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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. Dr. Zeus

    Lame. Very lame.

    And what about you? Are you ready for the distinct possibility that, if you see God when you die, it will more likely than not be a different god? You will suffer too.

    You are playing a god lottery, and the odds aren't too good for you. Moreover, is a real God going to be okay with the fact that you chose out of duress or greed?

    October 29, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  2. JJ

    This storm is God's retaliation against the followers of Westboro Baptist Church, as it turns out God really hates signs.

    October 29, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Reasonably

      God's aim is a little off...that church is in Kansas...

      October 29, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Really long drawn out mispelled sentence for name guy.

      The storm isn't over yet, Reasonably. Wait.....for....iiiiitttttt.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  3. Turp Griswald

    Or you won't.

    October 29, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  4. God is Good

    God is good all the time. God is not in the storm, but He does promise He will carry you through the storm. He will walk right along side you as a comforter, or if needed He will pick you up and carry you.
    God calls out to mankind, and in these last days He promised to pour out His Holy Spirit to all. The hardened hearts of man give no glory to God, and reject Him. Yet God still pours out His mercy and grace to everyone of us. You can mock Him, reject Him, allow your own heart to grow harder...or you can turn and see Him. The gift of God is eternal life and that is thru Jesus Christ. This life is but a vapor and in the end you will stand before Him, the Judge.
    God also promises that this heaven and earth will pass away because of sin.
    Isaiah 65:17- "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind".
    2 Chronicles 7:14 for all of us who believe- "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

    October 29, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      It's nice to see you have so little regard for life, or humanity.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Austin

      Life must be great when you are as irrational as some of these posters who think there is a supreme being watching over all this. Irrational and egotistical.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Reasonably

      OK – I'll bite. So if your god is not in the storm, but he created everything and is omnipresent then a) why did he create the storm and b) why didn't he appear as a burning bush to tell people to take a vacation on the west coast for a few days?

      October 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Really long drawn out mispelled sentence for name guy.

      I love you, Reasonably.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Paula Marie Bernadette

      So far, you are the only person who I agree with in these comments. True, I haven't read all of them, over 2,000, but you are the first person of faith, besides myself that I can see responded. Thank you. And may God bless you and all of those suffering because of the storm. . . (and these comments!) Amen.

      October 31, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  5. was blind, but now I see

    As above – so below.

    Time for a house cleaning in DC.

    October 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • JJ

      yes we can only hope that all those silly Republicans are washed out to sea.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      Let me guess, JJ; you're one of those who accusses religious people of being mean and insensitive, right???

      October 29, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  6. GM

    At what point do we grow up and realize that this is nature. Storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. have been occurring from the beginning of time, long before we ever showed up. That people die as a result of them is a direct result of being in their path or vicinity. God didn't put you in the beach house about to be engulfed by a 30 ft. wave, you bought it, the whole time thanking God for the blessing to own it.
    STOP, accept that we have no clue if there is a God or not. Accept that we are fragile creatures in a violent world and that we are all going to die eventually. Stop being afraid and looking for a reason, just be happy you're still here.
    Live Life, love it, love each other, and when your time comes know that it is just your time not a result of an angry vindictive Santa Clause.....

    October 29, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Stop your hinduism, denial of truth absolute, person living in beach house could not be without truth absolute, nor could be the house, truth absolute is THE LORD AND GOD OF THE WORLD, hindu's, ignorant s deny "HIM" in their hinduism, denial of truth absolute.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Really long drawn out mispelled sentence for name guy.

      Anybody else find this typo crazy Muslim guy annoying?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Really long drawn out mispelled sentence for name guy.

      On the bright side, at least he isn't blaming gay folks for hurricanes. TIL that in Muslim countries they blame natural disasters on Hindu people. <- Still just as stupid.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Paula Marie Bernadette

      Your statement about "we have no clue whether there is a God or not", or words to that effect. This is where FAITH comes into play. And free will. There are many "clues" but not all have the eyes to see or the ears to hear with faith. Also, some believe that Faith is a GIFT from God. . . maybe you just haven't been gifted yet, or maybe you threw the gift away. I hope you find God in your lifetime. I pray for non-believers every day, before it is too late.

      October 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  7. lefty avenger

    If Al Gore Had been elected we wouldn't have this storm because Global Climate Change would have been addressed. You republican jokers just cost me $700 in roof repairs for your non-global warming beliefs!

    October 29, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  8. Juan The Baptist

    Think of this storm as balance.. There is balance in the universe.. The creator manages the balance.. And losing a life here and there makes for balance when the Creator is working.. All of the Forces must add up to the sum of Zero.. As the Kids say "It's All Good".. When the Creator is working..

    October 29, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  9. Reasonably

    Odin laughs at your puny gods. And suggests the East Coast batten down their hatches.

    October 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  10. Ashley

    We have many political figures, sharing there beliefs. Unfortunately many have very limited understanding of the bible. Seeing we are not God it would be impossible for us to know why one thing or another is or has happened unless we can communicate with Him. Spend some time in His Word and in His presence.

    October 29, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Exactley so!

      Krishna indeed wants you to ponder him.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Reasonably

      We have many "political" figures who insist on imposing their religious beliefs upon us in the form of laws.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      What does the word KRISHNA MEANS, hindu, ignorant.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Hare Krishna!
      Hare Rama!
      Krishna Krishna!
      Rama Rama!

      Everybody sing!

      (I am a closet Hindu).

      October 29, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Turp Griswald

      We also seem to have a largely illiterate population judging from the posts.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Singing without knowing the meanings, hinduism, stupidity of hindu's, stupids.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Really long drawn out mispelled sentence for name guy.

      Who invited the Muslim guy?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  11. Chris

    Stephen,

    Perhaps God gifted us with an atmosphere so that Humans could survive. He possibly also gifted us with an imperfect experience. If our lives were completely perfect what would be the point in living? Every day would be a perfect day, so every day would be a completely normal and irrelevant day. It's the lows in life that give us highs.

    Be thankful that God gave us free will, or you wouldn't be making race baiting comments in an article in his name.

    October 29, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Turp Griswald

      Perhaps God this. Perhaps God that. Perhaps God anything. It's not useful information. Thank science and technology and taxpayer dollars for our ability to warn people to prepare for these kinds of storms.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  12. BW

    I believe that "Sandy" is not so much an indicator of the proof or dis-proof of the existence of God, so much as the unmistakable fact that we humans are not the center of this earth. Despite the questionable gains the social media, digital technology, and the like have given us. We control little. I take great comfort in knowing that as I do in knowing reality tv is not reality. This is. If I have one prayer it is that no one loses their life and that we reflect on how precious life can be,

    October 29, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Chancho

      Good post! Finally someone thinking beyond themselves and their own opinions

      October 29, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  13. Sane Person

    Good stuff = god
    Bad stuff = man's free will

    I got a pay raise at work, thank you god.
    Children dying in Africa, god works in mysterious ways.

    October 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • God

      Yes, you are correct. This is one of those "free will" disasters.

      I am not responsible.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Poltergeist

      Nothing mysterious about free will. People could solve the problem but chose not to.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  14. Shannon

    How many died in the name of communism? China, Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia, South America...

    October 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Airport

      Communism is a political ideology, not a religious one. It killed for political reasons – only a tiny tiny fraction, less than 1%, were killed for religioous reasons. Theocracies killed in the name of God, as in the Crusades, 9/11, the Inquisitions, and so forth.

      You are a dunce.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  15. Oh Jeez

    I think God is in my farts

    October 29, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Larry

      That's what "omnipresent" means.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  16. susan

    I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school for 9 years and was always told, God created earth and the Garden of Eden. He made the world perfect so that we could live in harmony. When Eve ate the apple and had Adam eat it too, they destroyed what was supposed to be perfection. So now it was left up to man. That is why we have all these illnesses and deaths and wars and I could go on forever but I think you get the idea. That is what I thought was the truth until I got older. I don't know if there is a God or not, but I believe we are the ones that are responsible for everything going on in the world in one way or another. We have become a world of GREED and POWER!!

    October 29, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Romney knows where Eden is...somewhere in Missouri, I think. Anyway – ask him...

      October 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  17. KirkR

    OMG! What's with all the prayers and God talk? I thought we all knew by now that God is a myth and religion is a form of child abuse and thought control!

    October 29, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • susan

      I wish there was a like button. Kirk, that is exactly how the Catholic religion controls children and adults, with fear!!

      October 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • lisa

      YOU dont know GOD!!! I do believe me he is real. I hope you find that out before he comes back. If the bible that was written thousands of years ago is happening now... somebody wrote the NOW It had to be GOD

      October 29, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Watnen

      There is a lot of money in religion, and I don't think those wealthy preachers are going to give that up any time soon. It will take many, many, many doses of reality before all those ignorant Americans start to clue in...

      October 29, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Eis

      You know, respect the beliefs of other, as long as they don't push it on you – and lots don't just like lots do.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  18. moe smith

    "God not in whirlwinds of Sandy, presidential race..."

    1. WhoTF ever said God was in the whirlwinds of Sandy? Aside from some self-worshiping extremist who enjoys bending the faith of others to his own cause, WhoTF ever made some a fuktarded claim? Whats-more, who would ever believe such nonsense aside from witless sheep?

    2. Contrary to self-deluded and misguided believe, God is not and never has been part of the presidential race... regardless of whatever vomited idiocy the republican party wants you to believe. Again, this is nothing more than from waste of human flesh attempting to bend the faith(s) of the people to serve his own personal interests.

    wake up America... it's time to remove your craniums from your recycling centers and pay attention... get a clue...

    October 29, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Qman

      Couldn't agree more!

      October 29, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  19. Reasonably

    God's will...which god, exactly?

    October 29, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Cyle

      It wasn't the Flying Spaghetti Monster, he was busy answering my prayers for world peace.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Bippy, the Really Evil Squirrel-Satan of Natural Disasters, Faulty Hair Care Products, and Uncontrollable Explosive Diarrhea

      It's my will! I am all-powerful and all-pissy!! I seek to smite the world with my Wrath Of Love!!!

      October 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      hinduism, absurdity.

      October 29, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • 24HCC

      Stupid squirrels.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  20. Jeff

    You have all missed the point completely! Sandy is not an act of God; it is obviously an act of terrorism.

    October 29, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Sceptical

      Jeff...I think it might be both!

      October 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • fox

      BEST.... POST... EVER!

      October 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Coflyboy

      I think it is really Obama's fault, just like everything else is...

      October 29, 2012 at 5:51 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.