There is a passage in Leviticus that says something about how God did not have a hand in the natural disasters that happened, but rather appeared in the calmness, the stillness that followed. Last week, our pastor made a connection in his message about Psalm 8 to the recent devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma.
King James Version (KJV)
8 O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands;thou hast put all things under his feet:
7 All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
Some people, particularly fundamentalists, seem to forget the Leviticus passage, and say that God makes natural disasters happen in order to “punish” humanity (or some portion of it). I expect there are more than a few such believers in the area of Oklahoma ravaged by the recent E4-E5 tornadoes!
Our pastor started by saying that insurance companies have a clause in their policies for “acts of God”. But is a tornado an act of God or a force of nature? He said to answer this question, “Don’t ask a theologian or a philosopher, ask a poet.”
I do not believe in a vengeful God that controls absolutely everything that happens to each one of us, like a puppeteer. We were made in His image, as the psalm says: He created us to be “a little lower than the angels”, that is, nearly worthy of heaven, and entrusts us to be the engineers of our own lives. Natural disasters are forces of nature, created by certain atmospheric conditions which may or may not be affected by human activities. Natural disasters have always been part of life on Earth. It is what we do in their wake that matters.
Psalm 8 proclaims the glory and honor of God in nature. We also have glory and honor in us, as the psalm says, that he trusts us to have “dominion” over his creation. We need to distinguish between “dominion” and “domination.” Dominion means that we are entrusted with its (Earth’s) care, not that we should dominate and exploit it. To have dominion is to be in charge of or responsible for something. According to this psalm, humankind is God’s partner in the care of natural resources and all creatures. As we respect God and God respects us, so should we respect our planetary home and all living things, and show our gratitude to both God and the Earth for the beauty and bounties our home has provided for us.
A disaster such as a tornado is not an act of God, but rather an event in which there is an opportunity to find the acts of God in the aftermath: this is when God makes himself known. The presence of God can be felt in the peace and calmness when the tornado has passed, the quiet in which people can emerge from their hiding places, in which they realize with relief and gratitude that they and the loved ones that they have been sheltering are alive. It is a time when people who have lost homes or loved ones are comforted by others. God is there when those who have compassion – neighbors as well as complete strangers – come to help those in need. God is there in the resolve and determination of those affected by the disaster to pick up the pieces and rebuild. God is there in the community as it rebuilds, or with those who decide to leave.
A post circulating on Facebook asks whether insurance companies or government intervention should give money to the victims of an area repeatedly plagued by natural disasters. How many times should there be compensation for those who continue to live there? The problem is, where should those people go? There is some kind of disaster – natural or manmade – everywhere, and that place is their home. How much money, then, should be given to refugees to relocate in a place that is different and unknown for them, and where they may have no family? In my opinion, what should be done is to provide the community with the resources to build more protective shelters, in schools, in community centers, and in homes. What kind of materials are more tornado-resistant that could be used to build homes and other buildings? Perhaps there are none that are practical for that purpose.
On the other hand, there are storm chasers who drive toward and into tornadoes in order to study them, and in fact, three were killed recently doing that. By collecting data that helps scientists to understand the exact nature of tornadoes and the conditions under which they form, these storms can be predicted more accurately and sooner, giving people more time to evacuate. God has given us the intelligence, the capacity to analyze the forces of nature to better understand them. Should we try to control them? No, but we can lessen their impact by lessening those activities which help create superstorms. Tornadoes and hurricanes are natural occurrences, but the alteration of our atmosphere due to pollutants may have increased their size and frequency. This is where God is: in the effort to understand our world in order to help those who live here.