I had hoped that, in light of the devastating tragedy in Japan, that nobody would come up with a “divine punishment” angle, basically blaming innocent people for what someone deemed “bad behavior,” saying that the suffering was God’s will.
My hope has not been realized. While no American cleric has, at least to my knowledge, come out with such an indictment, the governor of Tokoyo, Shintaro Ishihara, has said that the horrible earthquake and tsunami was divine retribution for the egoism and populism of Japanese people. He has since apologized, but the damage has been done. God, once again, is seen as a vengeful God who selectively punishes people for behavior certain people do not appreciate, agree with or understand.
Ishihara isn’t the only one. Cappie Poindexter, who plays basketball for the New York Liberty, has said via Twitter that the tragedy might be because of Pearl Harbor, and Glenn Beck has offered his opinion that maybe, perhaps, this storm is God’s doing, God’s way of saying He’s not pleased with the way the Japanese are doing things.
It happened after Katrina and it happened after the earthquake in Haiti. Certain religious voices said that in both instances, the tragedy was God’s doing, as punishment for the “evil” in those two places.
They smugly decreed that God, being just, had wrought justice in those two areas, essentially holding the people to the fire for their dastardly life-styles, and, in the case of Haiti, for the actions of a revolutionary, Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led the world’s most successful slave revolt.
I cringed when I heard these people blame God for the horrific pain of so many people. Would God really have acted that way? And if so, why doesn’t God act in that way toward of all of us, punishing us for the ways in which we fall short of His expectations of us?
Surely, it’s not just the Japanese, or the Haitians, or the people of New Orleans who are the bane of God’s existence?
A colleague of mine, Rev. Dr. Eric Elnes, is wrestling with an intriguing question – and that is, who is it that gets grace? Are there limits of grace, or does God mete it out to all of us? And, since it is not deserved, do any of us have the right to decree who can get it and who cannot? Aren’t we overstepping our bounds and aren’t we being presumptuous to decide for God who gets grace and who does not?
Elnes is using the Book of Galatians, illustrating how the apostle Paul realized and taught that God has no favorites. Grace, Paul seems to say, goes to everyone. That concept would seem to negate the perception of a God who so selectively “punishes” people who do not fit a certain, human definition of “good” or “right.”
Elnes uses the term “abrasive grace,” a term with which I am wrestling in terms of its meaning, but I think we as human religious types are confused when it comes to grace. We don’t give grace and we cannot take it away; we cannot determine who gets into “heaven” and who does not. That decision, like it or not, is God’s and God’s alone.
It chips away at the notion of a loving God to think that God would wipe out, as in the case of Haiti, the people of the poorest nation in the world because of something someone did years ago that was not in line the Christian dogma of some.
Likewise, even if God were unhappy with the “lifestyle” of people in New Orleans, this God we say is love would not allow a people to suffer so unduly and be so terribly mistreated in the rescue process because of that.
So, now we have Japan, a nation which is not predominantly Christian, a nation for which many Americans have no love because of Pearl Harbor, and again, the pronouncements of deserved punishment and suffering have come, from their own and from outsiders. While people are suffering horribly, arrogant and insensitive people are in effect blaming them for their plight. Amazing.
The God they reference could not be and is not my God. Sorry. My God is a source of hope and mystery, who is egalitarian in His/Her actions. My God has no favorites; my God does not punish some and ignore others, seeing as how “all” have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory!
I wonder what these same people would say about all of the Christian people in America who are now being devastated by floods. What have they done? What is God punishing them for? Or does “American exceptionalism” contain within it a divine pass for certain Christians who live in certain places and believe a certain way?
When it comes to bad things happening to good people, I do have a lot of questions, most of which center around my idea that God is omnipotent and in that omnipotence, I think He or She ought to be able to wave a divine arm and stop some of the misery of the world.
But I in no way can sanction this ignorant and arrogant pronouncement of a divine intention in the suffering of the Japanese people, any more than I could sanction the horrible comments made after Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti.
I hope the suffering do not get wind of the ignorance flying around. I hope, rather, that they are touched, helped and inspired by those who understand God to be “a very present help” in trouble.