Friday, August 26, 2011

Natural Upheavals: Is God Telling Us Something?

Today I was asked what I thought of the coincidence, here in the United States, of that fact that we had an earthquake and are about to have a major hurricane here on the East Coast within a week. Is this a sign from God? Is He punishing America for our sins? For our wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life? In fact, various people in the social network world have been buzzing about the meaning of these events. Is God warning us of impending doom? Or is He perhaps just manifesting His majesty and power? What do I think it means?

Well, first of all, I think it means that we are having an earthquake and a hurricane that happen to be in the same week! I have every reason to believe that it can be explained by forces in the natural order of things.

Of course, I do not deny the primary, transcendent, and particular causality and providence that God exercises over every event in the universe. The question is, how does He exercise this causality? According to His ordinary providence, God creates, sustains, and empowers secondary causes in the running of the physical universe. Of course it's all from Him, and the whole of His providence has a plan. Thus, undoubtedly, He has empowered and brought it about in His plan that these causal factors--in their own order and according to their own inner dynamic that He gives them--come together for many reasons, and all of those reasons are present to His omnipotence and infinite intelligence. Certainly the very fact that some have thought of His majesty and power was intended by Him from all eternity as one of His purposes in this event, as is also the fact that there are some who are led to remember the limits of their lives and that they will be called to account for their actions, as is also the husband and wife who comfort each other in the hurricane shelter and conceive the child that He has loved from all eternity and for whom He died on the cross, as is the watering of the plants, as is the punishment of people for sin because all of our suffering has its cause in sin and is also transformed by Christ's redemption (which is the ultimate purpose of everything in God's plan).

What I have no reason to believe is the idea that these events are some special intervention by God that "interrupts" (so to speak) the order of His ordinary providence--e.g. as in a miracle or a prophecy or a "sign" by which He intends to act within nature in order to communicate something specific to people. The simple coincidence of events in nature happens too frequently and is therefore too "normal" to serve as a special sign from God. It does not bear the evident mark of His special intervention. In such a case, we would expect to find an event or series of events that could not be explained by natural causes.

As for punishment, God is already punishing us for our sins and for our open violation of the dignity of the human person by allowing the consequences of these sins to unfold: in spite of our many good intentions and our technological advancements we are experiencing the gradual but implacable disintegration of our Western secularized civilization. Do we need a clearer sign than this? It is enough to strike fear and trembling into me.