Shopping Cart


Sometimes silence is golden: Kirk Cameron and our response to hurricanes

Saturday, 16 September 2017  | Mick Pope

Any time there is a ‘natural disaster’, or what insurance companies might call ‘an act of God’, there is a variety of responses from Christians. Some mourn with those who suffer, but quickly jump in with what they think is most needed - bibles. Some are very quick to judge and scapegoat whatever cause, be it social or political, they dislike. Others, like Kirk Cameron, make ill-timed statements that are only half-correct.

Cameron sees Hurricanes Harvey and Irma as messages from God. I don’t disagree with this idea per se, but there are two problems with it. Firstly, it’s a rather badly timed statement. At least 44 people lost their lives during Harvey, and the total damage could cost up to US$180bn. The damage bill for insured property caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma combined is expected to be US$50-70bn, according to Lloyds of London. So when Cameron wants to tell us that these Hurricanes are sent by God for ‘humility, awe and repentance’, we might ponder Proverbs 12:18 ‘Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing’. Maybe, just maybe, his timing is off, or at least his words.

Cameron points us to the book of Job, chapter 37 in particular. He suggests that hurricanes are ‘a spectacular display of God’s immense power’, and indeed that is true. He also observes that ‘God is the blessed controller of all things’, and as far as the statement goes it is also true. But what kind of control? More of this below. Finally, Cameron states that ‘He is the one who gives us peace, security and strength in the midst of the storm and that he uses this to point us to him and to his care for us’. This of course is true insofar as God is the one who grants us peace, and in light of such disasters we are asked to hold onto God in these times as a source of strength.

But, so close to such a disaster, Kirk Cameron might look to donate to charities rather than be so quick to speak. As he is so fond of Job, we might consider the best reaction of his three friends in the face of Job’s suffering (3:13): ‘They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great’. Before we speak, we should first of all mourn those who suffer disaster.

The second problem of course is the spectre of judgment he raises. Are hurricanes either a ‘punishment’ or a means to ‘demonstrate his faithful love’, as Cameron suggests? If so, what is being punished? How is such destruction a sign of love?

It’s ironic to use Job at all in this context, as we learn that Job is totally innocent of all charges. Indeed, apart from his wailing against God, Job is the model of faith. Job 1:8 reads: ‘The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil’. Blameless. Let’s not start the usual arguments over faith versus works. Let the text be the text. Job did not deserve punishment. So to quote Job and to then try to link the possibility of judgement to these events is a mismatch. But that is not to say that recent events are a mere ‘statistical anomaly or just Mother Nature ‘in a bad mood’. Cameron is right to note that these events are not normal, but in what way?

At this stage, scientists are saying it’s too soon to confirm that there is a statistically measurable change in hurricane formation as a result of climate change. But we can say some things. We expect that warming sea surface temperatures will add ‘fuel to the fire’, as these systems extract energy from the oceans. It is suggested that the strongest storms are getting stronger as a result, even if there are not more systems than before. We observe that the Atlantic has been 1-2° C warmer than average this season. We know that a warmer atmosphere means more atmospheric moisture and hence more rain. And with Florida’s sea levels having risen about 30 cm in the past century, the impact of storm surge is more severe. So, even if the storms are not unusual in occurrence, they are having a greater impact. Add to that inappropriate development in flood prone areas, with people uninsured, and you have real issues - issues that require a kinder message from Christians.

In a sense we can understand these hurricanes as a sign of both judgment and divine power. But the judgment is on us all, and not for some scapegoated sin. The blame for climate change is shared by humanity, though not equally. Some people contribute very little to greenhouse gas emissions, but, due to their poverty and exposure to risk, suffer greatly from the impacts. So none of us is immune from the consequences. As Clive Hamilton notes in his most recent book, ‘belonging to a certain cultural or religious group does not exempt one from what is happening on Anthropocene Earth’.

I argue in an upcoming paper in the Anglican Theological Review that we have released chaos by our sins. As noted above, while we cannot be certain as yet about an increase in the numbers of such calamities, rising seas add to the impact of hurricanes as the winds associated with them whip up these chaotic waters. In the Ancient world, the ocean was seen as a source of chaos. In the Babylonian story Enuma Elish, Tiamat is the personification of saltwater, and the storm god Marduk creates order out her body parts. Even in Genesis 1:2, the dragon Tiamat becomes the deep (tehom), and is demythologised, de-divinised. Yet just as Marduk creates order out of the chaos of Tiamat’s body, the God of the bible creates order out of chaos by separating the waters above from those below on day two, and the waters from the dry land on day three. God creates the great sea monsters, the tanninim, on day five of creation (Genesis 1:21). In Babylonian mythology, these are the children of Tiamat, agents of chaos. In Genesis, they are monsters are creations of God, part of the good creation, but also representative of the ongoing presence of chaos, though under divine control. It is these sea monsters, Leviathan, that God made to play in the oceans (Psalm 104:26). It is these agents of chaos that Job calls upon in his suffering to end his existence (Job 3:8).

The ever-present nature of chaos in creation reminds us of God’s power and majesty, and, as in Job 37, His inscrutable wisdom in retaining chaos to create and destroy. Indeed, destructive forces like hurricanes are also creative, but disastrous for human systems and societies. There is a place for awe, but there’s also a place for compassion, charity, wisdom, proper planning, well-funded weather forecasting services, disaster response services and recognising the elephant (or perhaps the dragon) in the room of climate change. Rampant consumerism has unleashed the chaos through the production of greenhouse gases. Sadly, chaos is hard to limit, and so, as Michael Northcott notes in his A Moral Climate, judgment on the sins of the rich is indiscriminate and falls disproportionately on the poor (Jeremiah 2:34). And remember, we are the rich.

In this age at least, chaos will always be with us. Looking for purpose in that as some deliberate act of God is the search for false certainty. Cameron is half right in that we know God can bring good out of ill as we see in the story of Joseph, the man born blind in John 9 or the story of Job. But to try and resolve the mystery of suffering in this world can lead to error and a lack of pastoral vision. In this case, however, we can see the fingerprints of our own guilt, and that is what needs to be addressed.

The last word should be given to the The Otin Taai Declaration by the Oceania churches:

Call on our sisters and brothers in Christ throughout the world to act in solidarity with us to reduce the causes of human-induced climate change. We issue this call particularly to churches in the highly-industrialized nations whose societies are historically responsible for the majority of polluting emissions. We further urge these countries to take responsibility for the ecological damage that they have caused by paying for the costs of adaptation to the impacts that can be anticipated.

Mick Pope
 is an aspiring ecotheologian and the Reviews Editor of Zadok Perspectives. He heads up the Ethos Environment think tank and is an adjunct lecturer at Eastern College in creation care and theology of science. He is also Professor of Environmental Mission at Missional University. Mick is the author, together with Claire Dawson, of Climate of Hope: Church and Mission in a Warming World (Melbourne, UNOH, 2014). His new book, A Climate of Justice: Loving Your Neighbour in a Warming World (Melbourne, Morning Star, 2017), is available online, and will be launched in October at The Justice Conference.

Got something to add?

  • Your Comment


Online Resources

subscribe to engage.mail

follow us

Latest Articles