The Wrath of God

In light of recent natural disasters that have befallen the United States, it has become common for people of a religious, and particularly Christian, persuasion to make a connection between these disasters and the wrath of God. The underlying belief is that God is righteous and just and that he punishes sin. This is not a belief that I have a problem with. Sin is a corrupting reality that attacks the beauty of the created order, morally, naturally, relationally, developmentally. If sin was to go unchecked then all the good that we enjoy in life would ultimately come to destruction. To prevent this destruction sin must be dealt with, and in some degree this implies punishment. My problem with connecting God’ wrath to natural disasters is that it misrepresents God by rendering a limited picture of his character. When looking at the whole canon of the Christian Scriptures it is clear that God is righteous and just, but it is equally clear that he is gracious and merciful. Along with this, and perhaps more critically, such statements presume to know the specifics about God’ management of the universe. This is a gross example of pride.

When I look at the whole of Scripture I see examples, again and again, of how God constantly overturns, and upsets the expectations of his people. At the time of Christ’ coming, the Israelites expected God to send a Messiah who would politically liberate them from the yoke of oppression, foisted upon them by the “unrighteous” gentiles. This idea was not without Scriptural warrant, but it was also incomplete. Instead, when the Messiah came he brought liberation of another sort, a liberation that dealt with the source of sin, and a liberation that was needed by all, and open to all. Also, this was a liberation that was enacted at a cost to God (which was a hard reality to process in light of the prevailing notions of God’ sovereignty). From the Christian perspective, the Israelites missed their Messiah because their vision of God was limited.

In taking all of this and reflecting upon the hurricane that struck New Orleans, I would say that a better response is to acknowledge that God’ ways are inscrutable, and to humbly acknowledge that all of us are subject to God’ judgment and in need of his grace. This being the case, New Orleans should be seen as an opportunity to express our solidarity by reaching out (as we are able) to those whose circumstances have currently brought suffering, and to remember that we too may find ourselves in similar circumstances. If you are a Christian, or worse a theologian, such as myself, and feel a need to make a proclamation about God in response to disasters, sin, or suffering, then view them as an occasion to speak a paradox about a sovereign and righteous God who suffered and bore sin.

One Response to “The Wrath of God”

  1. Simon Jones  

    I can’t really add much to this other than to comment that I find it somewhat revealing that so many American Christians are saying these could be the ‘end times’ now because America has been hit by a couple of whopper storms.

    Most Americans are blissfully unaware that a few weeks before Katrina did her worst, Europe was flooding like it never has before. Switzerland was struck by killer mudslides that washed entire villages away and covered towns in many feet of thick choking mud. Romania and Germany experienced flooding beyond their imagination. Before this Spain and Protugal are fighting hideous droughts and fires that have raged for weeks.

    Earlier this year India was hit by a ‘killer freeze’ and snow storms. Such an event is quite unbelievable in that part of the world, yet hundreds of Indians froze to death while we got ready to enjoy valentines day.

    But it takes a couple of storms for American Christians to suddenly sit up and start wondering if these are end times or not. I’m not saying they’re wrong. Maybe these are the end times. George W. Bush is hearing from God, and so is Osama bin-Laden and a few others besides. So who knows, maybe these are the end times. But I just find it interesting that it takes a disaster in New Orleans before some American Christians would come to that conclusion.