Thursday, September 22, 2011

A God in Hurricane season

A few weeks ago, this article on the CNN belief blog came out, claiming that even "religious" people don't necessarily look to God to explain why such storms happen. The conclusion was that for the most part, people understand such storms happen because of a variety of atmospheric conditions, and happen NOT as a result of the hand of God. Here's a snippet:

Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans—including the overwhelming majority of American Christians—believe that when God has something to say He speaks in less dramatic ways, including the still small voices in our hearts and the slightly louder voices of the preachers in our pulpits. When it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes, however, our authorities are geologists and meteorologists. Most of us interpret these events not through the rumblings of the biblical prophet Jeremiah or the poetry of the Book of Revelation but through the scientific truths of air pressure and tectonic plates. As a result of this sort of secularization, we are much better at predicting the course of hurricanes...... 
So we are better prepared, thank science. Our stories are far less dramatic, however. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God. But their God no longer acts out his fury as in Bible days.  Our storms have not yet been tamed. But our God has.

When we believe in some sort of "clockmaker" Enlightenment-esque type God, who winds the world up, and then lets it go, we will obviously interpret things differently through this lens. Here are some thoughts.

1.) People don't regularly blame God for Hurricanes. Hurricanes aren't de facto judgments (not saying that they can't be-we just don't have access to that info and shouldn't ASSUME) on sinful cities. That is positive I guess. Because we obviously don't need "prophets" telling us this storm was for that reason because they don't know. Instead we react to disasters like Jesus told us: not with judgment on others but as opportunities to repent ourselves (Luke 13:5).

2.) But if Hurricanes and Tornadoes have only a natural origin and God plays no part in it, then that's obviously not only unbiblical (Gen 50:20), but it makes God irrelevant to any level of suffering. A God that plans and ordains all things is the God who can do something with the mess of the storms and with the mess of our lives. We need a God who doesn't have to say, "Oh crud, now what can I do to help these people out, now that this has happened?" I write this now as theological truth, not as counsel to someone in the wake of tornadic activities.

I had to think a bit after reading this article. Does a secular world-view really help prepare us for hurricanes whereas a biblical worldview hinders? What part does God really play in storms? Should our science and knowledge of how storms arise and go forward really put God into a different part of our world in a sort of Descartesian duelism (science in physical realm; God fits into the personal/moral realm)?

A skeptic could say (and I have skepticism within me-I think most of us do at some level), the reason that storms are ascribed to God by the ancients is because they had no other explanation. So now we can observe wind patterns, sea currents, barometric pressure and such; we're beyond that biblical point of view.

But the cool thing is that the bible doesn't only ascribe to God unexplainable phenomenon (at the time), but also very the very observable. For instance, even morally evil things like vicious unjust wars.

The Babylonians were an instrument of judgment upon Judah, just as the Assyrians were instruments of judgment upon Israel. Both empires were quite evil and both chose to attack, and go "too far" in their wartime atrocities. Yet God declares that he raised up the Babylonians to come and open up a can of, well, judgment, upon His people (Habakkuk 1).

Why did these people come and invade Jerusalem? On one level, they wanted to do so because they liked killing and conquering (secondary cause). But on another level, God ordained them to do it (primary cause) as part of His plan. The same thing goes with tornadic (probably not a word, but I like it) activity and hurricanes. The weather systems, barometric pressures, ocean temperatures and currents, all have a part to play. But these mere observations don't tell the whole story, just as observing war time atrocities in 586 BC didn't tell the whole story. There is still a primary cause: God.  

God still speaks through His Word today. He still speaks through His creation and our consciences as they are consistent with His Word. We don't need him to speak clearly (as specific judgments we can understand) through Hurricanes, I'll grant this lad that. Scripture is sufficient. But we cannot afford to assume that He has nothing to do with Him. We will miss the redemption and restoration which come from both figurative and literal storms in our lives if we ignore the one who is Lord even over storms (Mark 4:41).

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