Although cheering is probably an overstatement, I have been thinking about a question Dave Fagg asked me on Sunday night on his program, Godbotherers about why it is people want to see the recent QLD floods as a judgment on (Kevin Rudd's) sins. At the time I mumbled something about a theological package - climate change denying, eschatologically focused (read rapture), etc. But what explains that? Why do otherwise seemingly kindhearted people want to interpret the misfortunes of others and God's judgment, portraying him as the Larsonesque whitebearded deity with his finger on the smite button?
It seems to me that humans are meaning producers, pattern makers and story tellers. The patterns we see are given meaning as part of a larger story or narrative. Modernism ties that into the rational self, the cogito ergo sum. Post modernism does away with author, reader and self. Honest atheism denies any real meaning. Christianity seeks meaning by placing our own experiences into a larger narrative of who God is and what he is doing in history. This means that how we interpret things reflects our vision of who God is.
During the interview I suggested that Pastor Danny's view of God was essentially like that of an angry pagan God who constantly needs placating, like Baal or one of the storm Gods of meso America. The certainty of the view espoused in the Catch the Fire blog is that all disasters can be pinned on human sin. It makes sense of reality through a particular theological framework, one that portrays God as holy and concerned for human affairs - but appears to focus on particular issues, be it abortion (resulting in the Vic bushfires) or Israel (producing floods in QLD). Nothing is said of greed or consumption, big part players in global warming. This is because these can be respectable sins, where wealth is equated with blessing (hence ignoring the plight of the poor). Of course global warming is ignored because it apparently goes against God's power to control the weather, or is simply read as part of the end times - and hence unavoidable rather than a moral problem to be addressed or the kingdom issue that it is requiring repentance.
The answer to this knee jerk 'prophecy' is to re-read the bible through the lens of Jesus as the God incarnate come to show God's love, not his judgment. Judgment is ultimately postponed, but not avoided. However, judgment in of itself is not primary, love is. This does two things in light of recent events. Firstly, it renders at once the issue more difficult, because it removes the simple solution of the direction connection between sin and suffering (something Jesus did with the man born blind in Jn 17 or those killed by the Tower of Siloam) and yet harder because we are left with the issue of how a loving God allows such things to occur.
Of course science says something about this - particularly the observation that in natural systems, large events (be they earthquakes or rainfall events) are no different to small events just more infrequent. [The science is that of self-organisation and complexity]. However, this leads to the second point - that of eschatology not focused just on judgment (though it is that) but of (as NT Wright says) putting the world to rights, which will include some how natural 'disasters' as well as the sin that leads to them or contributes to them (like bad planning in the name of growth or greed). This future restoration in love energises our present acts of love, justice and compassion in times of disaster. Much better, much more Christian that 'prophetic utterances' of judgment where such pronouncements at best come from the minds of men, and not God.