Did God send Hurricane Sandy?

AP Damage caused by a fire at Breezy Point is shown on Oct. 30, 2012, in New York. Fire officials … Continued

AP

Damage caused by a fire at Breezy Point is shown on Oct. 30, 2012, in New York. Fire officials say the blaze was reported in an area flooded by the superstorm.

When natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy hit, there is usually a groundswell of theologizing which “explains” how the death and destruction are a punishment from God, and typically for a very specific sin or set of sins. While the past few days have brought some of that, there seems to be less of it than there has been in the past. Who knows, perhaps we are getting more spiritually evolved?

In the past, we have seen high profile religious and even political leaders – people with significant followings – make claims about how a variety of storms, earthquakes, etc. were signs of God’s displeasure with human beings in general, America as a whole, or specific groups and/or nationalities. We are talking about people including Pat Robertson, Michele Bachman, and too many others to list here.

In each case, these leaders rushed to explain God’s anger. Lo and behold, God’s wrath was always directed at the same people the human speakers were themselves angry at! They simply dressed God up as a larger and angrier version of themselves. If that doesn’t come perilously close to idolatry, I don’t know what does.

This time however, as the clean-up from Sandy proceeds, the list of those interpreting the weather as a sign of divine wrath, includes only one such well-known figure –Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter and heir of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps. And when you consider that her entire community includes no more than 100 members, it really is similar to a dog whose bark is worse than his bite.

Beyond that, a quick search of who is making grotesque calculations about other people’s suffering, yields a few no-name preachers, an angry anti-gay ultra-orthodox rabbi, and a few offshore Islamists. In other words, the trend line for those who claim not only to see God’s hand in all things, including the weather, is down. That does indicate that we are getting wiser.

Even if the same number of religious and cultural leaders who still believe in their hearts that they know why things like Hurricane Sandy happen, they seem to know that more and more of us find their almost boorish theological certitude to be offensive. They know that making claims about why dozens of lives and billions of dollars are lost actually cheapen and demean the faith they represent in the minds of the larger American public. Good for us!

To be perfectly clear however, there is no problem with asserting that Sandy, or any other meteorological event, is an act of God. In fact, all those theologians who dismiss such assertions are the ones who are departing from the norm of the past two millennia in western religious thought.

Ironically, their desire to de-couple God as the cause of such painful events is as much about avoidance as is the easy sin-suffering calculus they reject.

Those who refuse to even wrestle with God’s role as a cause of these terrible events, do so for the same reason as those who claim to know why they are happening. Each has difficulty squaring their belief in a merciful and just God who remains involved with the world, with the events themselves. One group simply divorces God from causation, and the other group pretends to know the mind of God.

Perhaps in the coming days, we should all resist easy answers which avoid the pain caused by Hurricane Sandy. Perhaps we should all find the courage to live with not having answers. Perhaps in the coming days, instead of focusing on answers, we should focus on responses.

How could each of us respond to the suffering created by the hurricane? How could we respond, such that questions about the presence of God, questions that are entirely natural in the face of such catastrophes, would be answered by the examples of compassion, care, and concern that we create in our respective communities?

Whatever one thinks about God’s role in sending Sandy, we could probably all agree about the presence of God in such responses.

Related content on On Faith:

* Halloween in the wake of storms

* Brown: Putting the meaning in ‘weening

* Unnatural disasters

* ‘Frankenstorm’: Why climate change will not be denied in this election

* Martin: A hurricane prayer


Join Brad Hirschfield 1 p.m. Thursday as he discusses the case of a California boy on trial for killing his white supremacist father.

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • It wasn’t me

    No Obama did ,that is if you are Republican …it is all Obama’s fault.

  • itsthedax

    Well, Mr. Hirschfield, you mentioned all those nutjobs in a national newspaper. So, you gave them exactly what they wanted.

  • mfwGeorgiaUSA

    I don’t think general opinions of the reason for Sandy carries any weight.
    We are free to speculate.
    God’s ways are not our ways, and He has all power above all powers.
    There are accounts in the Bible where God did great and mighty things
    to see his plans evolve. We will surely see His plans playing out in this
    world because He is not finished yet. But, overall- GOD IS LOVE!

  • TonyDiaz999

    Sandy, or having lived as an observant adult, proves that if god exists, it/he/she is a callous disguesting SOB.

    I no longer bother to consider if god exists.

    God very likely does not exist. If it does, it is not worthy of my attention.

  • TonyDiaz999

    “There are accounts in the Bible where God did great and mighty things to see his plans evolve”

    If a loving god exist, it should not need his plan to evolve, since while it evolves many human beings suffer. Such suffering is real, as real as a loving god cannot possibly exist.

  • SODDI

    There is no god and your jesus has been dead for a long, long time.

    All that are here are you believers in gods, and I can assure you that you are definitely are not LOVE.

    Quite the contrary – the religious people in our midst are about 90% pure unadulterated HATE.

  • Hillary2016

    No it was Santa, he had to file bankruptcy and has no presents this year so he needed a distraction.

  • Hillary2016

    There is no God sitting around going, hmmmm I think I’ll wipe out New Jersey today, but if there were it would be because of Snooki, I heard God hates her.

  • simon2014

    “We are talking about people including Pat Robertson, Michele Bachman, and too many others to list here” who are Republicans and probably realize what even Republican strategists have acknowledged which is that a disaster of this size favours the incumbent since voters want stability and consistency in the midst of a crisis and by top Romney supporter New Jersey Gov. Christie’s estimation, Obama and the White House are doing a great job. There’s no spin that would favour the Republicans. If they were to say that God caused the devastation, it would be like saying God wants Obama to win. Could it be that politics is the only reason that they haven’t called it a punishment from God just like it’s the only reason they have made these types of claims in the past?

  • DavidJ9

    The Bible teaches us from the examples attributed to God’s wrath that God is not love.

  • dcrswm

    So you’re going to talk smack about a guy you claim can control the weather? Sounds like a bad idea…..

  • PhillyJimi1

    Very good article. I loved it.

    The paragraph – “In each case, these leaders rushed to explain God’s anger. Lo and behold, God’s wrath was always directed at the same people the human speakers were themselves angry at! They simply dressed God up as a larger and angrier version of themselves. If that doesn’t come perilously close to idolatry, I don’t know what does.” Is especially brilliant.

    This is exactly what all believers do. Their god is always in agreement with them. Their god only exists in their head because their god always agrees with them 1000%. All believers claim to know the exact mind of god so well but they argue with other believers who also claim special powers to know the EXACT mind of their god..

    This article could of been written by an atheist if it just ended with one more sentence. “Therefore the only logical conclusion is god is a product of an individuals mind and is NOT real in a collective sense but only real at an individual level”.

  • dalailama420

    The development of humanity requires the death of god.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    *Survival

  • salero21

    Was just a friendly reminder from God to move the Financial center of the nation away out of Wall Street, to somewhere else and the Capital farther inland and away from the coast.

    The fact that Wash. D.C. is so vulnerable, has been evident since the British invade it and burned in 1814. We are very lucky that NAZI Germany was not able to do anything to NYC or Wash. DC though they did try.
    A nation of adulterers, fornicators, cheaters, liars, thieves, slanderers, murderers and war mongers, cannot and should not ever expect to be spare from God’s Wrath.

  • SimonTemplar

    “Perhaps in the coming days, we should all resist easy answers which avoid the pain caused by Hurricane Sandy. Perhaps we should all find the courage to live with not having answers. Perhaps in the coming days, instead of focusing on answers, we should focus on responses.” (Hirschfield)

    Then why are you wasting our time by asking the question, “Did God send hurricane Sandy?” in the first place.

    If now is not the time for considering theological issues, then don’t ask theological questions.

  • Carstonio

    “there is no problem with asserting that Sandy, or any other meteorological event, is an act of God.” Huh? Of course there’s a problem – such assertions can’t br proven. That doesn’t mean that they’re false, but it does mean that they amount to mere speculation at best.

    No one knows if gods exist, whether such gods are involved in the world, and whether such gods are merciful and just. Hirschfield doesn’t acknowledge that theodicy is a defense of those assumptions and a refusal to consider other possibilities, such as gods being indifferent or malevolent.

    Since these claims about natural disasters are almost always excuses to fling blame and guilt at groups that the accuser doesn’t like, taking all such claims off the table is not only scientifically prudent but also humane. We know that people suffer from these disasters and that they need our help – it’s the height of cruelty to simply stand by and chuckle that these people had it coming.

  • itsthedax

    “To be perfectly clear however, there is no problem with asserting that Sandy, or any other meteorological event, is an act of God.”

    We have a good understanding of weather, there’s no reason to look for supernatural reasons. The lightening was not Zeus’ thunderbolts, the thunder was not Thor’s hammer, and the waves were not caused by Neptune’s wrath.

    If you want to know what caused the storm, try checking the weather channel website.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Tell that to Savannah Guthrie who said on NBC Meet the Press that Sandy was sent “seemingly from above” to help the Obama campaign.

  • Carstonio

    While Guthrie was wrong to say that, she was showing simple indifference to the people who have suffered from Sandy. Far worse is when someone like Pat Robertson insists that the victims of natural disasters got what they deserved.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Ha ha ha. Don’t make me laugh. Oops, too late.

  • DRJJJ

    Yes, God is control and justice is coming! Previews of coming attractions! Abortions by the millions, trying to normalize gay marriage and eliminating God-the Demo platform FYI!

  • question1

    No, Mr. Hirschfield, I don’t think that we’re more spiritually evolved. I think this storm was so huge & messed up so many red/blue states, conservatives/liberals, believers/non-believers, sinners, saints & prophets that even Glenn Beck is confused.

    The big mouths of doom aren’t sure who God was aiming at, that’s all.

    In the meantime, I think your conclusion is stellar. We should focus on helping one another & protecting our communities as much as possible in the future.

  • itsthedax

    Mulder, are you saying that Obama is God’s chosen?

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