I just read a Fox News poll that found 4/10 Americans believe the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster is God’s judgment on selfish Japanese culture. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/03/24/poll-nearly-4-10-americans-say-natural-disasters-sign-god/?test=latestnews

We heard such things after 9/11, Katrina, Indonesia and Haiti. I got asked about God and natural disasters by News Radio 740 KTRH in an interview that will air tonight or tomorrow morning. Is God punishing Japan?

Speaking from my tradition, Lutherans don’t go there. It’s blaming the victim. Luther, who I think lost two brothers in the Plague, could just as easily see disasters as a “work of Satan.”

Jesus didn’t go there either. In the gospel reading for next week April 3 (John 9), Jesus’ disciples ask, “Who sinned that this man was born blind?” Jesus dismisses the idea. The same with the Galileans Herod massacred and people killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them. “Do you think these people were any worse than other Galileans? No, I tell you…” Jesus taught his disciples to respond to suffering with healing and compassion, not judgment. He saved his harshest judgment for the religious establishment.

This theology is also frustratingly unsystematic. What are we saying if we buy into it? If a tornado hits a small town in Nebraska, is God wiping them out like a celestial mobster? When the midwest floods each Spring, is that God’s judgment too? Is every disaster God killing people he doesn’t like? Is that God’s work in the world? Why not more consistency? If God acts that way, why not target centers of drug trafficking or human trafficking?

Its a dangerous theology. It reveals a self-centeredness: When disaster strikes others, we say it’s God’s judgment. When disaster strikes us we ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

I worry this theology might also be an unconscious way of abdicating responsibility. Hey, if God wants these people to suffer, who am I to get in the way? It lets me off the hook. I don’t have to worry about getting into the mud of all this. I can sit and watch from my comfortable self-righteous perch.

A theology of the cross recognizes that the innocent all too often suffer. Te beatitudes show that God cares about those who suffer. Blessed are the poor, hungry, mourning, suffering people who have been denied justice. God loves you.

Thank goodness Jesus did not respond to:
Lepers with “this is God’s judgment on them.”
The man born blind with “this is God’s judgment on his parents.” Peter’s mother-in-law with “this is God’s judgment on her.”
The paraplegic with with “this is God’s judgment on him.”
The woman caught in adultery about to be stoned with “this is God’s judgment on her.” Lazarus with, “He had this coming.”
The cross with, “It must be something I did.”