Why is it that politicians, celebrities and televangelists are always blaming natural disasters on “higher” causes? Several years ago, actress Sharon Stone suggested that the devastating Chinese earthquake was “karma” for their government’s treatment of Tibet. And Katrina was cited either as a sign of global warming or the judgment of God. So, after the devastating Haitian earthquake, it was only a matter of time before someone used it as an opportunity to invoke God.
“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil…But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”
By suggesting that the earthquake was part of God’s “curse” on Haiti — only days after the devastation — Robertson sets himself up for reams of ridicule. And deservedly so. Of course, the televangelist was using this as an opportunity to encourage relief assistance. And, what also shouldn’t be missed, is that his organization has been involved in significant relief efforts worldwide. But his statements were, nevertheless, all too predictable. And worthy of criticism.
Underneath all this is a question many Christians seem reluctant to face: Does God still use natural disasters as a means of judgment? And, if so, could the Haitian earthquake be one of them?
One cannot read the Bible and not come to the conclusion that God is the God of nature, and can use it to do His bidding. Earthquakes, floods, and famines are clearly at God’s disposal. So the issue is not whether God can and does use natural disasters, but knowing when said catastrophes are direct judgments from God. I mean, is every fire, every volcanic eruption, every typhoon a heavenly rebuke?
Complicating the issue is this — if the Chinese earthquake or Katrina were judgments from God, why were so many Christians affected? In the Old Testament, God spared His people from wrath (the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.). Likewise, many Christian organizations exist in Haiti. Yet they were not unaffected by the earthquake. So why would God judge Haiti and allow so many of His children to be injured, even killed? Were they just collateral damage?
The danger in attributing natural calamities to the judgment of God is not in associating God’s judgment with said calamities, but in claiming to know what specific calamities are or are not part of that judgment. This, I think, is Robertson’s problem. Who gave him a heavenly Bat-phone? How can he possibly know if this was God’s doing or just part of living in a fallen world? The truth is, none of us can perfectly know these things. At the least, events like this should humble us, remind us of our own frailty, and reawaken our need for God. Not force us into judgments and predictions.
But this begs the question: Does God still use natural disasters as a means of judgment? I think there’s three reasons why Christians are reluctant to answer that in the affirmative.
First — We fear that if we concede an event might be part of God’s judgment, we relinquish having to help the victims. The Bible clearly speaks about helping orphans, refugees, the homeless and hurting. But what if their suffering is due, in part, to the judgment of God? And does conceding that judgment let us off the hook? It’s a bit of a conundrum for believers, so we avoid answering in the affirmative.
Second — If we concede that an event might be part of God’s judgment, we fear that bringing assistance would be meddling. This was what prompted Sharon Stone’s “karma comment.” By helping victims of bad karma, we short-circuit their cycle. Frankly, it’s also one of the things that has made American evangelicals so slow to respond to the AIDS crisis. However, Scripture does not put stipulations on when we should show kindness and mercy, and when we should withhold it.
Third — Christians are afraid to concede God’s use of natural disaster because of what it potentially makes God look like. I think many Christians are on a mission to rehabilitate God’s “Old Testament” image. They dislike having to concede divine judgment of any kind. It’s led to a lot of theological hogwash, like those who conclude God is a recovering practitioner of violence. But either God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), or He isn’t. As such, we must believe that the “Judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25) shall do right.
Any literate, Bible-believing Christian would have to conclude that God can still use natural disasters as a means of judgment. The important thing is where we go with that conclusion once we make it.