During the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, columnist Eugene Robinson penned an article entitled “Pay Attention to What Mother Nature is Telling Us.” The capitalization of Mother Nature reminded me of a conversation I had with my biology professor when I was in the 7th grade in a communist land. After the devastating earthquake in Skoplje, Macedonia, our professor talked about the cruelty of Mother Nature. As one of the few Christian believers in the class, I constantly heard that we should abolish Christianity and not talk about God as our heavenly Father. So I raised my hand and asked my teacher if it is ok to abolish talking about God our Father in communism, but proper to talk about nature as our mother (sometimes cruel and sometimes benevolent). His quick reply was that he knew that I would question him about that expression. Then he continued his lecture without ever giving us an answer.
The Yale theologian Miroslav Volf lectured once in Orlando, Florida to a group of future pastors and told us that one of the most difficult things in theology is to defend God during floods, hurricanes, and typhoons. We even have a term for it—theodicy. With his book Candide, Voltaire (and hundreds of his followers since then) mocked God by saying he should not allow evil if he is indeed good and if he allows evil, he is not as omnipotent as Christian theologians make him out to be. Volf argued that so many of us are so quick to defend God that we rarely ask the opposition and those who do not believe in God to tell us how they work to solve the problems of floods, hurricanes, typhoons, and other natural disasters.
My research tells me that Mr. Robinson is a member of a Christian church, but he is uneasy about discussing God in these situations. Therefore, he has opted to talk about Mother Nature. He primarily writes about our responsibilities and brings some scientific data to substantiate his conclusion. Yet, his conclusion is very naturalistic/divine. “Folks, nature is telling us something. How many “100-year” storms or “1,000-year” floods will it take for us to listen?”
There is a group of Christian historians who write history without God. They do this because they want the guild of historians to publish their works. Some publish for both groups—they publish for the historians’ guild as though God does not exist and then publish for the church folk extolling his existence, presence, and activities.
As we remember Katrina in New Orleans and Sandy in the Northeast, it is hard to talk about God. Job struggled with this topic and so did the prophets. Jeremiah, from whom we have the word jeremiad in the English language, was a witness to many disasters that came to the nation of Israel. Some were wrought by enemies of Israel, but there were also natural disasters. Job raised questions about humanity and suffering from the disasters caused by man and nature. God answers rhetorically, “Have you entered the storehouse of the snow or seen the storehouse of hail which I reserve for the time of trouble for days of war and battle?” (Job 38:22) In a different passage, God says, “I am the Lord and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men will know that there is none beside me. I am the Lord and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster: I the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5-7)
The great preacher Haddon Spurgeon was once asked to write something in defense of God. He told his friend that the lion has never invited anyone to defend him and God does not need our defense either. The complexity of the university is beyond the ability of the best scientist to explain and explaining God is above the ability of the best theologian. In the words of Karl Barth, “let God be God” in the sunshine and in the storm. Sometimes the best thing to do is to be silent or to bravely say, “I do not know!”