John P. Pratt’s recent column at Meridian sent me reeling. (Thanks to Brent for the pointer.) While Pratt tries not to overstate his thesis, the gist of the column is that God (sometimes?) punishes local populations for their wickedness by inflicting natural disasters. The Old Testament is replete with such occurrences, but as regular patrons of this blog know, my understanding is that many (perhaps most) of these stories are metaphorical. Even if you disagree with me about that, I hope that we can agree that Pratt’s analysis is sadly deficient.
Pratt’s thesis seems rather milquetoasty (yes, that is a word … look it up): he hypothesizes that “sometimes natural disasters do result from either God punishing us for sin, or at least withholding blessings because we have failed to obey his laws,” and he suggests that rigorous study of a possible connection is called for. Of course, such a study would be impossible (for reasons that should become clear below, if they aren’t already clear to you). Consider Pratt’s potential examples of divine intervention:
* “[O]n June 7, 1998, some Florida newspapers reported the beginning of a huge wild fire in that state and also applauded the successful Gay Day celebration at Disney World, both having occurred on the previous day.”
* “[O]n Oct. 17, 1989, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit San Francisco during a Pro Abortion Rally.”
* “On June 28, 1992, southern California experienced a very strong earthquake on ‘Gay Pride Day.’”
* “One such example was Hurricane Opal (1995). It had been classified as a mere category 2 hurricane, which the residents of Florida could easily prepare for. On Oct. 2, 1995 there was a pro-abortion ruling from the Supreme Court. Suddenly, and without any advance warning, the storm increased overnight into a devastating category 5 hurricane. Moreover, it made a sharp turn and headed straight for Florida.” (Just curious: why is it that the people of Florida are punished for the supposed misdeeds of the U.S. Supreme Court, which sits in Washington D.C.?)
No, I am not making this up!
Pratt asserts that the Lord “expects us to understand his message and to repent,” so let’s give this a try. The column appears to have been written prior to the recent earthquake in Iran. What is the message that we are to take away from that?
The problem with Pratt’s reasoning should be obvious: correlation is not the same as causation. How many other things were happening on October 2, 1995, besides the issuance of a “pro-abortion ruling from the Supreme Court”? Why didn’t any of those things cause Hurricane Opal? The fact is that drawing causal lessons from natural disasters is exceedingly tricky business. Nigh unto impossible, in my view. (I leave open the slim possibility of prophetic guidance in some circumstances.)
If I am right about all of this, then what are we to make of scriptural prophecies about the “signs of the times”? It seems to me that we can accept the notion that “there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matthew 24:7) without attempting to pin the blame on one particular group or event. The ship may be listing, but we cannot ask Hollom to jump overboard.