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Assigning Blame When Disasters Strike

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I am doing a sermon series on the “Hard Sayings of Jesus” on Sunday mornings. Many of those hard sayings occur in Matthew 24-25.

Jesus says things like: “There will be wars and rumors of wars. Nations will rise against nations. There will be famines and earthquakes … but the end is not yet.”

Jesus says these are birth pangs, that the end has not come yet.

Later in the chapter he says that “no man knows the hour when the Son of Man will return … not even the angels of the son of God.”

The Bible clearly tells us these worldwide events are signs of the end times. I believe that wholeheartedly and I think you do as well. But ministers get in trouble when they try to assign blame for cosmic events or predict their arrival.

A couple of months ago, I showed great disappointment in Pat Robertson for saying the earthquake that hit Haiti was the result of sin. The statement seemed harsh and unusually cruel. I suggested we could do better by sharing humanitarian aid instead of words of condemnation.

It now seems that such statements are not limited to Christians. An Islamic cleric gained attention recently by declaring that Tehran, Iran, would soon be devastated by an earthquake as punishment for the immodest ways that women are dressing there.

Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi said: “Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity, which consequently increases earthquakes.”

Several points could be made here.

1. Though perhaps taken too far, the Islamic emphasis on modest dress should be praised, not condemned.

2. Saying boys are being ruined by women who don’t dress right actually sounds very “Western,” doesn’t it?

3. Tehran straddles dozens of fault lines and is immensely vulnerable to earthquakes. But to say that one will occur soon and it will be because of immodest dress? This is what causes people to look at religious folks as if we are goofy.

Is there a connection between sin and the continued decay of all of the created order? Without a doubt. Once again though, the issue is with dates, places and direct cause.

But just in case Sedighi is right, I am avoiding my local mall in Houston for two reasons. First, I hate shopping. Second, if immodest dress is the reason for earthquakes, one might occur over there.

Have you seen the way people dress when they shop?

Ed Hogan is pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston. This column first appeared on his blog.