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Do natural disasters mean that God is mad at humanity?
This subject is too big for a text conversation, yet a friend and I began sharing some random thoughts via text on the subject as Hurricane Irma approached her home. Our conversation has been going on for weeks now, and I’ll share excerpts here to see if it stimulates any thoughts or insights that Baha’i teachings readers might have to contribute.
My friend is a devout nondenominational Christian and I’m a Baha’i. After exchanging concerns over each other’s families and interests in Florida, we joked, “Do you think God might be mad at us?” We wonder if maybe He should be; it doesn’t really seem like we humans have been behaving very well lately. Continuing to text back and forth, we did agree to the disclaimer that we can’t attribute a human quality to God, of course.
We agreed that when we look at the bigger global picture, excluding natural disasters, we just couldn’t help thinking that individuals, groups, and countries appear to be pitted against each other now more than ever. With national and political battles escalating, racial divides seem to be getting worse and not better. That has become obvious, with terrorism, North Korean nuclear weapons, protests everywhere for various oppressed peoples’ rights, while others begin to panic about taking historic statues down themselves rather than going through the usual civic channels.
All of this made us wonder: What rock have we been hiding under; since we both assumed that humanity has been making some progress on all these issues? Then text #6 followed: “And why has the Klu Klux Klan been in the news lately?” Hatred, never far from the surface in our culture, rears its ugly head again.
Then as summer comes to a close, powerful hurricanes began to hit many places, including Texas, Florida and the islands in the Caribbean. As our text list grew longer and longer, our joking began to unveil a sobering stream of thoughts—because all of these events have occurred on the heels of one another, whereas in the past adversities, or at least the reporting of them, seemed more spread out over time. Text #8: “Yes technology has enhanced media response times and news shows are 24/7 now, but still…”. “Text #9: “Who knows what damage has resulted from the hurricane in Cuba, and there are the severe earthquakes in Mexico to consider.”
I texted my friend back about how hard it all is to understand, because in reality we are one world and one people, interconnected. Everything that happens affects us all, as the Baha’i teachings say:
There is perfect brotherhood underlying humanity, for all are servants of one God and belong to one family under the protection of divine providence. The bond of fraternity exists in humanity because all are intelligent beings created in the realm of evolutionary growth. There is brotherhood potential in humanity because all inhabit this earthly globe under the one canopy of heaven … all are elements of one human society subject to the necessity of agreement and cooperation. There is brotherhood intended in humanity because all are waves of one sea, leaves and fruit of one tree. This is physical fellowship which ensures material happiness in the human world. The stronger it becomes, the more will mankind advance and the circle of materiality be enlarged. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 130.
My friend, who by now is becoming a little distressed as the eye of the hurricane looms over her home, asks again, “What do you really think about God being mad at us?”
I respond that probably some tests are ‘sent’ to us and definitely out of our control, while others are brought on by us through our own actions and choices. Then I included quotes from both of our sacred texts:
The Bible says:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2.
The Baha’i writings say that:
Tests are benefits from God, for which we should thank Him. Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 51.
Then I asked what she really thought. My friend replied that God is good, so He doesn’t necessarily cause these things, but He will choose to protect or lift His hand of protection, and that’s the difficult part to understand–how, when and why He protects or doesn’t. As humans we can ever really get that….”Which makes it very difficult to explain to anyone who asks my opinion,” she said.
I really liked how my friend explained her view, and I admire her grace, honesty and depth. As for the mysteries that we can’t understand, there can be some comfort in having faith that these tests, trials and disasters will benefit us in some way, in the larger picture. Without tests and suffering it would be difficult to feel joy, or at least serenity. Words come to mind like acceptance, detachment, gratitude and grace, and grace always reminds me of this particular friend.
Maybe grace sums it up, and in this moment can become our common thread. We can’t control where the eye of the hurricane will land, but what we can do is make better every life that crosses our path, and try to model reliance on God alone.