6 other calamities blamed on divine retribution
Destroyed vehicles and rubble in Minamisanriku, Japan
March 16th, 2011
04:55 PM ET

6 other calamities blamed on divine retribution

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Age-old questions about divine punishment are back. Again.

On Tuesday, the governor of Tokyo apologized for saying the earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of Japanese were divine retribution for national egoism.

Television and media personality Glenn Beck, meanwhile, has sent mixed messages about whether he thinks God is behind Japan's natural disaster. “I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes,” he said Monday, adding he's “not not saying that, either.”

“Whether you call it Gaia, or whether you call it Jesus, there’s a message being sent and that is, ‘Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well,’” Beck said. “Maybe we should stop doing some of it.”

Blaming human sinfulness for natural and man-made disasters is nothing new. “This kind of thinking is actually typical rather than atypical in world history,” says Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion professor and CNN Belief Blog contributor.

Here’s a list of natural and man-made calamities that have been attributed to divine retribution for human transgression. Let us know what others should make the cut.

1. The Haiti earthquake

A day after Haiti’s devastating 2009 earthquake, U.S. Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said the disaster was provoked by the Haitians' "pact to the devil."

The “700 Club” host said Haitians had entered that pact to gain independence from French rule in the early 1800s. “They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story,” Robertson said. “And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' "

“Ever since,” Robertson continued, "they have been cursed by one thing after the other." The magnitude 7.0 earthquake claimed more than 200,000 lives.

2. Hurricane Katrina

A handful of politically conservative Christians blamed 2005’s Hurricane Katrina - which struck New Orleans, Louisiana, and left more than 1,800 dead - on the Crescent City’s embrace of gay pride events.

“All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens,” John Hagee, a Texas-based evangelical pastor who leads the Christian Zionist movement in the United States, said after Katrina. “I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are - were recipients of the judgment of God for that."

3. The September 11 attacks

Two days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the Rev. Jerry Falwell said the attacks were, at least in part, God’s judgment on those who would secularize American public life.

“I really believe that 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, I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen,'” Falwell said on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club" program.

"God will not be mocked,” said Falwell, who was made famous by leading the Moral Majority in the 1980s.

In a phone call to CNN later the same day, Falwell stepped back a bit, saying that only the hijackers and terrorists were responsible for the attacks.

But Falwell reiterated that forces trying to secularize the U.S. “created an environment which possibly has caused God to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil since 1812."

4. The Civil War

Abraham Lincoln entered the White House conceiving of God as a distant creator. But the presidency transformed that view into one of a God who acts in the universe. The turnaround was triggered largely by watching the Civil War’s casualty numbers rise into the hundreds of thousands.

In 1862, Lincoln scribbled down his thoughts about God and war. “I am almost ready to say this is probably true - that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet," he wrote. “He could give the final victory to either side any day - Yet the contest proceeds.”

Lincoln elaborated in his second inaugural address in 1865, framing the Civil War as divine punishment for slavery, which he considered a sin. It was his last speech to the American people before his assassination.

5. The Holocaust

During and after World War II, some Orthodox Jews attributed the murder of 6 million fellow believers to Jewish transgression. Many in that camp pointed a finger at Zionists, who they accused of trying to establish Israel too soon, before the Messiah’s return.

“There were groups that claimed this was divine punishment because there were no other theological options,” says Bernard M. Levinson, a Jewish studies professor at the University of Minnesota. “Their own piety made things difficult.”

More recently, one of Israel’s leading rabbis generated controversy for claiming that last year's devastating fire in the Jewish state - the worst in the country’s history - was divine retribution for Jews failing to observe the Sabbath.

6. The biblical flood

The God of the Hebrew Bible is frequently portrayed as a ruler who doles out major rewards - and some very harsh punishments. One of the most famous is the flood in Genesis, which God orchestrates in response to human wickedness. He allows the righteous Noah to build an ark to ride out 40 days' worth of rain.

Widely cited as the archetypal act of divine retribution, some biblical scholars say the story was intended less to warn of a vengeful God than to establish the role of human agency in world events. Levinson says the story is a counter-narrative to The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian tale that involves a massive flood but that depicts humans as powerless in the face of capricious gods.

“The author of the flood story is saying that God doesn’t act randomly, that God responds to human action,” Levinson says. He notes that the Noah story is set in prehistoric times, which he says shows the narrative is meant to be taken as metaphor, not as a practical explanation of natural disasters.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Asia • God • Holocaust • Japan

soundoff (939 Responses)
  1. Neo Amish

    The end of mankind will come in the form of a super-virus. It will come quietly like a thief in the night and wipe us all out quickly. No fan fare, floods, earthquakes, etc. Just silent suffering and then death. For those who believe, repent and claim Him as your savior. For those who don't believe, then oh well. Does it matter anyhow?

    March 17, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  2. buck cameron


    Guess we better be ready for arm and egg on then.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  3. ckfromkc

    TVC15 May I say "touche", and add (if you will) "Amen!)

    March 17, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  4. Misunderstood

    So many people, especially Christians LIE on God. The Lord is merciful and full of grace. The world does what it does, as Jesus stated in Matthew 24:7-8, 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8All these are the beginning of sorrows. Natural disaster is exactly what it is, caused out of nature. Do we ever stop and think about what we're doing to cause some of this stuff to happen??? Not earthquales, but some of the other stuff like hurricanes. Earthquakes have been going on for centuries, that ain't never gonna stop because that phenomena is part of what makes up our earth. Stop blaming God. Funny how when things are going good we don't see people praising Him, only when something bad happens we hear people blaming God.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  5. Valerie

    Has no one considered that the devil might be involved? Some disasters we bring upon ourselves by our own actions as well. The Bible does say that there will be an increase in earthquakes near the end of time. It does not say that God sends them, only that they will occur. I believe that God knows the future as surely as He knows the past. No one has ever proven anything in the Bible to be wrong. A remarkable record when one considers the number of things included there and the length of time involved. My God is one who loves all His children and doesn't want to see any of them perish. He is not the one who sits around thinking up ways to destroy His own creation.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Observer

      "No one has ever proven anything in the Bible to be wrong" You might try reading it. It's not just full of morals that you like, it's full of errors, contradictions and hypocrisy since it was wriiten by man.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  6. clydesdale

    SeanNJ im gonna have to go with ya, although this "end of times" phenomena is very interesting, im game really. I find myself looking forward to a "Mad Max" scenario.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  7. chedar

    The wrath of what is upon what? I thought God is a loving God. Why so much misery and without compassion. The bible is written by an unenlightened man can you trust it?

    March 17, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  8. Arnie

    I guess it was divine retribution for milking cows that killed seven innocent children in PA

    March 17, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  9. Steve

    If this is all gods doing he can go to hell

    March 16, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  10. tallulah13

    There are always those who will try to take advantage of others by blaming disasters, natural and otherwise, on some higher power. Sadly, there are always those who allow themselves to be deceived by these people.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  11. clydesdale

    Really does not seem "divine" is the correct terminology in my opinion, but then again i was brought up Catholic lmao

    March 16, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  12. Serg

    I am a Christian, but I wonder... why is this even in the news? Large scale natural disasters have existed from the beginning of earth's history (earthquakes, ice ages, floods, droughts, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc.) and many of them caused the disappearance of several civilizations. We are not living in the dark ages anymore where divine retribution was the only explanation of any natural phenomena.
    For those who like to cite the book of revelations, the calamities described in the book are very open ended and the book can't be cited every time a natural disaster occurs.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • GetAClue

      Very true. Besides, I love the people who cite the earthquake part of Revelation, and then fail to see that there's NO ONE on earth right now who fits the description of the Antichrist. Right now, no one person is that universally loved.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  13. NoGr8rH8r

    Will all of mankind please give up their respective GODS already? We're walking upright & have electricity, yet a majority of people are still in the dark on so many levels.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  14. Frederica

    Some calamities clearly bear a witness to God's specific reason as His collective judgment on certain humans or certain behaviors; others are unknown since there are seemingly morally worse places. But all human societies are sinful and carry pre-existing victims. All of our days on earth are numbered by God.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Frederica: "All of our days on earth are numbered by God."

      Our days are numbered. No god required.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • chedar

      You are right Frederica. While God is showing his wrath. The people he created shows more humanistic and loving compassion than God. Sad but if that is the kind of God that destroy his own creation. Maybe you can keep him. Cause I ain't..

      March 17, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  15. Gerry

    Did not the Rev. Wright say that the 9/11 was devine retribution? The chickens have come to roost. And what about the Obama presidency. The Rev. Wright prayed to God to damn America. He Has and now we have Obama as president and America is the laughing stock of the world. As the world falls apart, Obama picks his March Madness favorites. Did not the Demorats mock Bush for reading "My Pet Goat" while 9/11 happened? How about picking the March Madness matches while multiple disasters are happening. At least Bush could make a desision. All Obama can do is party and pick fights with other Americans - like the true agitator he was. Totally useless. Jimmy Carter is no longer the worst president of our times.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • GetAClue

      Man, you idiots will find ANY excuse to blame Obama. This is America, pal, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT! Oh, what, can't handle that when it's being said TO you, not BY you?

      March 17, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Observer

      You might try doing a little bit of research in the future. Rev. Wright was quoting the WHITE former ambassador appointed by Ronald Reagan. Wright's comment about "g-d America" was in the middle of a SERMON where he criticized America for all the people killed such as those innocents killed by our two atom bombs. "Thou shall not kill" (in case you've heard of it).

      If we ever have a horrendous attack like 9/11 and President Obama reads a CHILD'S book while under attack, then we can all trash him.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • Sterling Archer

      To cry, cry me a river
      Cry me a river-er
      Cry me a river
      Cry me a river-er, yea yea

      March 17, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  16. loulou

    i believe in God The Father and The Holyghost

    March 16, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  17. Huh

    This article is nothing but pure stupidity.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  18. MS

    You missed the Black Plague.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      And the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  19. Frederica

    Calamities are natural things to happen in the fallen world by humanity's sin. People should be thankful to God for simply being alive because none of us deserves a single day. Each new day is Creator God's grace. We live in a borrowed place with borrowed time until the Judgment Day.

    I thought WW2 was a calamity for the German people as well. And the whole Europe and Asia. Why nobody remembers Germany's perished 7 million men? They were Nazis, but they were Germans – humans with fathers, mothers, wives, siblings and children – just badly indoctrinated. And so many more Russians, Chinese and many Polish people died. The above list is meaningless.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  20. rosemarie robson

    For those of you who do not know the word read the book of Revelation chapter 6 verse 12. And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake. It,s time for us to repent and not make up our own rules on how to live. we should all follow the guide that GOD gave us THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. We are not allowed to add or take away any words in the bible. No man made rule like gay marriages, lesbian marriages, killing one another, doing drugs, commiting adultry, taking GODS name in vein. WAKE UP PEOPLE Revenge is mine says the LORD. The wrath of GOD is upon us.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Why is this *the* revelation earthquake? Why not the one in Chile in 1960 or Alaska in 1964 or the Indian Ocean quake/tsunami in 2004? They were all bigger than this one.

      Cherry-picking scripture to fit current events doesn't actually prove...anything.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • pookie

      The wrath of God is upon those who commit egregious spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Lubna

      The bible sanctioned slavery but we have been able to live with out that rule thank you very much. Not everyone believes in the same thing you do. Stop hitting us over the head with your bible. It's not going to help make people take up Christ.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • thes33k3r

      You are a fool. You will most likely never take an honest step back and evaluate your beliefs in the context of all the world's religions. Keep on believing your nonsense....and in a few years when another huge natural disaster strikes, you'll be singing the same old tired song about GD retribution from your sky daddy and the book of Revelation. Has it ever occurred to you that thousands of believers like yourself have said the exact same thing as you are currently saying after every major earthquake in the past 2000 years?

      March 17, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • Tim

      OR the mass-produced, factory-made paper weight you abide by is nothing more than a "Greatest Hits" collection compiled by Emperor Constantine, which allows people to act immorally and manipulate the words of the "sacred" text in order to hurt other human beings, whom Jesus said to love above all things.

      Yeah, you need to follow every word of the bible.....except for the parts about slaves having to follow their masters' rules, the seperation of men and women in religious ceremony, etc. And there are only 10 commandments....except for the hundreds of other commandments "given" to man in the same canon.

      If there is a God, he probably despises your blaspheming.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Jennifer

      I couldn't agree more!

      March 17, 2011 at 12:45 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.