When some people see bad things happen in the world, whether earthquakes or tornadoes, fires or war, they like to imagine that God is judging them. Certain televangelists were quick to argue that certain hurricanes in certain places were surely God out to get those cities.
This is all quite wrong-headed in my estimation.
Take the place I live, the state of California. Every time we have an earthquake, some people think God is judging us for Hollywood. Now that we’re in a drought and facing our annual season of fires, doesn’t this just prove that God is ticked off with us?
I don’t think so. Punishment does not come from God without warning or explanation. When God judged Egypt, he sent Moses and Aaron who stood before the nation’s leader and announced, “Let my people go—or else!” The pharaoh said no, so he and his people bore the promised consequence of ten plagues.
God had a contract with Israel in which he’d explained what he expected from them (that’s what the fifth book of the Torah is, a contract between God as suzerain and Israel as his vassal). The ancient Israelites didn’t live up to the provisions of that contract. God sent a series of prophets to his people warning them that they were in arrears (God didn’t take kindly to the idolatry and the oppression of the poor) and that they needed to shape up. They didn’t shape up, so in the end, God sent the Assyrians and the Babylonians to repossess the country, as it were and sent the people into seventy years of exile.
Uzziah is called a good king who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 26:4-5; 2 Kings 15:34). Yet during his reign, there was an earthquake (Amos 1:1, Zechariah 14:5). The earthquake is not identified as a judgment of God in the Bible. It was just something that happened, since Israel, like California, happens to be perched on a geologically unstable piece of ground. And yet that geologically unstable region is called “the promised land.
Ancient Israel had a special contractual relationship with God. America does not have a special contract with God and neither does the state of California (though he does seem to like the Rose Parade; just think how rare it is for the weather to be bad during the Rose Parade). California just happens to be situated along what has been colorfully called “the Ring of Fire.” As long as people have lived here, there have been earthquakes, fires, droughts, and floods. California is geologically unstable, it is subject to periodic droughts and the opposite because of its geography and location. We who live here have chosen to live here because the climate, natural beauty, or job market has attracted us.
But God is no more judging us than he is judging the person who dies in a car wreck or from parachute diving. Driving in a car or jumping from an airplane are calculated risks that we do by choice; accidents do happen, and we, the people of California, have chosen to live and remain in a relatively dangerous place that throughout history has been subject to a variety of natural disasters. So why would we or anyone else be surprised when something uncomfortable happens. It would be like a Cubs fan being surprised that his team missed the World Series once again. Of course, maybe God does have something against the Cubs. I mean, really...
Planet Earth as a whole is kind of dangerous, and none of us are getting out of here alive, anyhow. People moaning about the bad things going on around them remind me of the soap opera characters who wonder “why is this happening to me?” when their wife or husband runs off with someone else. My response would be, “You live in a soap opera. What did you expect?”
We live on planet Earth. It’s a rough neighborhood, and so we’re going to be in trouble now and then. There’s no reason to think God is causing the problem unless someone like Moses is standing there and telling you it is. And no televangelist or politician I’ve ever seen is a Moses.