One problem with believing the entire Bible is literally true is that you can sometimes come to distasteful and contradictory conclusions. Here are Pat Robertson’s insights into God’s role in the recent deadly tornadoes:
- God deserves credit for setting up the conditions that allow deadly tornadoes, but he doesn’t deserve blame for sending them.
- Those killed by tornadoes deserve blame for living where tornadoes happen—i.e. in every state but Alaska—and for not praying enough.
- A blameless, omnibenevolent God could have stopped the tornadoes, but chose not too because too few people prayed for him to do so.
When true believers face the question of why God allows great suffering (e.g. 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina) the most common explanations are
- We can’t understand the mind of God. (In other words, I have no good answer. Let’s talk about something else.)
- When someone dies, they’re in a better place. (But what if they would actually prefer to still be alive?)
- It is an opportunity to find strength in God. (As if there is no other way to learn this lesson.)
- God is punishing us for being sinful. (Let’s not blame God, let’s blame those people that don’t believe what we believe.)
This last explanation, that human suffering is caused by sin, is seen throughout the Bible:
The LORD saw how evil humans had become on the earth, so he said, “I will wipe off the face of the earth these humans that I created. Not only humans, but also domestic animals, crawling animals, and birds.” —Excerpts from Genesis 6:5,7
And a favorite of the fire and brimstone preachers:
For the wages of sin is death. —Romans 6:23
God punishes and kills off sinners in the Bible with incredible regularity—check out the book Drunk with Blood for all the gory details. Since Bible literalists see so many examples of this, it is easy understand why Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell famously fell into the trap of arguing that God allowed the 9/11 terrorist attacks because of the actions of the ACLU, federal courts, abortionists, pagans, feminists, gays, lesbians, People for the American Way, and those who want church/state separation. As unlikely as it sounds to non-evangelicals, God hated the exact same people that Robertson and Falwell hated.
It’s very difficult for a preacher to sermonize that innocent people sometimes suffer and die for no good reason, and it’s much more convenient for them to blame their own political enemies.
However, in a little reported decree from Jesus himself, we find a very different explanation of human tribulation:
What about those 18 people who died when the tower at Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more sinful than other people living in Jerusalem? No! I can guarantee that they weren’t. —Luke 13:4-5
So here we have Jesus clearly stating that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and it is not because they were sinners. This passage is underpreached because it offers little solace to people who are grieving. Plus preachers who ignore it can continue to blame the sinners of their choosing.
So the Bible tells us that disasters happen to sinners and that disasters also happen to innocent people, but there’s one more category that’s is rarely heard of in the Bible: those innocent people that God goes out of his way to strike dead. Gather the family around to hear the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished story of Uzzah who steadies the ark of the covenant when his oxen bump into it:
Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God smote him there for his error. And there he died by the ark of God. —Excerpts from 2 Samuel 6:6-7
So instead of encouraging people to pray tornadoes away, how about something a little more practical: to lessen your chances of being hit by a tornado, your best bet is to not be a male resident of a hotel or mobile home, 10-35 years old, in Kansas, Oklahoma, or north Texas from 3-9pm from May to June. Or just move to Alaska.