I seem to be doing this a lot lately. When I started this place, one of the many things I promised myself is that I would never use it to attack others or to speak against ideas or individuals. Church for Misfits is a place for reconciliation, not a platform to rant and rave. That being said, the article linked below misrepresents Jesus at a point when people need to hear, more than ever, who He is and how He cares for them.
As a Canadian living in the South, I’ve found that hurricanes here are, generally speaking, a lot like 2 feet of snow in a single night was back in the town where I grew up. It’s a fact of life, something you learn to live with and to respond appropriately to. After Hermine came through last month and dropped less rain overall than we’ve gotten from a decent afternoon thunderstorm, I have to admit I didn’t think too much of Matthew at first. That changed when the state of emergency was declared, the evacuations began, and news coverage revealed just how bad this one might get. We live about 125 miles inland here in South Carolina, so all we’re forecasted to get is 30 mph winds and maybe 6 inches of rain. All that to say I’ve never had to evacuate before, and neither have I lived through anything beyond a tropical depression, so I don’t know what it’s like to have to leave your home behind and hope and pray you still have one to go back to. I can’t imagine what those directly impacted by this are going through.
One of the other things that caught my attention with regards to Hurricane Matthew was an article entitled “Hurricane Matthew is the Wrath of God Poured Out on the Cities of Orlando and Savannah for Supporting the Evil Sodomites.” I guess I’d kind of forgotten that when any large enough natural disaster occurs, there are those who call themselves Christians who are more than happy to blame the whole thing on the fact that God is royally pissed off at a particular group of people. In this case, according to that article, it’s the LGBTQ community and the Orlando Pride Parade which was originally schedule for this Saturday, October 8, but which has now been postponed to November. A link to this article turned up on LGBTQ Nation’s Facebook page, and the folks there are understandably upset that a Christian would put forth such an explanation for this particular storm. In all honesty, I am, too.
There a number of theological questions at play here concerning just what makes up the will of God, not to mention a number of issues with the above article in general, but what needs to be looked at first with this is that as Christians we represent Jesus to the world. As I’ve heard it said, we are the only Jesus some people may ever see. 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are “ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” In 2 Peter 3:9, we read, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” As I’ve written about elsewhere on here, sin has broken our relationship with God, and He, more than anything, wants to see that relationship restored. With that in mind, now consider that the focus of the appeal those around us are seeing from us as Christians, in this particular case, is that the God who wants nothing more than to restore the relationship that has been lost with the individuals He created is demonstrating that desire by sending a hurricane to punish those people, and everyone else around them, for making lifestyle choices which He does not approve of. Out of all the ways we could show just how far He is willing to go to win people back to Himself, this is the one at the forefront here. God hates members of the LGBTQ community so much that He’s willing to send a hurricane causing widespread death and destruction just to show them their sin. I mean, really?
Now before you think I may be overlooking biblical precedents of God doing this very thing (such as the story of Noah’s ark in Genesis 6), let me state that I am aware of these examples. Is this what’s going on here? I honestly have no idea, and I would not dare to presume to state, either to those angered by the above article or to those directly impacted by Hurricane Matthew, that it is indeed the case. Theologically speaking, there are two levels to the issue of God’s will in a situation like this. The first is what my seminary texts referred to as the “religious problem of evil.” This one involves the question of why a particular evil happened to a particular person. (Think Ned Flanders in the Simpsons episode where the tornado takes his house but spares every other house in town.) This question is one that I will never presume to comment on. As I stated recently, there are many times I can’t even understand my own life, and I will never presume to understand yours (especially if you’re reading this and we’ve never met).
The second level concerns the question of evil in general, and usually goes something like this. If God is good, and if He is omnipotent, then why does evil exist? Either evil exists because God is not good, meaning He doesn’t want to do anything about it, or evil exists because He is not omnipotent and therefore He can’t do anything about it. Psalm 136:1 tells us that God is good, and Job 42:2 tells us that He can do anything He wants to. As a Christian I accept those two statements (and there are other passages of Scripture which can also be referenced in support of them), but that still leaves me having to answer the last part of that original question. Why does evil exist? Why do hurricanes happen? The answer put forward by the above article is one option, albeit one that I categorically reject. The only answer I’ve ever heard that makes any sense is that you can’t have free will existing in this world without evil, but even that option raises questions of its own. My short answer to the theological questions at play here is that I don’t know. I don’t know why evil exists, or why hurricanes happen like they do. There may be those reading this who find that answer lacking, and see it as representing a major flaw in my worldview. It’s true. It is a hole in the framework of my theological understanding. In all honesty, however, that doesn’t bother me. What scares the hell out of me is the thought that I could even begin to understand why events on this scale happen the way they do.
As for the article itself, the most glaring issue with it, that of appealing to a pattern in history as evidence for the rationale behind a current event is, academically speaking, an extremely ineffective means of proving an argument. Simply put, there’s no way to step outside of history to determine if the asserted pattern is correct or not.
Where, then, does that leave us with regards to Hurricane Matthew? The one thing I will say for certain, based on Romans 8, is that this world as it currently exists is not the way God originally intended it to be. For that reason, I choose to see Jesus not in the hard to prove background as the vengeful and condemning cause of all this, but rather in the lives that were saved because they evacuated in time, or in those saved by search and rescue, and in the help that will arrive once this is all over to get those affected back on their feet. If you want to find Jesus in this whole mess, and see who He is and how He really cares for you, that’s where you need to look.