Today’s selection, from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is timely. We are faced with a natural disaster that will probably kill millions and leave deep social, emotional and economic scars. What is the theology behind this? Why has God allowed this to happen?
Related Scripture: Psalm 148, Ex.9:13-35
Psalm 148 and Exodus 9:13-35 present contrasting views of humanity’s experience with creation. In Psalm 148 all parts of creation praise God in harmony, but in Exodus thunder, hail, and fire punish Pharaoh for the disharmony he has caused by treating the Israelites unjustly. As the story continues, we find that thunder and hail are not sufficient to change Pharaoh’s mind, and further destruction results. These “natural” disasters end the injustice and help to restore order, a theme seen earlier in the story of Noah. This use of divine violence continues throughout the Bible as faithful heroes are protected by God but the unrighteous are destroyed.
Such stories have led some people to argue that even now natural disasters are God’s punishment on us for various sins. These explanations ignore the widespread suffering among many people who have no responsibility for those sins and the environmental destruction that has contributed to recent storms, floods, and mudslides. I grew up near Niagara Falls and have now returned to teach and preach in the area. Niagara Falls is a site of great natural beauty. It is also a reminder of environmental destruction that occurred when factory owners thought it was okay to dump their waste products into the river and bury them in nearby fields, some of which may never again be safe for human use. This kind of damage has happened worldwide, and in many cases the poor and vulnerable suffer the most due to environmental destruction.
As we approach the celebration of new life at Easter and the observance of Earth Day, these texts can challenge us to consider our attitude toward the environment. Will we view storms and other natural disasters as part of God’s will, even if they result from human damage to the environment? Perhaps instead we can seek to restore the harmony described in Psalm 148, where humans add their voices to the praises coming from all other parts of Creation—we can seek to reduce our damage to God’s creation, though storms and destruction will continue to come.
Loving Creator, all creation sings your praises, but sometimes we have allowed our greed to threaten the balance of your creation. Help us to restore the harmony in our natural world, and help all nations when they face natural disasters. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan D. W. Lawrence