In recent months we have experienced serious hurricane after serious hurricane. Not to mention earthquakes, forest fires, other natural events, and calamities. Often times we are asked or the thought comes to mind, why does God allow this? Sometimes, people go so far as to say that God is actively punishing a region through natural events.
Suffering itself is a mystery that can be summed up in the cross. It is important to point out here the theological meaning of mystery. A mystery is something that God hasn’t fully revealed yet, or something that escapes our understanding because of the vast difference between God’s infinite nature (what he is) and our own finite nature (what we are). A difference between creator and creature.
This is where this discussion becomes interesting. The term ‘creature’ is applied in a theological sense to anything created by God, whether it’s an object, animal, or person. This terminology highlights God’s relationship with everything in the universe. He is the creator, in that creative process he created time, space, matter, laws of physics, natural law, as well as a moral law.
There has been a temptation from the very beginning of humanity to create idols. These idols always were connected with earthly things, with natural events and the natural world. These idols explained the earthquakes, the hurricanes, drought, volcanos, eclipses, and other natural events. There is a reason why the greek Gods are depicted as capricious and unpredictable, because the natural world was equally so. This is called a god-of-the-gaps or an “idol-god” that is used to explain events that cannot yet be understood or explained through any other means.
Even now in the great age of science, people are still tempted to follow idols. One of the greatest limitations of modern man is the incapacity to correctly understand the attributes of God particularly his transcendence and omniscience much less the subtlety of the Trinity. Many times in discussion, even rational people make the mistake of assuming that God is a crutch to explain away any earthly event without reason, and at times the faithful in a poor attempt at being zealous whole-hearty agree.
Faith and reason go together, God is indeed creator of the universe which also means that the universe operates to a certain design. Temporal or earthly things can be studied and understood, this does not limit God. The study of science only glorifies God, as he delights in our use of God-given faculties. It was God who created the laws of physics and it is the natural world that follows those laws as designed. This is not an admission of idolatry because the laws of physics, along with space and time began when the universe came into being. Should scientists form a deeper understanding and knowledge of our temporal existence, or how the universe came to be, it will only enlighten our understanding of God. Both faith and reason ought to be searching in a parallel manner for truth.
The purpose of this pilgrimage of life is to love and serve God well. Catholics are often asked to memorize the four last things: death, heaven, hell, & purgatory. God punishes after death as a natural consequence of sin. God alone is the judge. In order to refute in a final way this idea of God punishing through the natural order is the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Mt 13:24-30). First the owner of the field sows good seed, then overnight an enemy sows weeds in with the wheat. Then with the discovery of the mixed weeds and wheat the servants ask if they can remove the weeds from the wheat and the owner replies:
“No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Mt 13:29-30)
God does not punish or kill purposely through hurricanes. The very existence of death is something that God does not wish (see Ezekiel 18:23). From the time of Adam and Eve, death is the rejection of God and death has been handed on to all subsequent generations. When that first rejection took place with Adam and Eve death entered into the world and the entire natural order was disrupted. Can God stop a hurricane? Sure, just as he can stop sin. Yet there is a philosophical question here at heart of the parable. If God were to stop all sin and all death now, he would risk uprooting much of the good wheat. To God, sin is sin there is no comparison. Just as I’m sure we could agree, that instead of stopping one hurricane we would act, if we could, for an end to all death.
Sin and death are horrible; mercy, forgiveness, and love are amazing works of grace and healing. We are called to forgive the former and to live heaven on earth which is the latter. While we don’t believe in idols or ‘god-of-the-gaps’ we do believe in an all-powerful God who has created an interesting, complex, and yet simple universe to which all laws converge to make existence what it is, a universe that operates according to his design, though not with out defect as the result of sin. Rather then being built like a pocket watch God is very invested in our universe and in our plight by offering up his only son so that sin and death may be vanquished. It is through the example and words lived by Jesus, that we understand truly the things that science cannot teach. Among them that we will one day according to God’s just judgement live in eternity, that this life here is just a passing pilgrimage. Keeping an eye on the purpose of our lives, to love and serve God, and to aim for eternity bring into view a different understanding of the temporal world around us. It brings a different understanding of suffering, of disaster, or of calamity that cannot be stolen or taken. We are given a kind of ruddy hope, something that was captivating about Jesus and those close to him.
So when calamity strikes instead of looking for omens and signs, run to the aid of those in need. Instead of judgment offer your hand in trying to understand. This certainly is a difficult world ridden with sin and death for which there is only one cure, the indomitable hope of Christ with the precious gift of salvation.
**DISCLAIMER: Hey guys, I want to make a small disclaimer that this subject has so many deep facets that really this post is the very baby-step beginning of understanding what is going on with God and how judgement works and then we didn't even touch on Revelation and when or how judgment will come or the poetic language of Revelation there is just so much in this one subject! So enjoy, write your questions below!**
"In the solitude and silence of the wilderness..., for their labor in the contest, God gives his athletes the reward they desire: a peace that the world does not know and joy in the Holy Spirit."
Husband & father of four, graduate from Quincy University and currently a grad student at Franciscan University. Director of Faith Formation & Youth Ministry for All Saints Parish since January 2012.