By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
Northeast Mississippi has recently been hit hard by nasty weather. Early last month tornadoes and weather- related car accidents killed six in Benton, Lafayette, Union, Lee and Alcorn counties.
Folks in and around Ashland were without power for days after a twister ripped through there in the pre-dawn hours, and emergency shelters in Corinth housed dozens whose apartments were destroyed by flooding.
The previous weekend tornadoes killed 10 in a path of devastation reaching north from Yazoo City to Starkville.
Area Christians were among the first to step in and offer relief to those affected by the storms. Teams of Southern Baptists and United Methodists were among several denominations that deployed teams within hours of the storms.
For people of faith, the occurrence of natural disasters raises an interesting question: Does God, who most “people of the book” believe is loving, omnipotent and who controls everything, cause natural disasters to happen?
The Rev. Juston Gates approaches the questions with a measure of humility
“Paul warns us not to try and search the mind of God, for it is beyond comprehension,” said the pastor of Saltillo First Baptist Church. There are clearly examples, he said, of God
causing natural disasters in the Old Testament, such as withholding rain for seven years during the time of Elijah, and flooding the earth during the time of Noah.
“Job describes the storehouses of snow (blizzards) and the source of wind at his (God’s) disposal,” said Gates.
There’s also fire, as in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as the plagues of the Exodus.
On the other hand, Gates said, the curse placed upon the earth due to the sin of Adam complicates the issue.
“The Book of Revelation indicates that the earth cries out to be redeemed from this curse at the parousia or the second coming of Christ,” said Gates.
The earth had natural weathers patterns at the time of creation, Gates believes, but as a result of the fall the earth and its weather were cursed in order to oppose man’s subduing it.
“Natural disasters are simply part of the repercussions,” said Gates. The question now becomes, does God cause natural disasters or simply allow them?
Does God cause natural disasters? Said Gates: “Yes – and no.”
The Rev. Cheryl Penson believes it’s better to ask what purpose natural disasters serve.
“Humankind does things for reasons that include selfish ambition and greed,” said Penson, but, “God does things that will glorify God’s nature.”
Some people have suggested that the earthquake in Haiti has caused people to come together and therefore glorifies God.
“Our planet is suffering tremendously as a result of human desire, which is certainly being reflected in some of the horrors we are experiencing today,” said Penson, co-pastor of Lane Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Tupelo.
“I choose to believe that God allows things to happen but always with Godly purpose.”
Mike Price agrees that whether or not God causes natural disasters is ultimately unanswerable, but, like Penson, he also thinks that the question slightly misses the point.
“What I know is that when disaster strikes, of natural or human cause, Christians as well as the rest of humankind respond with compassion,” said the pastor of New Life Church in Tupelo.
Folks tend to put theological debate on the back burner when there are lives to put back together and communities to rebuild. When a tornado destroys a man’s home, said Price, “is it his understanding of theology that helps him, or does he need hope, faith and love?”
“Through faith those of us who follow Christ can practice our beliefs even without understanding all the intricacies of this long debated theology,” said Price. “For me, the best thing I can do is to love others as I love myself.”
Marc Perler agreed with Gates that natural disasters took on a different character after the fall of humankind, a position referred to in theological parlance as a “post lapsarian” belief.
Perhaps, said Perler, a lay leader at Jewish Temple B’Nai Israel in Tupelo, the struggle of humankind is both the cause and the result of natural disasters.
The forces of nature test man, said Perler, even to his very survival.
One might say that God stands at the beginning
of natural disasters, but it’s better to say, in Perler’s words, that, “God has set everything in motion and so has only indirectly been the cause of natural disasters.”
Perler cited the work Jewish intellectual Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” “We must believe that there are reasons beyond our understanding in God’s plan,” said Perler.
“We are tested and yet must rise above blind anger and despair.”