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June 6, 2011


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On Sunday June 5 the Rev. Dr. Roger Ray and I shared the pulpit at Community Christian Church in Springfield, Missouri in what he calls a “dialogue sermon.” Our “dialogue” addressed the question “does God control the wind?” The sermon consists of three exchanges between us. One part of the exchange will be published on this blog over the next six weeks.

Charles Hedrick: statement #1.

The answer given by the Bible and orthodox Christian and Jewish theology is an unequivocal, yes! God directs the affairs of human history and regulates the course of the natural world—although Jesus did once say that the “the wind blows where it wants to” (John 3:7)—suggesting that there is no control over the natural order. In the light of the devastating tornado in Joplin, this question about the wind is really about “theodicy,” or in the language of faith: why does God do what s/he does? Or, how is God evidenced, if at all, in the natural world? Here is the issue simply stated: was the tornado in Joplin “an act of God” or a “natural disaster”? Who destroyed 25% of Joplin, killed 141 people, and caused millions of dollars in property damage, God or Mother Nature?

Those of us who consider ourselves people of faith and at the same time post-enlightenment human beings, who tend to think of the world in scientific categories rather than theological categories, simply reject out of hand the notion that God is responsible for the disaster in Joplin. But, quite frankly, we have difficulty explaining how God is related, if at all, to the natural world.

This difficulty is caused by the excesses of nature—of which the EF 5 winds in Joplin are but one instance. Nature is both benign and deadly. On the one hand, it blesses us with its bounties of field and orchard, but on the other hand, it is “red in tooth and claw.” Nature has always been dangerous, capricious, and ethically blind. In recent memory Mother Nature, or God, destroyed New Orleans by flood, caused massive loss of life in Indonesia and Japan by earthquake and tsunami, and massive loss of life by earthquakes in Russia, China, Haiti, and by tornados and winds in Alabama, and Georgia—and now in Joplin, Missouri. It is not possible in a single sentence to enumerate all the “natural disasters,” or “acts of God,” occurring in recent memory.

Nature does not reflect the character of a God I would care to associate myself with—assuming it is true that God controls nature.

Such aberrations in the regularly occurring benign cycles of nature pose the greatest challenge to both the traditional understanding of God and to the traditional Christian and Jewish belief that God personally regulates nature. Such disasters have always played the Devil (so to speak) with the belief that the Judeo Christian God, who by most accounts is gracious, controls nature. If God controls nature and such unconscionable disasters occur, how can God be considered “good”? On the other hand, if Mother Nature regulates the world, disasters make better sense. Mother Nature is ethically blind, and in a natural disaster the righteous suffering along with the wicked is understandable. Mother Nature is the real culprit here. But this solution leaves unanswered exactly how God is related to the world. Traditional answers are simply inadequate.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 3:11pm

Hi Charlie:

Enjoyed this post. For me, it raises at least two questions: Assuming the existence of a God who created the universe, what exactly does this God do now, and how can we be sure of this?


Posted by Lee Penya on 6/6/2011 at 5:01pm

Good Morning Lee! Good question! One that I have pondered from time to time. In the following statements both Dr. Ray and I at least touch on it. See if we do it to your satisfaction and, if not, raise the question after Dr. Ray closes the “sermon.”


Posted by Charles Hedrick on 6/8/2011 at 11:16am