Natural disaster greeted by explanations

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 7, 2005

I had decided that I would not write anything about Hank Irwin’s pronouncement that Katrina was God’s punishment on the sinful Gulf Coast, that hotbed of gambling and wickedness in general.

Religious leaders with far more credentials than I possess have already weighed in on the theological musings of the state senator from Montevallo.

And by now you either think that Irwin is loopy or you don’t.

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We should take some comfort, I suppose, in Irwin’s assertion that God didn’t target the poor people in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward and the shrimpers at Bayou La Batre. “Sadly, innocents suffered along with the guilty. Sin always brings suffering to good people as well as the bad,” Irwin opined.

Sort of what the military calls collateral damage, I guess.

But Irwin is far from the only person who thinks he knows what is in God’s will, and a news item the other day – along with other pronouncements from figures of various religious stripes – invites some thought and discussion..

The news item was from Indonesia and included a cleric’s view on the attacks by suicide bombers on three crowded restaurants in Bali. Twenty-two people were killed and more than 100 were wounded.

That, too, was God’s will. At least it was if you believe Abu Bakar Bashir. He is thought to be the spiritual leader of a separatist Islamic group suspected of the bombings.

Said Abu Bakar Bashir, “I suggest the government bring themselves closer to God by implementing his rules and law because these happenings are warnings from God for all of us.”

And there are other explanations for Katrina. In what was purported to be the premiere Internet newscast by al-Qaida, there was a report on the hurricane. The segment on the storm, read by a masked man flanked by a rifle and the Quran, was accompanied by a video subtitled “divine punishment.” Not for all that gambling and wickedness that Irwin described, of course, but for the United States’ actions in the Middle East.

Katrina had barely made a landfall when a group calling itself Columbia Christians for Life claimed that a satellite image of the hurricane as it hit looked just like a six-week-old fetus. The hurricane was directed at Louisiana because the state has 10 abortion clinics, including five in New Orleans, the group said.

Still others who claim to know what God wants have claimed that hurricane Katrina was a direct result of the eviction of the Israeli people from the Gaza strip.

And you may recall that just two days after 9/11, the Rev. Jerry Falwell informed us that God had allowed the United States to be attacked because “the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians” had tried to turn America into a secular society.

Shake all of these self-appointed spokesmen for God in a bag and pull one out. Does any one of them really know why any of those things happened?

When a bad thing happens – whether it is a vibrant individual suddenly struck down or hundreds killed in a natural disaster – we want to know why. If we are Christians, we want to know what part God played in it and why. We are reluctant to believe that life is simply a series of random events.

I have heard many clergymen struggle to deal with such questions over the years. Some of them simply fell back on “It was God’s will;” some simply said they could not explain why.

I am pretty sure that there is not always a “why” that is explicable. Perhaps it is a greater act of faith to accept that.

Unfortunately, there are far too many people who are all too willing to tell you why God did something or allowed something to happen. I fear they attribute their own explanations to the Almighty.

Some of them are knaves; others are just loopy.

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at

(c)2005 William B. Brown