Last week an earthquake in Pakistan killed tens of thousands. Last year’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean was even more devastating, killing an estimated 275,000 people. Hurricane Katrina resulted in the loss of roughly 1,000 souls and tens of billions of dollars damage on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. The rain finally stopped this week in New England after eight days of flooding. It seems that every time we turn on the television there is some kind of major disaster. In the absence of an earthquake or hurricane we are barraged with coverage about serial killers or sex offenders. The world seems to be going to “hell in a handbasket”. Is God paying us back for our unfaithfulness to him? Are we on the eve of Armageddon?”
When the tsunami hit Indonesia, a handful of Muslim leaders claimed that the tidal wave was God’s way of killing sinful Western tourists who were enjoying the immoral resorts, hotels, and dance clubs on the affected beaches. Let me get this right. If this is true, God decided to kill roughly a quarter of a million righteous Muslim villagers so that he could extinguish perhaps 5,000 non-Muslim western sinners. Strange, indeed.
While I can find no public statements to this affect, I’m sure that quite a few Americans have entertained equally misguided thoughts that the tsunami and the recent quake in Pakistan might have been God’s way of sending a message to Islamic extremists about their sinful ways.
Country singer Randy Travis has recently stated his belief that the recent hurricanes are God’s way of telling Americans that they are not heeding the lessons of the bible, are leading sinful lives, and need to repent. If we accept Travis’ conclusion God again appears to be acting illogically. After all, if God was really trying to get the sinners, it is curious the bars and perverse clubs in the French quarter were undamaged in the hurricane.
In my opinion these disasters are a part of the natural world…period. When the plates below the ocean shift, there is an earthquake or a tsunami. When warm waters whip up a hurricane, wind and flooding occurs. Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and tornadoes have been occurring for millions of years. Sometimes these disasters occur in cycles, but for the most part there is no credible evidence that there is a long-run upward trend in this activity.
I believe that perceptions of an upward trend in disaster activity are largely the result of improved media coverage made possible by technological improvements like high-speed Internet and satellite phones. When anything happens virtually anywhere in the world, it is known everywhere within seconds. In addition, the media is guilty of irresponsible and sensationalized reporting. Early in the Katrina disaster the Mayor of New Orleans claimed that there were 10,000 dead in his city. This claim was repeated over and over again on the news, yet the actual death toll was around 900.
Each day in lobby of our historical society they flip the page of an old newspaper so that the public can see what was happening exactly 50 years ago. About ten years ago I noticed an article from 1945. Buried on the bottom of the front page was a short paragraph about the deaths of 50 elementary school students and their teachers from a boiler explosion in rural Michigan. If a tragedy like this occurred today it would be covered detail by bloody detail on FOX news for the next 48 hours. CNN would be interviewing educational leaders and boiler experts. The President would release a note of sympathy, and on and on. The bottom line is that we are more aware of tragedy today because it is in front of our faces constantly. The trend of tragedy is not up, we are just more aware of tragedy when it occurs.
I’m in complete agreement with Randy Travis’ opinion that we sin too much and should be more righteous. This is certainly true for me and perhaps for you as well. However, I don’t believe that there is any cause and effect between sin and tragedy. Bad things happen to good people while some of the world’s worst scoundrels prosper and plunder till the end of their days. The path to a good Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or Hindu life is left for all of us to work out individually. In the meantime, my advice to those of you who are worried about God’s wrath is to simply turn off the tube once in a while and try to do something constructive. You’ll quickly notice how happy and positive your days can become!