Another storm brewing in Alabama

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 25, 2005

There’s another storm brewing in Alabama. While this one is of the political/theological variety, it does have to do with the hurricanes that recently ravaged the Gulf Coast. Sen. Hank Erwin (R-Montevallo) publicly has stated, and written, that these storms were God’s punishment for the rampant sin, especially gambling, associated with Mississippi and New Orleans. Before

his election as state senator, Hank Erwin was host of a local Christian talk show. Erwin was known for his strong, conservative, evangelical stand regarding a host of moral and doctrinal issues.

Of course, Erwin’s comments have been not-so-well received, by Christians and non-Christians alike. Christians, appalled by his comments, sadly, have belittled his intellect and even questioned his interpretive integrity. A number of things have struck me while observing this controversy.

First, Christians who take issue with Erwin must do so in an appropriate manner. We should not transgress Christian ethics when disagreeing with another brother.

Second, I, too, take issue with the dogmatic manner in which Erwin confidently ascribes the hurricanes as God’s judgment on specific sin. At the same time, the concept of God’s judgment in the space-time continuum is not outside the boundaries of biblical theology. There are instances in scripture, especially the prophets,where God punishes His people for the injustices in the nation. Amos, in particular, censures the people for oppressing the poor and threatens the impending judgment of God. He even mentions how God had held rain from one city, causing people to migrate to another, only to find insufficient water to quench their thirst (4:6-8). The concept of God’s punishment through &uot;natural&uot; means is, therefore, not inconsistent with biblical revelation.

Third, the question of theodicy is a complex question to which the Bible gives equally complex answers. In other words, the Bible does not present only one answer to the question of suffering in its various forms. It offers a number of possibilities. Sometimes, as indicated above, God does punish his people. At other times, Satan brings about natural calamaties (Job). Still again, there are times when there is no apparent reason for one’s suffering (John 9). It is irresponsible to dogmatically assert only one of these possible reasons for natural disasters when, obviously, there are other possibilities.

Finally, regardless of the etiology of the natural disaster, the body of Christ is to respond with the love of God. If the hurricanes had something to do with God’s punishment, it wasn’t just for the Gulf Coast residents, nor for a particular sin. It should serve as a wake up call for our entire nation and especially the church. While Hank Erwin mentions specifically gambling, perhaps the real sin has to do with oppressing the poor, something God despises. Has the church become numb to the plight of the oppressed in our society? Are we really concerned with the &uot;least of these?&uot; If God has passed judgment, perhaps we should look at these more insidious expressions of sin. In the end, though, it is not up to us to determine why. Jesus’ disciples once wondered aloud why a man was born blind. They assumed that either he or his parents sinned to cause his blindness. Jesus rejected sin as the source of such suffering. He simply said: &uot;This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life&uot; (John 9:3). Whatever the reason for the storms, may all those displaced by the storms experience the work of God in their lives. And may the body of Christ be the conduit of his powerful grace.

Garry Brantley serves as pulpit minister at Cross Bridge Church of Christ in Birmingham. He can be reached by e-mail at