In the wake of another tragic disaster, this time in Moore, Oklahoma, where a mega-tornado wiped out a swath of the state seventeen miles long and two miles wide, killing twenty-four people, including seven children-- once again the question has been raised by some as to whether or not this tragedy was God's will and if it was God's judgment. My short and definitive answer to both questions is an emphatic NO! But we must not stop there. I think the related and intertwined matters of God's justice and judgment deserve some careful attention, most directly because they are often explicated in such a simplistic and sloppy manner.
For me, the first problem is that assigning such an act to the will of God turns God into nothing less than a villain. It is not sufficient to say that God gives life, therefore, God can take it away if God chooses. There are much deeper issues that pertain to God's character, to God's purposes in this world, and the purpose of human life. It seems to me that if life is a gift from God, it is given as a good gift to be lived in the light of God's good purposes for creation and its redemption. It is not simply a matter of God giving and taking, but of God giving life so that it might flourish for a reason. If God gets angry at his children, it is not the anger of a nefarious deity, but the disappointment of a loving parent who witnesses our wayward ways and who wants what's best for his children. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus inquires as to what parent would give her or his child a scorpion when asking for an egg? No decent parent would consider such an option (Luke 11:11-12). In the same way, our Heavenly Father desires to give us good gifts. I dare say a killer twister is not one of those good gifts.
The second issue I have with people pointing to a natural disaster, such as a tornado or a hurricane as God's judgment is frankly the arrogance one has to have in order to claim an inside knowledge of when and where God is judging, and the assumption that a person knows the sins that are the cause of such disasters. I would ask those people who believe that God has passed judgment in Moore, Oklahoma if they are willing to apply that criteria to their own life? If a loved one is killed, do they believe that God is judging them or someone related to them? Do they see their own tragedy as simply unfortunate adversity, while the sufferings of those they don't know are experiencing the angry hand of God? People who point to tragic events as God's judgment have an arbitrary set of criteria for determining when and why the Almighty gets peeved at his children.
Third, if such natural disasters are the result of God's judgment, then God's judgment is quite indiscriminate. There's certainly much collateral damage incurred, and yes, I think dead children are collateral damage. One would think if God wanted to judge the guilty parties only, he would be capable of performing surgical strikes on the right people. If God does not have the ability to do this, perhaps he should have a conversation with the military.
Fourth, and perhaps this is the most significant point, because this is where we lose our way in how we understand God's justice and judgment-- When we point to a place like Moore, Oklahoma and refer to it as God's judgment, we have abstracted divine judgment from the story of Israel and Jesus; we have torn it away from the narrative of creation and redemption carried through God's people and accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt that both Testaments of the Bible speak of God as judge. That makes perfect sense since God is perfectly just. One cannot have justice without judgment. The Apostles' Creed affirms that Christ will come "to judge the living and the dead." Thus, a discussion on these all-too-important matters is necessary, which also means that it will not do to refer to someone's theology on these matters as satanic. That will not further the discussion. Indeed, if I probed deep enough, I could find certain "satanic elements" of their theology as well, and I can use Scripture to do it. (Matthew 4:1-11).
But just what does it mean that God judges and will judge?
We will begin to explore that topic in the next post.