Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Theological interpretation of an 'act of God'

Insurance policies speak rather ambivalently of 'acts of God' so as to define the limits of liability. Just as flippantly, some ecclesial leaders will short-sightedly inject tragedy with divine retribution.

Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America." Somehow, the attack on veritable symbols of American military and economic power did not factor into Falwell's facile theological calculus.

Unfortunately, a natural disaster cannot escape receiving such analysis. ABP reports that Henry Blackaby, the author of Experiencing God, "told a Kentucky pastors' conference workshop he recognized God's hand of judgment in the tsunami after he saw a map published by Voice of the Martyrs showing areas of intense persecution of Christians worldwide." The article goes on to detail how others have responded and argued the theological and factual vapidity of Blackaby's assertion.

Of course, such an impetus is nothing new. The bible, especially the Hebrew scriptures, grapple valiantly with the potential for God's judgment coming upon the wings of locusts or the edge of a conquering sword. Seeking a theological motive behind inexplicable disaster is a natural human reaction but one that should be tempered with compassion and theological humility.

John 9 reports that the disciples quizzed Jesus as to the theological source of a blind man's affliction. Jesus deflects the question and instead showers the man with compassion and love. This tragedy was not a theological judgment but a tragedy ripe for God's grace. I just hope that this kind of compassion will prevail in this situation and that God's hand will not be blamed for natural or human tragedy in the service of our own ideological battles.