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Does God punish us through disasters ?


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http://www.canada.com/vancouver/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=b7070289-3b62-4575-b1da-3971e8a0563b

Does God punish us through disasters?

Rachel Zoll

Associated Press

Saturday, October 15, 2005

They're sometimes called "acts of God" and, when disasters strike, it's not unusual for people to read a divine punishment into earthquakes, floods or other natural cataclysms.

Now, with the unrelenting devastation of the last few months, a few religious thinkers have done the same in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, hurricanes Katrina and Rita, mudslides in Guatemala and the earthquake in Pakistan.

They have proclaimed these events as heavenly retribution for sins ranging from legalized abortion to U.S. support for Israel and the war on Iraq. Conversely, one Israeli rabbi said the American storms came because the U.S. government pressured the Jewish state to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

The vast majority of theologians reject this thinking, however, and The Associated Press decided to examine why this is so.

What follows in question and answer format is a summary of the prevailing thought on the question of God's place in disasters, based on interviews with some theologians and public statements of others:

Q: Does God cause natural disasters?

A: Theologians, citing the biblical Book of Job, say people can never understand how God uses nature. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, notes that God rebuked Job's friends who contended that he was being punished for misdeeds. Commenting on Katrina, Mohler said, "We have no right to claim that we know what this storm means."

He's in agreement with Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice-president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, which represents conservative synagogues in North America.

"I would hate to ever become so haughty as to think I know what God does or what God is thinking. That's beyond man or woman," he said.

Q: Was God trying to express displeasure with sinful behaviour, for example in New Orleans, which has long had a reputation as a party town?

A: Jamal Badawi, director of the Islamic Information Foundation, said there are examples in the Qur'an -- and the Bible -- of punishments inflicted on nations because of tyranny or rejection of God. But Badawi said these episodes are history and do not necessarily explain the meaning of disasters today. "The absence of that direct indication in the Qur'an means one cannot really say," he said.

Q: Do the sins of humankind play any role in the disasters at all?

A: Christians believe the root of evil in the world is humanity's fall into original sin. But Chap Clark, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., says the explanation cannot stop there. He said people need to acknowledge their responsibility for environmental degradation, poverty and other problems that contribute to disasters. "We've been called to be stewards of what God has given us," Clark said. "We are responsible to do everything we possibly can to help one another, to relieve the pain."

Q: The outpouring following the tragedies has brought together people of different races and faiths. Did God inflict the disasters to unite humanity?

A: Terrence Tilley, a professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton, a Roman Catholic Marianist school, said the overwhelming generosity shown to victims regardless of background was a bright spot in the devastation, but it would be wrong to say God caused widespread suffering in order to achieve this goal.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

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