Print Edition: November 7, 2012
The news cycle on a natural disaster is pretty predictable: disaster hits, people are killed, lives are left in ruins, homes are destroyed and a fundamentalist “evangelical” pastor makes his way to a computer to type out an explanation as to why this was God’s punishment on America for “the gays.” Quite frankly, it is getting old.
On October 30, less than one day after hurricane Sandy made landfall on the eastern coast of the United States, John McTernan posted to his website an explanation of why the disaster struck: “By promoting homosexuality, America has become like the ancient pagan Amorites and has now come under the judgment of God.” He continued, “America is continually making ordinances to advance the homosexual agenda. Sodomites can legally marry in California and Massachusetts while many states recognize civil unions. Homosexuals are now able to adopt children and gain custody of children during a divorce . . . The Bible warns of the Holy God of Israel judging a nation that walks in these ordinances. When the corporate attitude of a nation embraces homosexuality then, at this point, the iniquity is full. It is apparent that ‘the cup’ of America’s sin is rapidly filling up and overflowing.”
In all fairness, it wasn’t just McTernan who claimed that it was the homosexuals who are responsible for the hurricane. New York Rabbi Noson Leiter referred to Sandy as “divine judgement” on New York for passing a gay marriage law.
Now, there are a number of ways to deal with this issue. Personally, I try to avoid speaking on behalf of God. It tends to aggravate people from all walks of life. So, instead of trying to put words into the mouth of the creator of the universe, let’s take a look at what the Bible and Jesus himself might actually have to say about natural disasters, like the one that just struck New York.
In fact, in the gospel of Luke there is an account of Jesus being asked about a disaster that happened in his time. A tower collapsed and killed 18 people. People were wondering why – how could God allow that to happen? Some must have suggested that it was God’s punishment on those who were killed, because Jesus said this: “Those 18 on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” (ESV Luke 13:4-5). He asked the crowd he was talking with the very thing they were wondering – did this happen because the 18 were sinners? Did this happen because they were adulterers, or thieves, or homosexuals (whether you agree with it or not, these are all sins according to the Bible)? Jesus answered his own question quite simply: “No.” In fact, we are essentially shown here that all of humanity is in the same boat when it comes to the biblical definition of sin; there are of course both blatant and subtle forms of rebellion against the laws of God, but it the end, all are found to fall short of holiness.
Did the tower fall because those in it were worse sinners than those who were not in it? No. Does the Bible state that God punishes sin? Yes. Does he do this through natural disaster? That is a question that is not answered in this case, and I think that is intentional. Instead of dealing with a question that leads us to make ill-founded statements like John McTernan, Jesus concludes with this: “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). So, if we take the scripture’s approach to natural disasters, we are left with a simple suggestion: do not use disaster as an opportunity to judge those who suffer or make guesses as to why things happened, but take it as an opportunity to somberly reflect on your own life.
Now, from my worldview, which is admittedly a Christian one, I find it extremely angering to hear men and women claim to have the authority to proclaim that God ordained hurricane Sandy because of “the gays.” Perhaps if God is indeed sending out hurricanes to judge sin, maybe he sent Sandy to punish self-righteous evangelical preachers for judging the world around them before they look at their own lives.
Perhaps the Bible calls Christians to respond as Christ did with those who suffered in his day; he fed the poor (Matthew 15), he made the sick well (Luke 7), he wept with those who wept at the funeral of their friend (John 11) and he was called the friend of sinners (Matthew 11). Were someone to try to follow the example of Christ today, they would not sit at their computer and come up with some dim-witted, hate-filled attempt at an explanation of a storm. Rather, they would send food and money to those who have been devastated by the storm. They would mourn with those who have lost loved ones. They would help rebuild what has been destroyed. They would love those who are hurting, not heap scorn on them for supposedly causing a hurricane.