Should we look for God in every storm? I’ve been mulling over that question a lot since Katrina rudely interrupted the lives of our Gulf Coast neighbors and Hurricane Rita now gains strength and threatens another part of the Gulf Coast region.
Many people, including prominent religious leaders, have put God at the head of the storms that have come our way in recent months and years.
God is pictured as an angry God who has had his fill of a godless America: a country that has allowed prayer to leave the school house, a country that has allowed homosexuality to flourish, a country that kills unborn children, a country that worships its sporting idols, a country that lives to gratify the desires of the flesh.
This understanding of an angry God is based in the Old Testament doctrine of a retribution theology. Simply put, goodness results in prosperity and wickedness leads to suffering.
While there is truth in retribution theology, it is not the whole truth.
When tragedies like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina come, destruction is indiscriminate. The godly die with the ungodly. Churches are destroyed along with brothels. Sex offenders and school teachers are left among the homeless. Where’s the justice? Of course the answer is, “There is none.”
As much as we would like to make some theological sense out of such monumental calamities as terrorist attacks and hurricanes, simple answers only muddy the water. Simple theologies in such a complex world do not bring healing. Simple theologies offered during times of suffering and tragedy repel as many people as they attract, if not more. In an effort to help fill the void in such difficult times, such religious words fall flat.
Sometimes human misery and suffering happen that are neither punitive nor redemptive. They are just meaningless. Can God take meaningless suffering and turn it into something good? Of course! God is able to work all things—even evil things—together for good. Yet, not every evil thing that happens has a spiritual meaning behind it.
Once when Jesus was teaching, it was brought up that Pilate had killed some Galileans and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. The people Jesus was teaching wondered what these people had done to deserve such a thing.
Jesus said: “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than other people from Galilee? Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will also perish unless you turn from your evil ways and turn to God. And what about the 18 men who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will also perish.”
Did God saddle a hurricane and ride it into New Orleans because the people of that city were any worse sinners than the people of Miami?
Did God send Arab hijackers into the financial and political centers of our country in 2001 because the people of New York City and Washington were more corrupt than the people of Las Vegas or San Francisco?
Was Biloxi destroyed because the people of that city were the worst sinners along the Gulf Coast?
Jesus says no. Retribution theology doesn’t work here. Don’t look for God in the driver’s seat of these storms. Too many good people perished. There have even been accounts of wicked people using the storm to take advantage of the weak.
Should we look for God in every storm? Yes. Where is he? He’s with the helicopter pilot who rescues people from the roofs of houses. God is with the truck driver delivering ice to the victims. God is with the doctors and the nurses who do triage for days without a break.
God is with teachers and administrators who opened up schools to accommodate new students. God is with volunteers who carved out time to volunteer in relief efforts with evacuees.
God is with families all across America who have opened up their checkbooks to give of their money, opened up their closets to give of their clothes, opened up their arms to give caring embraces, opened up their homes to give food and shelter, and opened up their hearts to give love which the Lord commanded us to give to those in need.
Should we look for God in every storm? Yes. But we shouldn’t be looking for God to be in the saddle guiding hurricanes into cities or in the pilot’s seat guiding airplanes into buildings.
What we learn about God through Jesus is that God is seeking to save that which is lost, not destroy that which is lost.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in The Moultrie Observer.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.