Natural Disasters And Acts Of God

God isn’t in the weather—in the wind and in the rain—
It’s a natural disaster, never God, which caused such pain
Oh, but God can be detected (so they patiently explain)
In the actions of the people on the ground

God would never cause a hurricane; the gospels make it clear
Though the “acts of God” are numerous in any given year
Cos the deeper truth is different from the way it might appear
Only good is where the Christian God is found

The destruction is incredible, but look—when you inspect,
There’s a lack of God’s Own Fingerprints; no clues you might detect
Not premeditated murder, just condemnable neglect
As the storm blew through the city’s frail façade

But the neighbors helping neighbors, that’s where God’s great power is
That’s the evidence of kindness; there’s the answer to the quiz;
All the work that’s done by people, all their credit’s clearly His
Thus, a hurricane is evidence of God

The New York Times presents a debate on “Natural Disasters or Acts of God?”, and once again it is hard to pin down what exactly God is and does. Some of the responses explore the term “acts of God” as if an actual “God” did not exist at all (really!), and note the use of the term in legal or psychological strategies (finding legal responsibility for loss, or asserting control in an uncontrollable world); others note the growing responsibility of human action, and suggest that recognizing our role instead of sloughing our blame off on God might be a more productive course. At least two of the responses do take the notion of a God seriously, and both (predictably) serve up a heap of special pleading. “What Revelation Reveals About Disasters” reminds us that the book that allows people to make specific predictions about what God hates, and what hour He’s going to call a stop to the whole shebang, is actually subject to quite a bit of interpretation:

Even among believers who take an apocalyptic worldview, the connection between God and disasters is complex and controversial.

But of course, my favorite asks us to “See God in the Response, Not the Disaster” (It is, of course, the muse for today’s verse):

The response of their fellow Filipinos (and the international community) has been heartening. They have helped in any way they can – raising funds for the victims, donating relief goods, offering counseling services to the survivors, transporting supplies to relief centers, etc. It is precisely in these acts of kindness where God is active in the lives of these people. God is made present by and in people who act compassionately toward the victims.

To believe that God is the cause of this catastrophe runs contrary to the God revealed by Jesus in the gospels. Creation continues to evolve, and as Saint Paul put it, the whole of creation is groaning in labor pains for the redemption of God. That there are natural calamities like Haiyan is part of the imperfect world we all live in. There is no need for a supernatural explanation for a naturally occurring event. To attribute these events to the will of God is to hold on to a tyrannical image of God – an image that Jesus challenged when he proclaimed the gospel to the marginalized of his society. It is about time that this image of God be laid to rest, so that we let the spirit of God bring new life to lives destroyed by Haiyan.

Wrath? That was the Old Testament God; he’s evolved since then. You could actually talk to Him back then, and see His power in palpable ways. Nowadays, we have to do all the work ourselves, then give Him credit.

Pretty soon there will be nothing for God to do at all.


  1. Al Dente says

    There is no need for a supernatural explanation for a naturally occurring event. To attribute these events to the will of God is to hold on to a tyrannical image of God – an image that Jesus challenged when he proclaimed the gospel to the marginalized of his society.

    Pat Robertson and other fundamentalists have other ideas on this topic.

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Great point, Al Dente.

    There’s little at all of sense in this.

    One insensible portion not hit on by your insight?

    Either humans have free will or Jesus’ whole death-and-resurrection thing was an unnecessary scam. Eating the forbidden fruit was equally as blameworthy (and equally as blameless) as not eating that fruit if humans have no free will.

    But if humans have free will, then it isn’t God that deserves the credit for helping out when humans do good.

    Either the Christian god is a deceitful, narcissistic scam-artist, both creating and then capitalizing on human guilt (in which case what distinguishes his character from the supposedly narcissistic power-grabbing of Satan?), OR the Christian god is nowhere evidenced in the choices of people, good or bad (likewise, in this latter option, for Satan).

    Since the natural world simply spins on its course and is also no evidence for any god, good or evil, (according to the writing of Mendoza in the OP) the believers themselves seem to be arguing for either an evil god or no god at all.

  3. iplon says

    How pitiful a view of humanity and god is displayed there.

    Every single bad thing that happens naturally is the result of something natural beyond god’s control, but every single act of kindness by a human is because of god? The god they believe in must be a shrewd politician. “If it’s bad, there was nothing I could do. If it’s good, it was because of everything I did.”

  4. Randomfactor says

    Typo second verse, third line. Otherwise: marvelous.

    Reminds me of a book title: “Mistakes Were Made, But Not by [God].”

  5. had3 says

    In Mathew 5, Jesus tells us that every word in the OT is true and in Isiah 45, god tells us he’s responsible for all the evil in the world. Funny how the words don’t mean what they say.

  6. says

    “It is about time that this image of God be laid to rest.”

    So I can assume that the Bible his church uses does not include the Old Testament? (Or, I guess if he’s an associate professor of theology that he teaches that the Old Testament is not divinely inspired?) If the answer is “No,” then how does he expect this to happen? Does he just want people to stop reading that collection?

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