[843 Acres] Does God Cause Earthquakes?

by Mattie

James Wood’s op-ed is shallow and insulting; invoking statements by Robertson and Obama on Haiti, the author of The Book Against God insists

… either God is punitive and interventionist (the Robertson view), or as capricious as nature and so absent as to be effectively nonexistent (the Obama view). Unfortunately, the Bible, which frequently uses God’s power over earth and seas as the sign of his majesty and intervening power, supports the first view; and the history of humanity’s lonely suffering decisively suggests the second [Between God and a Hard PlaceNew York Times].

Wood is wrong; the Bible’s theodicy is much more nuanced. When Jesus’ disciples encounter a blind man, they assume he (or his parents) must have done something evil to deserve this fate. Jesus refutes this:

Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. [John 9:3-4, NAB]

The Greek is the aorist passive – Jesus says the blindness is, but does not ascribe agency. In the 4th century, St. John Chrysostom explained that Jesus is not saying the man is sinless, but that his sin did not cause his illness [Homily 56]. I believe that God does not cause natural disasters or diseases, they are the sad reality of an imperfect world. Fortunately, God’s love and mercy can transform tragedy into triumph.

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9 Responses to “[843 Acres] Does God Cause Earthquakes?”

  1. Mattie, As we’re reading the book of Job in Morning Walk, the idea of suffering and disease are at the forefront of my mind. As such, I actually disagree with you that “God does not cause natural disasters or diseases.” In fact, there’s evidence to the contrary in the book of Job. Although Satan is the actor who inflicts Job’s family with severe suffering, it appears that he is merely an intervening cause that does not cut off God’s liability. For Job attributed his suffering to the hand of God: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” To think otherwise, according to Job, was “foolish.” And then, as if to underscore Job’s correct thinking on the matter, the inspired writer of Job wrote, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” It would appear that God does cause natural disasters and diseases. I’d love to know what you think and what your Biblical source is to hold out that God’s doesn’t cause these things. As always, I’m open to changing my mind based on the evidence! :)

  2. Bethany:
    I think Job is a great example of why we cannot be biblical literalists. The story of Job was written during the exilic period was a reflection on innocent suffering – it is a non-historical allegory meant to teach humility and gratitude.

    The suffering Job experiences is clearly NOT because of his wrongdoing so it cannot be of God’s wrath. In God’s response at the conclusion of the book, it seems as though God says he has the power to punish and the right to punish, but he never actually says that he does. Certainly Job 42:11 seems to say that God brought the evil, but that seems to be coming from the mouths of his companions, not from the writer or from God.

    More later….
    Mattie

  3. Mattie,

    I don’t have a problem at all with leaving the reasons for God’s actions as mysterious. I agree with you that 29 chapters in Job are basically bad theology from his “friends” who try and tell him that big sin means big suffering. Job debunks their theory as applied in Job’s life.

    The assessment that Job did not sin in attributing agency to God, however, takes place in the first summary chapter of the book, as part of the set up (1:20-22). This statement does not come in the purview of the friends’ arguments. In fact, it seems to me that the book of Job assumes that God is sovereign. Not only does the writer make the inspired statement that Job did not sin in attributing liability to God, the friends’ arguments even assume that God is sovereign. Even with all their critique of his situation, they never once tell him that God did not cause his suffering. Rather, they challenge him on the reasons for which he is suffering.

    Moreover, there are other evidences that God does cause disease or destruction. For example, Isaiah 53:10, in anticipating the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah writes that it was THE LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer. And, then, when Jesus is in the garden, he prays that the Lord’s will would be done. Or what about the earthquake in Numbers 16, where Moses is making the point that God has power and points to how people will die in an earthquake. His argument would be greatly diminished if that earthquake were just a result of, as you put it, “the sad reality of an imperfect world” and not the power of God. I have more examples, if you want …

    I am in no way arguing that I know the reasons behind the actions of the Lord. His foolishness is wiser than my wisdom. But, when it comes to natural disasters or diseases, when I know that God is the creator of the universe and even the wind and the waves obey him (Mark 4, Matthew 8), I have to assume that God is behind it … unless, of course, you can show me otherwise. :)

  4. Bethany,

    A few thoughts before I have to rush to teach.

    I think Job 1:20-22 doesn’t even say God caused the terrible things to happen – it is Job who assumes that God makes the terrible things happen. When we, in our human limited-ness misunderstand God that is not sinful; it is ignorance. Moreover, you can read his declaration that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away as a testament to the mercy and gratuitousness of God, not “proof” that he causes natural disasters.

    As far as Isaiah, God’s plan for himself in Christ is different than God causing earthquakes. Of course Christ’s atoning suffering was God’s will; that being said, allowing him to be crucified does not mean God himself committed suicide.

    Numbers 16 must also be read in context; the mercy of God is evident in v. 19-24 in that the Creator of Life does not destroy those who are willing to “move away” from the rebellious ones. Knowing that Numbers was written during the exile, it seems to me that this way of retelling the story reminds God’s people to “move away” from those who are sinning, lest you be destroyed by the consequences of sin. Certainly the author asserts that this was the work of the Lord, but I think the genre invites us to read this as a warning to apostates rather than a proof that God is violent.

    I do think it is important to remember God’s power and that He certainly has the strength and ability to cause earthquakes or whatever other tragedy he desires. Yet, I believe the revelation of scripture must be understood as progressive, meaning what comes later explains and defines what comes earlier. The early Israelites understood God as protector and punisher; Christ reveals that they’ve frequently missed the more prevalent side(s) of his nature – that of shepherd, loving father, merciful master, healing physician. He is the God who desires mercy, not sacrifice. That is not to say that the Hebrew Scriptures are less valid or irrelevant, it just means that we have to see them in light of the whole of the Gospel.

    I think these things also point to a fundamental difference between the way Catholics read scripture and the way many evangelical Christians read scripture. You might check out Dei Verbum, the document from Vatican II that explains the Catholic position on biblical interpretation (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html) when you have time. I found it really helpful in understanding why sometimes it can be difficult for Catholics to talk about scripture with non-Catholic Christians.

    Catholics still say scripture is inerrant and inspired, but how those words are applied are quite different. I think those who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures were genuinely touched by God and wrote as they experienced with the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, I think they were limited by their time, culture, and circumstances to fully express the reality of God.

    Oh, one last thing – I can’t show you “the verse” or “the chapter” that unequivocally proves my understanding of God as non-violent. I don’t think all revelation is contained in scripture. I think the Bible is a privileged type of revelation that is absolutely critical in the formulation of all theological ideas, but it doesn’t contain all we need.

    Gotta run. So glad to have this dialogue!
    Mattie

  5. Mattie, I’m actually not going to respond again to this post. But not because I don’t disagree or because I now agree, but you have given me so much good to think about!!! I actually want to take some time thinking about this … Maybe more later? :) THANK YOU. I, too, love this dialogue and love the Catholic perspective. So glad to have you in this Forum.

    • oh wow! This does sound like a very good book. Grief is such a personal thing and it sondus like this author really grasped that and captured it beautifully. I can’t wait to read this for myself now. I love a good book with lots of introspectivness and heart.

  6. Bethany,
    I’d love to continue this conversation at a later point. I think questions of theodicy are absolutely some of the most challenging to try to answer… especially in light of some of the verses you’ve brought up. In teaching high school, I often find the students either thinking (1) God seems like a violent jerk that I don’t want anything to do with or (2) Since God only seems like a violent jerk in the Old Testament, lets throw that part out. Neither of these are acceptable alternatives, but it is challenging (and likely impossible) to truly understand the way God works in our world and why horrible things happen in a seemingly indiscriminant way.

    I’m glad to be in the forum and hope to have many more dialogues like this in the future.
    Mattie

  7. If I had a greenback for each time I came to theparkforum.wordpress.com… Amazing article!

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