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My Take: God not in whirlwinds of Sandy, presidential race
A NASA image of Hurricane Sandy.
October 29th, 2012
01:33 PM ET

My Take: God not in whirlwinds of Sandy, presidential race

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

I am riding out Sandy on Cape Cod and wondering whether this, too, is God’s will.

As this storm has carved its path through the Caribbean and up the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, it has taken 67 lives and (so far) spared the rest of us. Was it the will of the Almighty that so many should perish?

Is God angry with Cuba, where 11 died last week? More angry with Haiti, where 51 perished? Relatively unperturbed with Jamaica, where the death toll was only two? If a tree falls on my house today, will that be an Act of God, too?

There has been a lot of talk lately about what is and what isn’t willed by Providence, thanks to Richard Mourdock, the Indiana Republican and U.S. Senate candidate who said last week, “I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.”

Whether “it” in this sentence refers to rape or to conception, it assumes that God is both busy and capricious. Why does God offer the gift of life to some rape victims and not to others? Why does God allow some elections to be close and not others?

One answer, of course, is that God does nothing of the sort. Perhaps there is no God. Or perhaps God is more like the watchmaker divinity of Deism fame who winds up the universe, sets it in motion and then leaves it to its own devices.

In the thought worlds of Indian religions, things operate not by the will of God but in keeping with the laws of karma. So to put it in crudest terms, those who are injured in Sandy somehow have it coming to them, as do victims of rape who find themselves pregnant.

The western religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have argued that God has a hand not only in setting our story in motion but also in seeing it through to the end. So Jews, Christians, and Muslims have had to reckon with the classical problem of “theodicy”: In a world in which God is all powerful and all good, why do bad things happen to good people?

As I wrestle with these questions, I cannot help thinking about how differently my New England forebears interpreted these natural disasters. While we speak of the eye of the hurricane, New England's colonists were ever mindful of the eye of a God who was forever watching over them, and sending storms their way as punishment for their collective sins.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

When the Great Colonial Hurricane raced up the east coast and lashed New England in August 1635, its 130 mph winds and 21-foot storm surge were almost universally viewed in supernatural rather than natural terms — as a judgment of God on the unfaithful.

We still have Puritans among us today, of course.

Televangelist Pat Robertson is notorious for turning natural disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Katrina into supernatural communications — God’s curse on Haiti or New Orleans for bad religion or widespread abortions. And with this “Stormpocalpyse” arriving on the eve of the election, I suspect some will suggest that the rain and the wind are God’s judgment on the leadership of President Obama.

Still, American society as a whole no longer interprets natural disasters as signs of a coming apocalypse or evidence of past misdeeds. When it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes, we tune in to the Weather Channel, not the Christian Broadcasting Network. And we interpret these events not through the rumblings of biblical prophets but through the scientific truths of air pressure and tectonic plates.

As a result of this sort of secular turn, we are much better at predicting the course of hurricanes. The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 arrived as a surprise and took many lives with it, including, according to the report of the Massachusetts governor, John Winthrop, those of eight Native Americans taken by the storm surge while “flying from their wigwams.” Sandy is a surprise to no one, thanks to science.

Still, we Americans cannot give up on talk of God’s will. At least according to Newt Gingrich, Mourdock’s foray into rape and theology reflects the position of “virtually every Catholic” in the United States. And if we are to believe the full-page ads taken out  by Billy Graham, God wills the victory of Mitt Romney over Barack Obama.

As for me, I am less sure about what God wills for our storms (political or otherwise). In my view, any God worth worshiping isn’t going to be so predictable, or so capricious.

I don’t think Graham, Mourdock, or Gingrich is speaking on behalf of God. They are speaking on behalf of themselves, on the basis of their own fears and experiences. And they are reading the Bible through their politics, not the other way around.

When it comes to storms like Sandy, I just don't believe in a God who drowns black babies in Haiti yet refuses to drown out the voices of cranky white men who claim so irreverently to speak in His name.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Belief • Billy Graham • Christianity • Church and state • Newt Gingrich • Politics • Science • United States

soundoff (2,188 Responses)
  1. Jacob Kohn

    peace

    October 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  2. Tina

    "sometimes events like this are random"......wow....WHEN??? Which ones are random? How do you know? Who decides? Which ones are not? To follow your line of thinking, either they all are....(since some humans have relinquished the fantasy of a surpreme being) or NONE of them are (to those of us who have not)
    Or "random" doesn't mean what it means.
    Why or how is it helpful or comforting to believe that your life....and every life.....is NOT being controlled, watched, protected, directed, illuminated, and brought to a significant purpose by someone bigger and better?
    It's easy to rage against what we don't understand. To demand that God answer us. Give an account for the shabby way He's running things. But even our rage against Him proves we believe He's there to rage against.
    And He can take it.
    More importantly, He wants us to direct our questions, anger, confusion, and grief at Him. He's the only One who does know why, and how, and to what end.
    As C.S. Lewis said, " I used to think when I got to heaven, I would bring my list of questions and He would answer. But now I think just being in His presence will cause the questions themselves to die on my lips."

    October 29, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Athy

      Anyone who believes god has anything to do with anything is deluding themselves.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  3. GeorgeYub

    I feel my IQ dropped 15 points reading that article. Really its 2012 now thinking a god controls the weather is stupid

    This country i don't know where its headed anymore but it is not to a good place .

    October 29, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  4. Johnny

    Because of sin in the world, the Devil has a strong foothold in this world. He has certain "rights" because sin gives him certain rights. He is like a lawyer before a judge rightly insisting on justice or punishment for this or that act. In fact the Bible says that he is the prince of this world, the power of this age, and he told Jesus that he had power over the world, and could give it to Him if He were to bow down and workshop him. God is love, but His attribute of justice, an attribute our own society is based on, in some ways limits Him in that he has to give the devil his due. Storms, for example, are not "sent" by God, but are part of the consequence of original sin, and the devil having a type of foothold in this world. That is why Jesus talked so much about the Kingdom of God, and how it can grow, etc. The context of that is that at the time of Jesus' coming, the Kingdom of the devil was dominating, but Jesus came to undermine it by gathering people to His kingdom, a spiritual army, if you like, to fight against the kingdom of the devil. This is all much deeper than I can put down here, but this understanding answers the basic that the author of the article said, when he stated: "the classical problem of “theodicy”: In a world in which God is all powerful and all good, why do bad things happen to good people?" The great thing is that we already know who will have the victory in this spiritual battle, not really between evil and good, but about justice. If we were to get "justice for our sin, then the devil wins. But God satisfied His justice through the death of Jesus, so all who trust in Him will receive grace, and in the end, the devil will loose.

    October 29, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • mk

      And this doesn't sound fairy-tale-ish to you??

      October 29, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • GeorgeYub

      Do you believe the crap you say ? or are you just trolling

      October 29, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Jon

      These people think they are spreading the word of god. but when i read it i think PSYCO!

      October 29, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  5. aj0714

    But you gotta find it interesting that Sandy - short for Alexander - in Hebrew is Avram.– Abraham. The Father.

    October 29, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Derke

      Not interesting in the least. Sorry.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      How is an alphabetical coincidence of any interest?

      October 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  6. Hutterite

    As a member of the utah armchair climatologists association, I know one benefit of gods' micromanagement of our climate. When this happens, god did it. He's mad at gays or abortions or librarians or kardashians or whatever. So god sent us a storm a thousand miles wide to punish them, and indiscriminately kill a bunch of people. However, because god did it, it therefore has nothing to do with the false prophecy of climate change. That being the case, we just have to suck up to god, hate gays, and ignore the climate. The big guy's got his omniscient finger on the thermostat.

    October 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • mk

      Hutterite, I love you man.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Athy

      Me too. But it's "god's", not "gods'".

      October 29, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  7. caribnmom

    The main problem with our usual analysis on this subject is that we try to understand God, without leaving our human perspective. For starters, death is not a bad thing for God. For Him it is only a stage to have us with HIm. If you decide to believe in God, then you should try to make sense on what HE would think be best. Some say everything that happens is either 'ordained' by God, or 'permitted' by HIm, even if is a bad action commited by another human being's act of will. I don't think He "likes" our suffering in any way, but I do think HE can get a greater good for us throught it , and that is why He permits suffering.
    I have this theory that maybe innocent children go first in their path through death into Heaven (as innocent, not having much on their tally) so many of us adults can stop and re-focus our lives into God's path as we usually keep straying from it. Just my thoughts....

    October 29, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • The fluffy bunnies of your mind

      And those are happy fluffy thought indeed.

      It's nice to use your imagination.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Jon

      I have this theory that maybe this poster is CRAZY

      October 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Clyde

      Interesting stuff. Death actually is a bad thing, but Christ defeated death with his own death and resurrection. Like you said about suffering, God uses it for a greater good.

      1 Corinthians 15:54-57 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • caribnmom

      You can say whatever you want of me, and all believers as you wish. I have lived a full, happy and awesome life "in spite" of my beliefs (as you may think). If you are right, and I die tonight in my sleep. It's all the same. I lost nothing by believing like I did. If God exists and I am right in my beliefs, then I hit the real jackpot.
      I will surely keep on with my "crazy" "imagination". God bless..... 😉

      October 29, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • wiliam tells

      ...and some interesting, i insightful thoughts they are "Caribnomom'!

      There's more spiritual reality residing in a single sentence of your treatise than can be found in the entire article penned by that Doubting Thomas whose "god" he carries around inside his shirt pocket and whose name I've already forgotten!

      Keep up the good work!

      October 29, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Nah

      Actually, if you picked the wrong god, you will burn in their hell. You see, religions are mutually exclusive, and they punish just as your god of love punishes.

      Oh, and you are out a lot of time and money if you are wrong, and you have helped force crazy nonsense into schools and government if you are wrong, impeding your children's intelligence and your society's proper functioning. There are significant social costs behind the worship of a deity.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  8. Galaxy Prime

    While all of you guys are on your knees praying to your narrow-minded gods, ask them for the Mega Millions lottery numbers for me . My all-seeing all-knowing supreme deity cabbage called "Ralph" in my fridge won't give me the winning numbers because he knows if I win I'll dump him and my lousy refrigerator in the damn alley!

    October 29, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  9. Suzanne

    Ok...The devil was an angel and wanted to be worshiped. Remember... He tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit. Also remember that God put Adam and Eve in the garden where it was pure paradise. They didn't have to do anything but enjoy the garden. So God had to punish Adam and Eve (they were knowlagable of good and evil) for their sin by making them work the land for their food and ultimately death. The devi)l was thrown out of heaven and he will rule the earth until Our lord returns. Funny thing is no one ever blames the devil for the bad things that happen. Please read the bible before making a comment.

    October 29, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Suzanne

      The Lucifer story doesn't even make any sense.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • The Devcil Made Me Do It! It's HIS Fault!

      God made them, and they were instantly defective. If you buy a car and it's a lemon, do you blame the car, or the manufacturer?

      God made them as they were, and God knows everything that will ever happen. Why was God surprised, and why was he angry, especially since he was the faulty mnanufacturer.

      God punished them for being as he made them. Do you punish your car for the defects Ford put into it?

      October 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Why blame the devil? God created him to do bad things, so who is the evil one?

      October 29, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Paula Marie Bernadette

      Your point is very well taken. And the fact that hawaiiguest disdains it makes it even more credible!

      November 2, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  10. Ali

    Muslims do not believe that God is "All-Good".

    Muslims have a belief that God has 99 attributes, but none of them say God is "All Good".

    However, Muslims do believe that God is the All Merciful and at the same time God is "Al-Wadud" (The All Loving) and Al-Ghafur (The All Forgiving).

    The Muslim belief is that God does whatever He wants to do. He allows good and evil to exist in the world. God created everything including humans, the devil, etc. Muslims believe that this world is a test and it's not supposed to be paradise on Earth – it's a life struggle whether you're poor or you're rich but you have different struggles.

    October 29, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • TruthSeeker

      And none of this is based on any provable, falsifiable facts. Its a pity so many people fall for this.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  11. john smith

    cyclones are originated off of the shores of AFRICA.. figure it out..

    October 29, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • MEvans

      http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/suffering-if-god-good-why-there-so-much-evil-world

      October 29, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  12. ArthurP

    For that person who prayed for God to get rid of all the rats in New York. Well you can see God does exist and your prayer has been answered.

    October 29, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Athy

      Won't help. They just swim to higher ground, out of the subway tunnels and sewers into people's homes.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      What is the difference between a New York sewer rat and an atheist?

      October 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      What is the difference between a New York sewer rat and an atheist ?

      October 29, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • ArthurP

      @cristopher hitchens:

      Well for starters an atheist would not ask the question:

      What is the difference between a New York sewer rat and a Christian?

      October 29, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      Well art is there a difference?

      October 29, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Athy

      What's the difference between a sewer rat and a bible babbler that doesn't know where question marks go?

      October 29, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      Given the choice a sewer rat would be a better house guest than an atheist.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      Given the choice a sewer rat would be a better house guest than an atheist.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      A sewer rat has way more class and dignity than an atheist.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      A sewer rat shows more moral dignity than an atheist and may well be more intelligent.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • What is the difference between a sewer rat and a Christian?

      Sewer rats only reply once.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Athy

      Aw, gee.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  13. The truth

    Left wing liberals have rejected god and blacks never had a god. Is it a surprise that they are always targeted for death by god?
    Hardly. Blacks and leftists are vermin, god doesn't want you on this planet and it's obvious.

    October 29, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      I will cite Poe's Law on the original poster.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • ArthurP

      In the United States 25% of all the people who consider themselves to be 'white' have at least one save black ancestor.

      Prove you are really 'white' get DNA tested.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Welch

      People like you are exactly why I hate religion. F u ck w a d.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Ron

      It's people like you who are the problem. If you are filled with so much hate, why don't you disappear and leave the rest of us alone.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Do you even know why you hate?

      October 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Rob

      You can't reject something that doesn't exist in the first place.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • TruthSeeker

      I am really sorry your life sucks so much you feel the need to take it out on other people. Because liberals and black people are not the reason your life sucks, you are. Perhaps all that hatred should be directed towards your failures as a person.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Paula Marie Bernadette

      Well aren't you blatantly RACIST!!!! Do you believe that black people have souls? I do.

      November 2, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  14. ivo

    God doesn't bring calamity to people, the world brings it, it's life, what men are to do are to ask God to be protected and untouched by bad things. If you don't ask Gog to be part of your like, or even more so, ask him to leave you alone, he is a gentleman, he will leave you indeed and will not intervene in your free will, but don't blame him then when calamity strikes. Society has lost fear of God, and that is the key of wisdom. You might not believe but One Day with God is better than a thousand. I dare you to give it a try.

    October 29, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Rob

      And then there are those of us that look around at grown men & women who put everything they are into the belief that there's a magic place in the sky called Heaven, and an evil fury in the ground called Hell. C'mon, people. Reality isn't that hard to grasp. Fairytales are for children. Get some balls & learn to grasp reality. You don't need a crutch to get through it. Well, wait, I stand corrected. Apparently billions of you think you do. Monkey see, monkey do....believe because you're told to.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • mk

      Sooooo...if a baby doesn't learn to follow this god real quick, it's his own dam fault?

      October 29, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Athy

      Yeah, I'm afraid the bible babblers pretty much follow the religious crowd without much thinking involved. Any logical thought would endanger their relationship with "god".

      October 29, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  15. David

    How selfish for all those so called intellects responding. YOUR HOPE IS SO SHALLOW! Your belief is so transparently inward. Step out of your own way, then perhaps some guidance will occur to the total understanding of these subjects in life.
    I'll continue to pray for for your lives to change, just like the great appostle Pauls did only under the inspiration of the HOLIEST OF SPIRITS,. Selflessness will show you what you really are.,Try servanthood and a little humility, then all will become increasingly very clear! May God bless you all.

    October 29, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      It's always nice to see a self-serving and condescending comment such as yours.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Athy

      Why don't we just call it the bullshit that it is?

      October 29, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  16. Raka

    Do we really have to do this every time there's a calamity. Of course there are crackpots that will say it. But does CNN really have to give a response?

    October 29, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  17. Dan Green

    While many of us wrestle with why God, if he even exists, would allow people to suffer, if is amazing that in the 21st century, so many people still believe in a "vengeful God". A God that would punish people in such a manner, allow children to die from cancer, murder, and natural disasters and destructive forces of nature, isn't a God that I would revere or hold in high esteem. What's so great about a God who can't rise above the imperfections of a species that he created "in his own image"? And when will humans finally relinquish this ridiculous fantasy of a supreme being, fiery demons below, and everlasting life reserved only for those who believe word-for-word in a book written by other men? Sometimes, events like this are random, and the wisest explanation is none at all, or at least one based in science.

    October 29, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Rob

      Well-stated, Dan!

      October 29, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  18. Galaxy Prime

    These stories ALWAYS bring out the mindless crackpots and religious nutjobs, so I went to my fridge to ask the almighty cabbage "Ralph" for spiritual guidance. He said: "Ignore the foolish comments posted by these crazy people, for they know not what they do". So all of you can kiss my big toe!

    October 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • pjewels

      Maybe the universe at large is really guiding these events. If you think about it, ancient cultures w/o our present day tools assumed meteorological and astronomical phenomena were religious and mythological signs w/o knowing they were actually caused by forces outside of this Earth. I think people should start thinking broader and longer about how events on Earth relate to things going on in this solar system and beyond rather than focus on an esoteric meaning behind why disasters occur on this planet alone. See the bigger picture, at least on the short term and interpret its meaning through science first, then maybe we can begin to understand the true reason that God created this universe.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  19. KEVIN

    How ignorant it is to think GOD controls the path of Hurricanes and decides it's victims.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  20. The truth

    "When it comes to storms like Sandy, I just don't believe in a God who drowns black babies in Haiti yet refuses to drown out the voices of cranky white men who claim so irreverently to speak in His name."

    Absolutely disgusting statement. He is basically say "I was these hurricanes would drown white men"
    Well radical racist left wing commentator, you are white, so go drown yourself.

    Somebody please put a bullet in this guys head.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • ArthurP

      Just like God 'The truth' likes to kill.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • motorfirebox

      Wow. Way to miss the point of that sentence.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • Kathy Greene

      Dear "The Truth," You are an extremely poor excuse for a conservative Christian! My family and I are traditionalist Christians and enthusiastic Republicans and believe in a literalist interpretation of the Bible and obeying God's and Jesus' commandments. From your pathetic and embittered remarks, it is quite obvious that you neither understand, appreciate, or choose to OBEY the Lord's word! In the future, keep your verbal poison to yourself and try try studying the Bible directly, not some perverted, extremist, so-called Biblical study guide or other propaganda. And as for your "patriotism," Sir, you are NO American!

      October 29, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
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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.