On Providence and Wrath

Okay, I was watching CNN today and a mental tangent brought me to the following question:

This is for a contingent of (NOT all) Christians out there. You bring in the idea of Providence (and specifically wrath) in response to tragedies or significant events – let’s say, 9/11, Katrina, and most recently the Virginia Tech shooting (see my friend’s blog for another gloss on a certain church’s response to the event). And it seems (maybe I’m caricaturing this position) that you basically say, “God did this to you, you horrible sinners, you are all going to Hell and we told you so.” And you cite the Sodom and Gomorrah story, and you go on and on about homosexuality, which in a curious way seems to be a particular fixation in your minds, and occasionally protest somewhere. Furthermore – and this is perhaps a more general characteristic of Christian Providence than is the wrath part – you take instances of good things which happen in your own lives, or to the life of your community in general, and attribute them to God’s goodness/generosity/favor toward you because you are right.

However: as shown on CNN, there are a number of brush fires going on in the southeast; tornadoes are currently ripping through Texas, and one recently flattened a high school in (either Mississippi or Alabama, I forget); and I’m pretty sure there were also a lot of Christians, and not just godless whores and alcoholics, in New Orleans. Now maybe I’m generalizing about the religious demography of these regions, but I’m fairly confident that these places have been listed as being in the so-called “Bible Belt,” in which not everyone shares this mindset, but certainly it’s more common there than in, say, that den of homosexual iniquity (apparently) that is either coast in the country.

So my question is, what do you do with these disasters that happen to you, and not the people you condemn? A few possibilities suggest themselves:

1) These are just crosses to bear, and the fact that you (but not everyone) survive indicates that God has chosen you to continue whatever mission you believe he has charged you with;

2) God is trying to tell you something about the choices and beliefs you adhere to, and you’re not listening;

3) You simply pick and choose which events and interpretations suit your purposes, without regard to the possibility that while God’s will may not be understood by humans, it may be that his directing events which seem good or bad are only perceived as such by you, and you are misinterpreting them;

4) All of these events are arbitrary and not part of some divine mechanical toy that is the universe dictated by Providence, and your constructions of meaning about these are not only inherently self-created, but are not even a consistent application of the principles of Providence and wrath, or a cause-and-effect of your action and God’s approval or disapproval.

Now someone more familiar with these ideas (e.g. Providence) may correct me on the interpretations I’ve offered, and of course this post is targeted particularly at those who insist on calling human (or natural) tragedies manifestations of divine justice – not the entire Christian community whose beliefs necessarily include the idea that if God is all-powerful and all-knowing, events on earth are not arbitrary even if they may appear to us to be, and we could never “decipher” them as it were.

But seriously, I don’t understand it. Using this model that some people have apparently adopted, why does God only punish other people and not them, and why can they rule out anything bad that happens which doesn’t fit in this model of punishing the wicked? I’m just saying – maybe things *don’t* happen for a reason, and certainly not for that reason. Sure, it’s a belief which has more uncertainty and a lot less ego-stroking to it than the belief that you have been chosen as a messenger of divine will, but it’s worth considering before you rule it out.

… Or maybe I’ll just get struck down right now. Silence, ye question-asker, lest ye be smited!


2 comments so far

  1. Curtis Plowgian on

    Really, depending on the Christians, I’m not sure that the Providence/Wrath judgments you’re talking represent a true christian following his faith. If I recall correctly, the Bible says somewhere, “judge not, lest ye be judged”, and in any cases that really count, as far as salavation/judgment is concerned, the power to judge is supposed to be reserved for God. So really I think people who cry armageddon every time a natural disaster happens are just examples of people badly living their faith. Of course, the Bible says a lot of things; maybe there’s also a scripture that says, “judge muslims, jews, and homosexuals freely and without restraint,” because it seems like “Christians” in America do that a lot recently.

    p.s. the use of the second person in this article creates an aggressive tone that I’m not used to seeing from you. Was that done intentionally?

  2. zozer319 on

    Fair enough on both counts – I was kind of annoyed and it went from there.

    Also, I agree that this interpretation of Christian doctrine/scripture is not true to the faith per se… hence I made it clear (or hopefully did – I tried to anyway) that I wasn’t talking about Christians as a whole, or even most Christians. More like the ones you were talking about in your recent post.

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