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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. metta2uall

    Re. the comment on karma – my interpretation is that people who die in a storm haven't done any special bad karma to distinguish themselves from others who don't die – their karma is just getting born as a human being, perhaps choosing to live near the coast (if they even made such a choice..), and _maybe_ doing something unwise when the hurricane hit

    October 31, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      The Hindu folk do actually have designs on americult. Are you a volunteer?

      October 31, 2012 at 3:34 am |
  2. Anybody know how to read?

    'Rom 9:22-23 [What] if God, willing to shew [his] wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,' ..........................That's why one sees so much hate from the narcissistic atheists when they make their daddy, hubby, consensual, gubmints into powers over everything. They are religious but won't admit it. Our fadder who art in washington, hollow is thy name, give us so more washin'.

    October 31, 2012 at 3:25 am |
  3. terrilynnmerritts

    There are no gods nor goddesses. What happened here can be explained by any elementary school earth science book- it's just natural forces and the weather. The religions mention weather in their books merely because the weather has always been around. They simply commented on what they saw and experienced. This is just a hurricane and means nothing special nor did anything supernatural send it. Get your mind out of the ancient fairy tales and into reality.

    October 31, 2012 at 3:06 am |
    • dennis

      How exactly do you know there is no GOD? You were not around when life began?

      October 31, 2012 at 3:12 am |
    • dennis

      unfortunately terrilyn, people who have never experienced the power of the LORD, seem to believe they have a right to declare that there is no god, with no understanding what so ever of how life began. I challenged the LORD to reveal himself to me if he was real, and he did. I have seen the power of GOD many times. All you have to do is get under a teacher of prophecy. You will see the has predicted the future, and is at this very moment predicted events that are taking place in our time.

      October 31, 2012 at 3:21 am |
    • OTOH

      dennis,
      "I challenged the LORD to reveal himself to me if he was real, and he did."

      You challenged WHO? See, you already believed... or there would have been nothing - nobody - to 'challenge'.

      October 31, 2012 at 3:38 am |
    • the AnViL

      facts:

      creationism = evidence showing it to be false.
      prayer = evidence that it does not to work.
      the bible = filled with contradictions.
      --------------------

      anyone who believes in imaginary men in the sky suffers from delusional thinking and should not be allowed to hold public office, vote, purchase firearms or teach public school.

      the fact remains: there are precisely zero gods.

      the onus of evidence lies entirely on the shoulders of those who claim there is a god.

      good luck with that!

      October 31, 2012 at 5:06 am |
  4. dennis

    people do not realize the earth is under a curse because of sin. I know people don't believe the bible is true, but prophecy is how the LORD JESUS, WHO IS GOD WHO BECAME A MAN, PROVES HE IS GOD. these storms are becoming worse and the LORD said they would nearing the in end of mans reign over the earth. I know its hard to believe, but just listen to good bible prophecy teacher. Luke 21:25 KJV
    And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring ;

    October 31, 2012 at 3:00 am |
    • likeaboss

      You're a nut. I'm not sorry to say that. It's true. More people need to speak the truth of such things and call out the nuts where they are found.

      October 31, 2012 at 4:05 am |
    • the AnViL

      dennis – you're mentally ill – and i'm not even slightly sorry to say that... you're certainly a huge part of what's wrong with this country.

      you're too mentally illl and stupid to know you should be ashamed.

      October 31, 2012 at 5:22 am |
  5. Sandy

    HarryJ has it right. God does, indeed, have His way in the storm. People need to stop lying on The Most High.

    Nahum 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

    October 31, 2012 at 2:56 am |
    • dennis

      the LORD is not in every storm.

      October 31, 2012 at 3:09 am |
    • the AnViL

      it is disgusting that this level of ignorance exists in the usa today.

      there are precisely zero gods. it's an imaginary, delusional construct – born entirely from the minds of uneducated, ignorant men over 2000 years ago.

      tolerance of religious idiocy has to end.

      enough is enough

      October 31, 2012 at 5:09 am |
  6. dennis

    GOD HIMSELF, is not sending storms, although he can.
    whats more important is that storms are a sign of the LORDS return to the earth.
    I know this is hard for some to believe, and its actually hard to conceive.
    However, GOD WHO BECAME A MAN, (JESUS) proves he exists by foretelling the future.
    HE SAID IN THE LAST DAYS
    THE SEA'S AND THE WAVES WOULD BE ROARING, AND THEY ARE.

    if you do not believe the bible is true, listen to men who teach prophecy and the end times
    you will believe after the scriptures are opened up to you.

    October 31, 2012 at 2:48 am |
  7. dennis

    GOD HIMSELF, is not sending storms, although he can.
    whats more important is that starms are a sign of the LORDS erturn to the earth.
    I know this is hard for some to believe, and its actually hard to conceive.
    However, GOD WHO BECAME A MAN, (JESUS) proves he exists by foretelling the future.
    HE SAID IN THE LAST DAYS
    THE SEA'S AND THE WAVES WOULD BE ROARING, AND THEY ARE.

    if you do not believe the bible is true, listen to men who teach prophecy and the end times
    you will believe after the scriptures are opened up to you.

    October 31, 2012 at 2:48 am |
  8. Ekira

    This is nature – why is there the search of good or bad in it – it simply is. Why is there no article about the exploitation of earth by humanity or the failure of humanity to live with nature and not against it?

    October 31, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • Ekira

      ...or "how to live with nature in a better way and not against it".

      October 31, 2012 at 2:45 am |
  9. BlaznFattyz

    this is just a random act of the world we live in.

    October 31, 2012 at 2:18 am |
    • Peteyroo

      BlazingFarts, you are right, my friend!

      October 31, 2012 at 2:25 am |
  10. Alexander Mac Donald

    People like Gringrich, Mourdoch, Graham,Reed, and Robertson blaspheme when they lay destructive and lethal natural events on the altar of the god they purport to worship and obey. Why are they not called out for it?

    October 31, 2012 at 1:29 am |
  11. a rehman

    GOD IS MOST GRACIOUS & MERCIFUL BUT IN THE QURAN GOD WARNS HIS CREATURES ABOUT HELL & HIS WRATH BUT MOST PEOPLE ARE UN HEEDFUL & ALSO INSIST THAT IT HAPPEN IN FRONT OF THERE EYES THIS STORM IS CERTAINLY A GODS SIGN EVEN AFTER THIS IF PEOPLE DO NOT PUT THERE FACES ON THE EARTH & PROSTATE TOWARDS HIM NOBODY CAN HELP SUCH PEOPLE YES ITS TRUE THAT ITS ONLY A BREEZE COMPARED TO WORST THINGS TO COME

    October 31, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Rainbow, you're full of crap. God does not exist in any form. There is more evidence for the Loch Ness Monster than there is for God and evidence is not proof.

      October 31, 2012 at 2:17 am |
  12. Geves

    I think this sort of "scholarly" thinking is the exact result of when a finite person tries his or her best to try and explain the will of an infinite God, this is exactly why we are humans and God is well, God. It appears that in his desire to try comprehend the nature and will of God, the author forgot about having faith in the one and only being that can truly save any of us, Jesus Christ.

    October 31, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Grieves, you are most certainly full of dog doo. Get a grip. Jesus is as real as the unicorns he rides and the leprechauns he plays with.

      October 31, 2012 at 2:28 am |
  13. Reality

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

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    And to this we offer our favorite prayer:

    The Apostles' Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request

    October 31, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  14. Kunst

    "I don’t think Graham, Mourdock, or Gingrich is speaking on behalf of God."

    Amen. I can't imagine Jesus is very happy with most of those who claim to represent him.

    October 31, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Athy

      Jesus is still alive?

      October 31, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • the AnViL

      all accounts of jebus are hearsay. it is most probable that there was no jebus.

      there are precisely zero gods – and you should be ashamed to be so ignorant.

      people who believe in imaginary men in the sky should not be allowed to hold public office, vote, purchase firearms or teach public school.

      tolerance of religious idiocy has to end – enough is enough.

      October 31, 2012 at 5:16 am |
  15. His panic

    No need to Panic... yet!! This is only a breeze compared to worst things to come at the End of ALL things.

    There is a great need to learn and discern between what God intends and will and what God allows to happen. It is Not easy but is possible.

    October 30, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Athy

      Why do you capitalize words at random? Typical religious nonsense. Try harder next time. And make more sense.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • His panic

      @ athy,

      I Capitalize Words at Ramdom Because I Feel Like it! Do You Have a Problema With That Bro.? Or Do You Want to Impose Your Very Own and Particular, New Grammatical Rule in This Blog? Maybe You Should Go to Bed Before Mom Finds You Out.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Athy

      I thought so. Simple ignorance.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • His panic

      @athy,

      YOURS OF COURSE!!

      October 31, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • HarryJ

      His panic
      Only a Christian can look at a terrible storm like Sandy, with all the damage and death it has caused, and actually fantasize about worse things to come.

      October 31, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • Peteyroo

      HisPanache, how wrong you are!

      October 31, 2012 at 2:22 am |
    • the AnViL

      people trapped in the tight disgusting grip of the god delusion feel a need to capitalize random words because most of them are uneducated. they're all ignorant and should never be allowed to hold public office, vote, purchase firearms or teach public school.

      each and every one of them should be made to feel utterly ashamed to proclaim their idiotic, ignorant, repugnant religious beliefs....

      tolerance of religious idiocy has to end.

      October 31, 2012 at 5:18 am |
  16. Me

    Storms are acts of nature. God set up the laws of nature, and then let nature take it's own course.

    October 30, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Athy

      Actually, god had nothing to do with it, only nature. And it's "its", not "it's".

      October 30, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • HarryJ

      Nope, God controls storms. It's in the Bible.
      Psalms 148:8
      Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word:

      October 31, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • TorahKnight

      HarryJ is taking the scripture out of context. How do you get that God is causing all the weather patterns on the earth from that psalm of David? "Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word" That Psalm is taking about God's might, not only that, you forgot the preceding verse 7, "Praise the Lord from the earth, You great sea creatures and all the depths".

      October 31, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • the AnViL

      there are precisely zero gods.

      October 31, 2012 at 5:19 am |
  17. Stephen

    It is hottest at the equator – and coldest at the top and bottom of the earth. What happens when loose hot air meets firm cold air?

    Look at your lemonade glass in the summer time... and multiply that result by a force of gravitational rotation measurable at 24,000 miles an hour.

    Until the tilting northern hemisphere is thoroughly cold and dry ...the dragging air mass will roll like a hot ball of moisture against the cold north.

    October 30, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Athy

      You obviously know nothing about climatology. Do some more reading.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  18. @Captain America

    Canada is in North America and as such makes a Canadian an American. or did you miss that class in middle school?

    October 30, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • Athy

      So are Mexicans, get used to it.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • His panic

      Is worst than that really! Most people in the US can't find their street in a map of the city, their City in a map of their State, their State in a map of the Country and neither the Country in a MAPA MUNDI.

      There is no need to panic yet however!! This was only a breeze compared to worst things to come at the End of ALL things.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Athy

      And many people don't know the simple rules of capitalization.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  19. Katie

    I am a Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ. Why do such things happen? We dont know. I know that faith and knowing God gives me peace in any storm of life. There is nothing else that can, for all else is temporary and fading away. I know He is a God of grace and mercy, by what Jesus did for me on the cross. I rest in Him. May He bless and help those in the path of the storm this week....

    October 30, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Sue

      Katie, do give some thought to why your supposedly caring god let so many people suffer and die in Sandy and in other disasters. That might cure your delusions entirely.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • Athy

      Katie, you need to get a grip on reality. There's no god. Jesus is long gone and not coming back. You're on your own. Just deal with it. I know the truth is blunt, but that's just the way it is.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • the AnViL

      Why do such things happen? We dont know.

      it's called "education". get some. unlike religion – meteorology is hard.. it requires work. religion doesn't even really require you to read, much less work.

      and when i suggest you get some education – no – i don't mean sunday school.

      October 31, 2012 at 5:25 am |
  20. James

    There are many things I could say about this article, but I will stick to a few points. For one, God is directly involved in the affairs of men and nations. That does not mean everything that happens is God's judgment, but it also does not mean that it isn't either. Who of us can know the mind of God? Secondly, I would stay away from "Puritan" generalizations since you clearly do not know who the Puritans were. Comparing them to Pat Robertson or anyone is else is insulting (to the Puritans). Grab a history book, Puritans were people of incredible character, something severely lacking today. And third, I suggest you study up on theology (this is a "belief" blog). You might try someone like Jonathan Edwards, a genius, philosophical theologian from history. It would clear up much of your muddled logic.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      How can you say that god is directly involved in the affairs of men with no evidence and then say in the next sentence that no one can know the mind of god? You contradict yourself.

      October 30, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Lewis

      There is no contradiction in James' statements. Both of his statements are consistent in that they are both made by faith. Try reading Acts 17:22-31 and Romans 11:33-36. Both passages are not only from the Bible, they are found in the New Testament, and they were communicated by a single individual, the apostle Paul.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheese makers

      Isn't that convenient Lewis? Faith is pretending to know something you don't know, so according to you nothing you believe on faith can be a contradiction.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
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