On August 19th 2009 a series of small tornadoes hit the Twin Cities area in Minnesota. One of the buildings that was hit during the storm was a Lutheran church which was hosting the annual convention of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (ELCA). Damage to the church was minor, some damage to the church roof and the church steeple. By most accounts the storm was a normal occurrence and the tornadoes were nothing new. In fact according to a University of Minnesota website "tornadoes occur in every month from March through November" with the month of August being the 4th most active month (http://climate.umn.edu/doc/historical/tornadic.htm).

Unfortunately a well known and highly regarded pastor recently took a different approach which ultimately throws him into the same camp as fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell, who claimed that 9/11 was God's judgment on America for allowing homosexuality and paganism, and Franklin Graham, who said hurricane Katrina was God's judgment on New Orleans for sexual sins. John Piper, who I do not always agree with but do appreciate the contributions that he has made to the church, posted on his blog the he believes that the "tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction." (http://www. tiny.cc/IGdNh). According to Piper because the tornado hit the church at the exact moment that the ELCA was supposed to be taking a vote on whether or not to allow practicing homosexuals to serve in pastoral ministry, it was a direct warning from God. In his statement Piper quotes a number of scriptures to back up his position; 1 Cor 6.9-11 (Homosexuality is a sin), Mark 4.41 (The wind and waves obey Jesus) and Luke 13.4-5 (Tower of Siloam is a warning to repent from sin). On the surface it sounds good however as Greg Boyd points out in his response to John Piper (http://tiny.cc/oHPNK) a few of these verses are taken out of context.

While I do agree with John Piper on one point, the practice of homosexuality is a sin that the church should not openly condone, I have a difficult time agreeing with the rest of his conclusions. Or with anyone who would look at devastating events in life and automatically ascribe them to the hand of God. Now does that mean that God never uses things like storms, or illness, etc. as a way of getting our attention? Of course not, in fact it would be impossible to read through the scriptures and say otherwise, but I think we must be careful in how we interpret what is going on around us.

Allow me to post a different view on events such as these:

1 - Natural Order: We live in a fallen and cursed world. There is stuff that happens simply because of this fact. In Genesis 3 we read about the effects of sin on the world we live in. The ground now produces weeds and thorns, women have pain during child birth, all living things now experience pain and death. These are the natural effects of sin, a perfect creation is now made imperfect. When weeds grow in my backyard after a storm, it's not God punishing me for something I did wrong or sending me a warning to change my ways, it's part of the natural order of things in a cursed world. When hurricanes hit places like the Gulf Coast or Florida or the Caribbean islands it is because they are located in a tropical area where hurricanes occur on a regular basis. When tornadoes strike in "Tornado Alley" (yes Minnesota is in Tornado Alley), it is because this is where weather patterns have the right conditions to form high numbers of tornadoes. When the South West has massive wildfires it is because we are in an area that does not get much rain and our forests and deserts are dry and prone to fire. In many cases these devastating events are needed. Hurricanes help to cool the worlds oceans down by redistributing hot and cool air, they have broken major droughts in the Gulf Coast region and around the world, they are the worlds most efficient desalinization plant taking salty ocean water and through evaporation transport it as fresh water onto dry land refilling lakes, streams, rivers and underground aquifers, they also create new sandbars for wildlife and clean out areas where debris has accumulated allowing for new growth of plants. Wildfires work in much the same way cleaning forests and deserts of dead and sick plants allowing for new healthy growth. Even though they can be destructive and leave grief and suffering in their wake, without them our world would be drastically different.

2 - God Ordained: Now even though many devastating events occur because it is the natural order of our earth, we cannot discount God's hand in some things that happen. We see in Genesis 6-9 that God sent a flood to destroy mankind, Exodus 7-11 says that God sent plagues on Egypt, 2 Sam 12 talks about God punishing David's sin with the death of his child, 2 Samuel 21.1 talks about God sending a famine on Israel. Throughout the Bible we can see God's hand at work in situations like these, however in each and every one that I can find God makes it very clear that He is the one causing the event to happen. There is no guessing game. In fact there are many examples of things happening that God did not take credit for and even challenged people to think differently about it. One example is the Tower of Siloam passage (Luke 13.1-5), which John Piper quoted, Jesus rebuked the people for thinking that God had punished the Galileans who Pilate had killed or the 18 who died when the tower fell. Instead he says that they are all in the same boat. So yes God does move in these areas but He makes it clear when He is the one doing it.

3 - Demonic: A third cause of events in our lives is the Demonic. We see in Job that it was Satan, albeit with God's permission, that was behind the destruction caused to Job and his family. In Mark 4.35-41, again quoted by Piper, we see that Jesus, rather than controlling the storm, rebuked the storm, in the same way he rebukes demons, indicating that the storm had a demonic force behind it. How many times in scripture do we see Jesus and the apostles casting out demons who are causing sickness and disease in people, showing at least in some cases that it was neither God's punishment nor a natural illness?

4 - God does work in all situations no matter the cause: Romans 8.28 tells us that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him". It does not say that He is the one behind everything, but rather that in every situation, no matter if it is caused by natural means, demonic means or if God is behind it, He is working it out for the good of those who love Him. Hurricane Katrina was not sent by God as a punishment on New Orleans, in fact the most sinful part of New Orleans the French Quarter, was left unscathed while many godly people and churches that were working for the Kingdom were effected. However God's hand could be seen by how many believers rallied together to love and serve the hundreds of thousands who were left devastated along the Gulf Coast, something I witnessed and participated in myself. I would challenge all of us, rather than being quick to ascribe something as God's judgement, punishment or warning that we would look for what God is doing in the midst of the storm regardless of the cause.


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