Monday, October 22, 2012

Hurricanes And Gay Marriage

Just ran into this again. I know it is a bit dated but it actually illustrates some common problems with the way secular people talk about religion. The first issue is the assumption that all Christians agree with something one particular religious figure says. The statement being referenced here is from Pat Robertson. He suggested hurricane Katrina might have been punishment for sin, specifically the sin of society accepting gay marriage. But Robertson is just one guy. I don't know any Christian who puts a lot of stock in what he says. I am sure there are some but they would be a small minority.

The point is you get this all the time. Ideas are labeled generically Christian when they are not held by all Christians and often only by a small subset of Christendom. Of course, much of this flows from disunity among Protestants. Then there are people trying to make fun of Christianity rather than understand it. They will cherry pick quotes from all over. The casual observer ends up with a confusing mess of ideas that are associated with Christianity most of which are nowhere near central to the faith.

The other problem on display here is the notion that spiritual explanations for events somehow exclude material explanations for them. That is just not what Christians believe. For example, 2 Kings 17 talks about God punishing Israel for her disobedience by delivering them into the hands of Assyria. It states the reason plainly in verses 7 and 8:
All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.
That does not mean there is no geopolitical explanation for how and why the Assyrian king decided to attack Israel. In fact that is also explicitly stated in verses 3-5:
Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison. The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. 
The point is the invasion happening as punishment for sin and the invasion happening as a result of Hoshea's political blunder are not an either/or. They are both true. God could have said,  "Let there be an invading army!" and one would have appeared out of nothing. That is not the way He normally works. He works within the framework of existing causes and effects even when He explicitly says this army destroyed Israel because they disobeyed.

So the notion of God sending a hurricane as punishment for sin does not mean the normal meteorological causes would be not apply. From a scientific perspective you would not expect anything different. The same laws and the same equations would hold. That is not always the case but it is the norm. True miracles, that is miracles that break the laws of science, do happen but they are very rare. I don't do miracles but it seems to me that doing them without breaking with science would be way harder.

It does raise the question of how we can tell that something is punishment or blessing from God? The answer is that it is all from God. We don't wait for the miraculous and then try and discern God's will. God gives us what He gives us every day. Some challenges, some joys, some punishment for sin, some rewards for being faithful. The key is to see His loving hand in everything. One thing we should avoid is looking for God's punishing hand in other people's tragedies. Even if we are right it is not that charitable to point it out.

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