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God and Disasters--Skeel

James Wood had an interesting op-ed (here) in yesterday’s New York Times. Wood, as many readers may know, is a critic and novelist who was raised in an evangelical household but rejected the faith. He argues that that Pat Robertson’s suggestion that the earthquake in Haiti was a punishment suggests that “God is punitive and interventionist,” and that President Obama’s suggestion that “there but for the grace of God” we would have been the ones devastated makes God “as capricious as nature and so absent as to be effectively nonexistent.”

Although Wood is being a little unfair both to Christianity and to President Obama, I do think he wisely points out the dangers of trying to identify God’s will in a disaster. Jesus himself warned about this.  Referring to eighteen people who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell, Jesus said “do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you.” The real moral, Jesus said, is that we all need to repent. (Luke 13:4).

I think the President’s comments would have been entirely appropriate if he had just worded them a little differently.  The President emphasized “our common humanity,” and said that “we stand in solidarity with our neighbors to the south, knowing that but for the grace of God, there we go.”  If he had omitted the statement “but for the grace of God,” and emphasized that our common humanity is grounded in the fact that we are together made in God’s image, his words would have touched on the most important contribution Christianity offers in a terrible crisis: a reason to reach out in love.

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