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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. Hindu

    Now that we have an ATHEIST as expert RELIGION SCHOLAR ... its is time to appoint a COMMUNIST as head of NYSE and a CREATIONIST as an expert SCHOLAR ON EVOLUTION.

    CNN, you are sinking fast! Really fast ....

    October 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • MalcomR

      You're in repeat mode. Please reset and try again.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Hindu

      @MalcolmR -

      at least i am saying the truth - you are just REPEATING your emotional response ...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  2. Socal Reggae

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HATNN2cyq6A

    October 29, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • It really comes down to this

      .
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o

      October 29, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  3. ashrimp

    God never interferes in cycle of Karma . Infact he is also bound by it . Krishna came to earth and fought many battles and gave the Geeta discourse he could also not escape the cycle of Karma and died a painful death. Jesus could also not escape the Karma cycle . So nobody can escape the cycle of Karma

    October 29, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Hindu

      You ignorant fool – Learn before you talk -

      Krishna is not bound by karma – BG 4.14

      na māḿ karmāṇi limpanti
      na me karma-phale spṛhā
      iti māḿ yo 'bhijānāti
      karmabhir na sa badhyate

      There is no material karma that binds Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  4. Holly Fisher

    Growing up in the bible belt...I was raised on the Word written by our Lord and Savior. All I can say to you, is Bless your heart..you need Jesus and you need him bad. God sets a path for you and when you stray from that path you experience heartache..natural disasters no one knows why they happen. To find out, you need to see Jesus. I'm not ready and he isn't ready for me yet, the day he is ready for me is the day I will find out why he allows natural disasters to happen. We know more about the unexpected and which way it will turn because GOD gave us the knowledge and tools to locate the information. Science is what that knowledge is called but the POWER behind Science and the knowledge of Science id GOD. I will pray for you every day..not just on Sundays.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • fools_gold

      Wow...
      "God sets a path for you and when you stray from that path you experience heartache..natural disasters no one knows why they happen. To find out, you need to see Jesus"

      AN oxymoron. Yeah god sets a path for you, if you stray you're basically screwed but no one knows why natural disasters happen. Ask Jesus. Therefore, they are his creation.

      60 million people clearly strayed from the path.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • MalcomR

      Nice isn't it? To have no responsibility for your own failures OR successes? Big daddy in the sky will make it all ok.

      Coward.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      "natural disasters no one knows why they happen" Short answer:plate tectonics. Long answer: God was angry. Listen, that thunder is His belly growling; run before He eats you up.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Hindu

      @fools_gold

      60 million people are not going to die due to this storm. But all of those 60 million people will eventually die ... get it?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  5. nr

    Good article. My take is this: the bible clearly states that God's intention is for us is to give us everlasting life. With that said, the bible also says God is the beginning and the end. So if we live on an earth where we are all locked into sinful ways, in a world controlled by Satan, then taking our lives will be the start of an everlasting life in total peace. So, in theory, for those that believe, we shouldn't be afraid of death.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • MalcomR

      Yes. Please god, kill us all now. Preferably before any more comments or stupid articles by theists or politicians.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Yeppers

      Well, if that total insanity passes for reason for you, go for it!

      I would ask you what your evidence of any on this is, but there of course is no evidence, only the ignorant superstitions of ancient Middle Eastern goatherds.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • fools_gold

      hahaha! LOL. The world is now controlled by Satan.
      You religious people need to get it right! Which one is controlling the world? Satan or Jesus? Or God? I am so lost

      October 29, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      " So, in theory, for those that believe, we shouldn't be afraid of death." You go first and tell us what it's like.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • David Vilkhovoy

      Fools_gold it's quite simple. It depends who you yield to. if you yield to Jesus, He has the legal authority over satan, but if you choose to not choose Christ, you are in other words, yielding to satan, because satan does have rule over the earth temporarily, because Adam gave over his authority to him. But Christ came and took the authority back. Now, His authority is only exercised through man. Therefore man has to choose Christ to exercise Christ's authority. Thus, the whole message of the bible, spreading the Kingdom of God. SPreading it is choosing Christ and exercising the authority already available through Christ. Make sense?

      October 29, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  6. Hindu

    I will consider CNN as "fair and balanced" if they appoint a CREATIONIST as their EXPERT SCHOLAR on EVOLUTION ... after all they have an ATHEIST as their EXPERT RELIGION SCHOLAR. What a joke!

    October 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • MalcomR

      Yes, a joke. The punchline? "Religion"

      Hahahaha! Good one...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  7. someGuy

    I was always led to believe that the Christian bible refers to this time as 'the day of man' a time during which God does not directly interfere, free will and such.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  8. smokykoko

    I thought about voting for Romney and God punished me by using the wind to slam a branch through the windshield of my car.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      Repent and maybe your glass will HEAL!!!!

      October 29, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  9. Hindu

    What a job this m0r0n ATHIEST has - "RELIGION SCHOLAR" - the world must be coming to an end. In all other fields, you have to be in LOVE with that field to be considered EXPERT SCHOLAR. But this m0r0n gets to an EXPERT SCHOLAR in RELIGION, something he hates from his guts.

    CNN, consider appointing a CREATIONIST as EVOLUTION EXPERT ..... M0R0NS ... you dont have any credibility whatsoever.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • MalcomR

      You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      What, do you follow him around all day to know so much about him? He's an expert in the field. I bet you aren't even a real Hindu.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  10. bellenoitr

    Superb analysis!

    October 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  11. ArthurP

    Please God protect me form the storm that you have create to punish us ... ???

    October 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  12. Hindu

    CNN, do you not understand that this is NOT the RIGHT time to be publishing such articles from an ATHEIST "religious scholar" such as this m0r0n? Do you have any sense left? Or have you lost it ALL?

    October 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  13. Donkeyshot

    After the Holocaust, many Jews lost their belief in God; if (S)He could allow what the Nazis and their collaborators did – that's no God to believe in. The solution has been proposed by the philosopher Voltaire, namely, once God created the universe – He left it to its own devices. This hands-off policy is something people should understand. It will make life much less complicated if we realize that we don't have to worship any God because (S)He doesn't care (assuming God exists, which is another topic...)

    October 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Take you own responsibility for your choices, not to lay it on truth absolute GOD, "HE" created us in "HIS" own image and gifted us with gift of Choice in truth absolute.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Donkeyshot

      Sure, fool the poor children to believe in God until they grow up and are shocked to find out He doesn't exist!

      October 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • on judgement day

      look for donkeyshot it will be one of those with the oh sh it look on its face.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      I prayed that you'd give up posting that over and over. But nothing changed, so I'm calling bs.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Paula Marie Bernadette

      You got that right!

      October 31, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Paula Marie Bernadette

      I couldn't agree more with you. Amen.

      October 31, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • fools_gold

      Yeah...SURE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Prayer changes NOTHING. That's why people stay in the same place. They are waiting for prayers to change their lives instead of taking action and guiding the course of their own life.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • nope

      @foo...
      nope

      October 29, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  16. David Vilkhovoy

    God is not in the whirlwinds is absolutely right! God is not sovereign where He controls everything. He continues to give man a choice as He did from the very beginning. Man chose to disobey God, but God had given Adam and Eve all dominion over the earth, basically giving them authority (Genesis 1:26). And God never goes back on His Word (Psalm 138:2). This means that the world is under the rule of sin, because Adam gave his authority over to satan, when he disobeyed God. God being God, does not go back on HIs word. So to this day, sin reigns where Christ Jesus does not. But Jesus does have legal authority over satan, therefore we have that guarantee if we chose His reign over our life.

    But when it comes to weather, it is a part of the natural cycle of the earth. All creation was subjected to sin, when Adam sinned. (Romans 8:20). God was not punishing Adam. Adam free willingly chose death by yielding to satan, essentially giving him authority, to whomever yields to him.

    Today, we should not fear storms, but we do have the authority and power over them. Jesus Himself rebuked storms (Mark 4:39). He has given us that same authority (Luke 10:19). We are limited to our own faith, however, because faith is what produces results. If you would like to read more on faith and the will of God, please visit my blog at http://davevilk.com/ and see post "The Will of God is Your Greatest Happiness." You can also visit it specifically here: http://davevilk.com/2012/08/09/the-will-of-god-is-your-greatest-happiness/

    October 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • MalcomR

      Go back to your cave and huddle in ignorant terror.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • fools_gold

      Here come the babblers with the crazy scriptures...JESUS

      October 29, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      "sin reigns where Christ Jesus does not" Got some statistics to prove that? Suppose it turns out there's less sin in Muslim neighborhoods? Or Buddhists?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • David Vilkhovoy

      Hugh Jass, I don't mean to say there is less or more sin in an area. What I mean by "sin reigns where Christ Jesus does not" is if you accept CHrist, you can exercise legal authority over sin's dominion. Simply said, means, if you have 2 kingdoms within a providence. In this analogy, one of them is greater, so if you want that kingdom's reign, you must invite it into your current domain and allow it be a kingdom where you are, because it will have the legal authority over the lesser kingdom. So in our case, as humans, if we want to see God's Kingdom have power in our lives, we must chose it over the lesser kingdom of this world. But if we do not choose it, we are simply in the way of natural cycle of sin, because of Adam's fall. Hope that makes sense.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • oldusafsarge

      My greatest happiness is seeing religious fools like you proven wrong every single day of the week. Religion and beliefs in an untold number of gods for tens of centuries has brought more death and destruction to this world than anything else in human history. Not storms, not earthquakes, not floods ... religion, of all shapes and sizes. You only believe what you believe because it was drilled into your head, probably by your parents, as it was drilled into theirs by your grandparents, and back for generations. Unfortunately most of humanity doesn't believe in itself well enough to get by, so they need that psychological crutch ... hinduism, christianity, buddhism, judaism, islam, sikhism, mithraism (that's the one that almost beat out christianity if not for the dream of an emperor, which of course is a perfectly logical reason to have a religion) they are just crutches. If you truly believe that your god oversees everything (and of course that everybody else's god is wrong), then that sure is one mean SOB that you look up to. I'd suggest learnign to believe in yourself, but I've already wasted enough wear and tear on my keyboard ... you're brainwashed and there's no changing that. Too bad, really. Hey, after hundreds more get killed in this storm, probably elderly and kids included, go ahead and let me know how that's your god's will.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  17. cathi

    that he even has to discuss this suggests he feels guilty about something....why worry if the police are in the neighborhood, if you don't have anything to hide?

    October 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Yeppers

      It means that in his heart he knows some of what he believes is very problematic and improbable, and he must rationalize to cover that up.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  18. say what

    this guy should not have a blog, he should be in mental home with people who believe in zeus, vampires, and unicorns. If you believe that a god created this hurricane you are crazy.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  19. Alicia

    Headline to article "God is not in the whirlwind"... and that coming from a "religious scholar"?...

    All I can say is, if Stephen really knew God's plan, he wouldn't have headlined it that way. God's in full control of everything, every single second and just because people die doesn't mean he's not in control or doesn't care. People die. Some are saved, some are not. That's how it works and that's how it's always worked , but, people refuse to believe it.

    Do NOT ever try to second God or judge his motives on a human scale. Just believe in him, give your life to him and obey him. You're life will change forever. It's all about "choice" and choice is all you have because in this world, God is all we have.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I'll judge god all I want to. I judge him a sadistic azzhole for allowing a place of eternal torture to exist--far, far more evil and disgusting than the most horrific human terrorist.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Scott

      Therefore, Alicia, do not ever attempt to force your views of God on anyone else because you cannot know God and therefore your views are certain to be incorrect.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Does your fairy tale explain why god chooses to arbitrarily wreak havoc on millions when its having a tantrum at a few?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Snowyowl

      Funny you mention choice...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  20. Sly

    Pablo Sandoval is God, and today, Pab's is too hung over to be causing this hurricane.

    I suspect it is Miguel Cabrera (aka 'little God') that is making waves.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:33 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.