Is Godís Hand in the Suffering?
By Dave Sable
There are two polar ends that bookend the dilemma of destruction and the problem of pain. One might tie the horrors of Hurricane Katrina to moral defiance in this world. Those such as Pat Robertson and Ray Nagin, assumed (whether by logic based upon their presumptions or a mystical, inner witness) that the deluge devastation came from the hands of an angry God who is upset over the bath houses of San Francisco, the secularism of society, the unfair treatment of blacks, or Hollywoodís latest movie.
Those on the other end of the spectrum look condescendingly upon such proclamations, making jokes among their peers about "Godís lousy aim" (He apparently missed the French Quarters, yet took out several nice churches). They then speak of plate tectonics, the settling of the earth, and the fact that hurricanes have been hitting the region for millions of years before man decided to construct cities in their path.
Much lies in how you frame the question. If your query compares the archaic religious view versus the triumphs of modern science, the debate is already over with smug modernists looking down scornfully upon grown men still caught up in myth.
While it is true that attempts to tie disaster to this or that particular sin is wrongheaded, unless one indeed has a special hotline to the Almighty, the other hand must be considered. To take God completely out of the picture and presume that this world is nothing more than a complex machine that suddenly appeared and functions with all its quirks for no apparent reason is just as silly.
When ancient Israel fell into apostasy against their call to model the moral fortitude of Divine law, God snagged a herdsman and fig farmer from his day job to go to the capital and have some words. The Prophet Amos recounted how God had disrupted their food supply chain, "yet you have not returned to me" (Amos 4:6). Further, God withheld the rain, devastating their crop production, "yet you have not returned to me" (Amos 4:8). He sent plague and war upon His people, "yet you have not returned to me" (Amos 4:10). He let them be trodden over by their enemies, "yet you have not returned to me" (Amos 4:11).
Finally, the pattern of patent disregard having been established, Amos echoed Godís words in saying, "Therefore, thus will I do to you, O Israel; Because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel" (Amos 4:12 NKJV).
In this story, the life-disruptions from the hand of God were intentional. They were not as much "final judgment," as an attempt towards reconciliation. The pain and suffering acted as megaphones crying for the attention of a people trapped in materialism, social injustice and self-righteousness. It beckoned to those who shut out the Divine.
Wisdom shouts through the conduit of suffering. Catastrophe jolts those who have mistaken science and technology as being complete truth, in hopes that they realize that these truths are but partial. It awakens those who are dreaming the American dream, so that they might understand that what they have now is not all that there is. It uproots those who have planted their feet in the here and now, so that they might consider the call of another world. It challenges those whose moral standards are rooted in personal choice and whim, so that they might realize that it matters how they live and that they must prepare to meet their God.
While this essay has no intent to minimize the grief and suffering of those who have experienced great loss, it is also true that those who have heard Godís message through the megaphone of pain, have counted their loss as nothing in comparison to what they have gained.
Dave Sable writes a periodic column for the Watauga Democrat in Boone, NC, and has won the Award of Outstanding Merit with the Amy Foundation. You may write to Dave care of the Letters page of this magazine.