Tragedy or Trial???

That the God of the Christian religion very often and severely punishes his creatures is almost an understatement.

Try something. Just flip open the bible to any page at random. Chances are you will find on one of the two pages staring at you a gruesome description of divine judgment on someone or some people. Yes, God makes it clear over and over in his holy book that he uses all manner of natural disasters and calamities to punish his sinful people...

"15. But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: 16. Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. 17. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store. 18. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep....20. The LORD shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me. 21. The LORD shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land, whither thou goest to possess it. 22. The LORD shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish. 23. And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. 24. The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed." (Deuteronomy 28:15-24)

So if these Old Testament passages reveal anything about the principle nature of the God of the bible, they reveal to us that God may very well have been responsible for that financial lapse of debt you fell into last month. God may have intended to take the life of a beloved family member of yours to punish you for that indiscriminate lustful thought, or your willfully missing services last Sunday. God may be the one responsible for giving your mother-in-law cancer, or allowing the aquifer in your neck of the woods to fall below the optimum level because not enough people flattered him with prayers. Don't believe me? Here the word of the Lord...

"And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain." (Zechariah 14:17)

There you have it! Now this would be an open/shut case: sickness, drought, death, or any misfortune = God is not pleased with you, but it's not quite that simple! It would be simple were it not for a conflicting message we get from the New Testament...

"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45)

Now this throws a monkey wrench in everything! Whereas before we thought anytime something bad happened, it was God punishing you, from this we learn that it might not be! God says here he allows blessings to filter down to the just and the unjust, leaving us to spend our lives, wracking our brains trying to figure out exactly when we are suffering for our sins, and when we are suffering merely from sporadic natural calamities and accidents. The mental agony believers go through even today, wondering ceaselessly whether or not their trials and afflictions are God-sent is not nearly as bad as actually being cursed by God to go through these things, but who can deny that being left without answers is painful in it's own right?

At the first church I ministered at, I sat at a potluck luncheon and began a discussion that lasted several hours on the subject of divine providence. One of our elders was debating me on whether or not the Titanic was given to tragedy because of the pride people took in it. He argued that God was offended at people's attitudes towards the ship, so loving Jesus decided to make the graves of over 1,500 people in the frigid waters of the Atlantic. I disagreed with this brother in the Lord, but little did I know that according to the scriptures, we were both right!

It's awfully interesting how sophisticated and well-cultured believers of today will very seldom make claims about God unleashing his wrath in the catastrophes of the world. Those few who dare make such claims are usually of the ultra-fundamentalist variety, like Pat Robertson, who thinks 911 happened because of the abortionists and homosexuals in America. But this is too strong a stand for many Christians. Instead, they seem more interested in devoting themselves to disassociating their God from acts of causality in nature. They want you to know that if you lose an eye, a kidney fails, or you get attacked by a flesh-eating virus, Jesus had nothing to do with it! They seem adamant about reiterating what Jesus said regarding tragedy befalling the godly and ungodly. They would rather have you believe that Jesus' words are more applicable today than those spoken by Moses. I truly believe if they could, modern believers would erase most of the Old Testament's content, certainly anything that makes their god seem barbaric and cruel. Lucky for us, they can't.

The God of the Bible may have the morals and temperament of a spoiled-rotten 13 year old, but theists will defend him to the end nonetheless. They must try to harmonize everything biblically written about him and accept it all as true. This is what makes it impossible to determine whether we are suffering because of reckless tragedy, or a trial from a chastising God who wants to save us from damnation.

So the debate continues! The next time you see on the news another seaport business or church demolished by a hurricane, or an industrious city, ripped apart by an earthquake, bringing down highways, an economy, and taking countless lives, it may well be because that city offended the almighty in some way! But we will never know for sure!