Why is it that every time something bad happens, there always seems to be a preacher around to give God the credit for whatever disaster or tragedy that has occurred?

John Hagee was one that let us know that Hurricane Katrina was punishment for the wickedness of New Orleans. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson concurred that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were God’s judgment on a sinful nation.

On Aug. 20, John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, once again saw the judgment of God in a tornado that hit downtown Minneapolis.

Who was God’s target this time? The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Why did Piper assume that the tornado was intended for them? They were discussing sex — homosexuality to be exact. Piper’s understanding of God and homosexuality led him to the conclusion that God sent the tornado “as a gentle but firm” warning to the ELCA to terminate the discussion.

I have read the Bible and I just don’t get it. The Bible talks about sex. There are even some passages that refer to homosexual behavior, but it is not in proportion to all the disasters and tragedies that preachers blame on it.

In contrast, the Scriptures are filled with teachings about the poor and how they are treated. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins his preaching ministry by declaring that he has been anointed to bring good news to the poor.

If God were a God that used disaster and tragedy to chastise God’s creation in this fashion, then one would think that individuals and groups that create and perpetuate poverty, along with those who exploit and demean the poor, would be constant targets for such vengeful acts.

Such does not appear to be the case, at least according to the preachers who divine such things. Did you hear any of them declaring the banking collapse as God’s punishment for a greedy nation? Maybe some did, and I missed it. If they did, then at least they were being more consistent with Scripture.

In the Bible, greed seems to bother God much more than homosexuality. In fact, the list of moral and ethical imperatives that receive more ink in the teachings of Jesus than homosexuality is a long one.

Why do we do this to God? I mean, why do we turn the hand of God into an instrument of terrorist threat? You displease God, and God will wallop you! How can you fall intimately and passionately in love with a God that is liable to crush you when you mess up? Why would the same God who took on flesh and dwelt among us in order to demonstrate God’s sacrificial love for us, and amazing grace to us, turn around and inflict pain and suffering upon us?

I try to assume that preachers who label devastation and disease as punishment from God mean well. Sometimes I wonder, though, if such characterizations of God only serve to rally their core of constituents.

When, in their interpretation of events, small groups of easily picked-on minorities always seem to be the recipients of God’s punishment, I wonder if they are merely giving us permission in a not-so-subtle way to keep those who are different from us at arm’s length.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that God can do anything that God chooses to do. I also believe that God does amazing things in the lives of sinners and saints. I just have an increasingly difficult time believing that God uses God’s power to hurt, harm or even kill people.

Jesus came to love us, to heal us and to reconcile our broken lives with the One who created us. When we turn away from the offer of that love, we break God’s heart. Yet, God continues to love us, seek us and reach for us even when we turn and run from God.

When God wanted to do the very most that God could do to show God’s love for us, God did not send a tornado, or a hurricane, or a terrorist hijacked plane. No, when God wanted to love us like we have never been loved, God sent his Son.

May you know that love today and always.

Ed Sunday-Winters is senior pastor of Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. He blogs at Just Words.

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