground InitiativePeacebuilders Initiative
Follow CTU on Facebook
CTU Twitter feed
CTU on Google+

The Rain Fell, the Floods Came, the Wind Blew!

What is happening to our world?

March 2011

What is happening to our world? It has been assaulted by the tsunamis that devastated parts of Japan last week and the countries around the Indian Ocean (2004), the tragic Hurricane  Katrina (2005), floods in Australia that covered an area the size of France and Germany combined (2011), and the earthquakes that destroyed Northeastern Japan and Christchurch, New Zealand (2011). Many people believe that God is punishing us for our sins. Is this true?

We should not be too quick to dismiss this explanation, for it is found in the Bible. “[God] said to Noah: "I have decided to put an end to all mortals on earth; the earth is full of lawlessness because of them. So I will destroy them and all life on earth” (Gen 6:13); and God told Moses: “…I will lay my hand on Egypt and by great acts of judgment I will bring the hosts of my people, the Israelites, out of the land of Egypt” (Exod 7:4). Is natural disaster really God’s punishment for sin?

We must remember that the Israelites had an unscientific understanding of the structure of the world. They believed that it was founded on divine justice; “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Pss 89:14; 97:2). Furthermore, since the same creator established both cosmic and moral orders, the laws governing one sphere govern the other as well. Believing that the natural order and the moral order are inherently interrelated in this way led the Israelites to conclude that there is a connection between wickedness and natural disaster. 

We, on the other hand, understand the natural world quite differently. Though we admit that our actions have repercussions on the rest of our world, we attribute this to the fundamental interdependence within creation itself. We do not hold that God uses the natural world as an avenging weapon. Much of the ecological devastation from which we suffer today is the direct result of people’s unbridled greed and disregard for the elements of nature. We bring this devastation on by our own actions; God does not intervene to afflict us. In other words, our scientific knowledge does not allow us to consider natural disaster as punishment for sin. 

This explanation of differing worldviews does not answer the question: Why has God done this to us? We must look elsewhere in the Bible for an answer to that question. Job eventually comes to realize that God does not consider him guilty of sin and deserving of punishment. However, Job never comprehends why he was so afflicted. Still, with new insight and trust in God he cries out: “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know” (Job 42:3). Though Job does not understand why God allowed him to suffer, he acknowledges that God is in control of the world, and so he seems willing to live with his questions. 

When the disciples ask Jesus, “…'who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' (John 9:2), Jesus responds: 'Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him'" (John 9:3). Jesus’ response exonerates the man and his parents of wrong doing, but it does not provide an explanation for the affliction in the first place. He claims, instead, that the power of God will be manifested in the man’s cure and eventual allegiance to Jesus. 

And so, why do natural disasters occur? They really are the results of the readjustments occurring when the forces of nature are out of balance. These frequently result in cataclysmic natural events that destroy living things in their paths. Is God responsible for these? Of course, since God is the architect of the world and all of the forces within it. They occur because this is the nature of the world that God created. However, people are seldom looking for a scientific answer when they ask: Why has this happened? They really want to know: Why has God done this to us? Job would tell us that there are questions in life for which we will never find a satisfactory answer. He would also remind us that God is in control of everything. All we can do is trust in God the creator. When we do, the power of God will be manifested in us as it was in the man who was cured of his blindness.

 

By Dianne Bergant, C.S.A., Professor of Old Testament Studies

© Copyright 2011 Catholic Theological Union. All Rights Reserved.