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"Does God cause earthquakes?"


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#21 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 02:19 PM

I tend to agree with Fr David here:

it's..rather our own sinfulness and negligence that cause the earthquakes, and storms and other natural disasters. By our disobedience and subsequent abandonment of our priestly place in creation, we are the cause of all these disruptions and because we are empowered by God, wherever we are, if we were as in communion with God as we should be, we could prevent the tragedy or render it harmless. How many saints have averted floods, turned storms, preserved the faithful by their prayers. It is our lack of prayer, our lack of communion with God that causes the pain and suffering of our innocent brethren in this world.



I believe that God takes fully into account our weakness and therefore what is realistic for us. Or to say it another way- Christ did not allow Peter to drown when his faith did not match up to that which would have been required to walk across stormy water.

That is why I see sin more as a kind of invisible energy that is destructive in its effects. Many saints after all have been able to see this distorted & destructive reality in others through a kind of second vision. And many saints (the Elder Paisios I think is one) speak of the cosmic and visible effects of sin. And this is not so difficult to understand if we think of how seriously a situation on the smaller scale can be led in a destructive direction. A word of anger or even a bad thought if left unchecked can have drastic and severe effects.

That's why I would think that on one level how our sin leads to catastrophe is invisible to most of us. We simply do not have the spiritual vision to see this destructiveness at work. But on the other hand if we bring this down to the immediate level of evil in its destructive effects- then I think we can begin to understand these things.

Anyway- the answer to catastrophes both to prevent or to allay them and to live with their aftermath- is clearly a more seriously engaged life in Christ & repentance. Which mostly means calling God to mind & heart.

My comments from yesterday were more from this latter angle: apart from the outrageous levels of unrepented sin in which we all indulge nowadays; our culture is truly marked by a worship of self & materialism that has led to massive complacency concerning God. The result of this can only be self destruction or destruction of the integrity of the human being in his intended divine reality. And if so then it is no surprise if by God's allowance this also leads to more widespread levels of destruction. At this point the physical effects simply reflect the invisible reality of sin. Or to put it another way- somewhat as scientists bring out their drawings of fault lines that run deep under the earth to explain what has led to an earthquake; so we as Christians could bring out our descriptions of that sin which runs deep underneath the surface of visible reality & which affects it.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#22 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 02:37 PM

Perhaps this would be good time to commend David Bentley Hart's meditation upon natural catastrophe: The Doors of the Sea.

#23 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 02:40 PM

I would say not so much that it's our "lack of faith" but rather our own sinfulness and negligence that cause the earthquakes, and storms and other natural disasters. By our disobedience and subsequent abandonment of our priestly place in creation, we are the cause of all these disruptions and because we are empowered by God, wherever we are, if we were as in communion with God as we should be, we could prevent the tragedy or render it harmless. How many saints have averted floods, turned storms, preserved the faithful by their prayers. It is our lack of prayer, our lack of communion with God that causes the pain and suffering of our innocent brethren in this world.


By "lack of faith," I meant our lack of faithfulness, which I think is essentially what Fr. David is saying.

I don't think we can categorically say that God never causes earthquakes. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; He could very likely have destroyed other people for the same reasons. I don't think He has in this case, and I wouldn't expect that He has for most earthquakes, but we must leave open the possibility, unless we believe that God never intervenes to take someone's life. The scale of the taking makes no difference, since all of us have only one life to take.

Dn. Patrick

#24 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 02:53 PM

Thanks for this info Father Alvin. Here is a quote from the link to Amazon that you provided.

From Publishers Weekly
Soon after the Indian Ocean tsunami in December, Hart penned two essays, one for the Wall Street Journal and another for First Things, concerning the question of theodicy-how a powerful, loving God co-exists with evil and natural disaster. This book expands on the essay's theological thesis that "what God permits, rather than violate the autonomy of the created world, may be in itself contrary to what he wills." Hart, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, wants to rescue God from predestination. The book begins with an elegant description of the geological factors leading to the earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Hart then admits that, upon learning of this devastation, "we should probably all have remained silent for awhile." But since few did, he joined the chorus in an effort to counter some upsetting arguments given to help people understand God's role in the disaster. Writing in a sophisticated, academic style-highlighting the philosophical and theological writings of Voltaire, Aquinas, Dostoyevsky and Calvin-Hart asks Christians to allow themselves to be moved and horrified by violence, natural or human-made, and, at the same time, to acknowledge that God can and someday will bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. It's an eloquent and persuasive stance.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


I'm not sure I get what is meant by:

This book expands on the essay's theological thesis that "what God permits, rather than violate the autonomy of the created world, may be in itself contrary to what he wills."


In any case- this topic intensely concerns me. The level of suffering involved is so massive and we are also so involved or touched by all of this (our church for example has a mission of about 2000 faithful in Haiti. We still don't know what's happened to all of the clergy let alone the faithful). How can we not ask where God is in all of this and what His purpose is?

One of my chief questions is: why is there this recent pattern of those whose lives are already so filled with suffering being subject to such catastrophes when it is us in our comfort who so freely and without any apparent consequence indulge in sin? I tried to give some tentative answers to this question in my post from yesterday.

#25 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 03:41 PM

Am I alone in thinking that the terrible deaths of 500,000 people is not any more of a philosophical or theological problem than the terrible death of one person? This discussion seems to assume that if 500,000 people suffer terribly all around the world over a millennium it's nothing, but if 500,000 people suffer terribly all on the same day in the same place it's a sign from God. The assumption seems to be that the world is fundamentally orderly and just and that anomalous incidents of extraordinary disorder and injustice are therefore a problem threatening our understanding of the world. Well, if we think that the world is fundamentally orderly and just, the earthquake in Haiti should threaten our understanding of world, because the world is not orderly and just; it is fallen and out of order and behaves without reason, and God allows this for a time because the only way for Him to set everything aright is to put us all in straightjackets or encase us all in stone, to take away all our freedom, which would be to destroy our Godlike nature, and to revoke the dominion that He has given us over this world. Then He could stop all earthquakes and floods and storms and the like.

The magnitude of the disaster in Haiti warrants a commensurate magnitude of response on our part, but it is not an exception to the way of the world and should not pose any special problem for us. If it does, then we are not looking at the world rightly.

Dn. Patrick

#26 Father David Moser

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 03:52 PM

One of my chief questions is: why is there this recent pattern of those whose lives are already so filled with suffering being subject to such catastrophes when it is us in our comfort who so freely and without any apparent consequence indulge in sin? I tried to give some tentative answers to this question in my post from yesterday.


One of the signs of the last times that have been given us is that there will be an increase in earthquakes and famine and wars - all those things which result in the suffering of the innocent. I think that the reason for this is not God's increasing anger and vengeance, but rather man's increasing loss of his sense of connectedness. Theologically, morally and philosophically we have been progressively distancing ourselves from one another. Just in our own lives, we have seen a loss of national/ethnic identity, the homogenization of culture, the destruction of any sense of being "a people", the rise of individualism (and its associated passions), the loss of the code of moral behavior (I believe Fr Raphael hit on this earlier). Most significantly we have observed the destruction of the family as an integral unit of society. We are losing our sense of being connected to one another (and therefore also our ability to sense compassion and love). Altruism and philanthropy are falling away and "charity" has become something that is a function of tax exemptions and a furthering of our own ideals of worthiness. (Note that some people who have lost all sense of purpose to their lives, instead of turning to faith and religion to find that purpose, instead dedicate their lives to charitable works in an attempt to regain something that they have lost - that is the connection to mankind and to God)

If we truly realized our connection with all of mankind and if we truly were able to grasp the idea of our place as God's priests/stewards/caretakers of creation then we who sin in comfort would begin to see and be horrified at our own role in causing the suffering of others (and therefore our own suffering since we are connected and even the least of our actions has an impact on all mankind). In the Church we still have this awareness and so we struggle against our sins and seek to live lives of compassion. (with this understanding, also, the question of what good is monastic life is answered resoundingly as we see the counterweight of the lives of prayer which the monastics live in balance to our own lives of negligence and involvement in the world.)

I know that my impressions here are a bit raw, however, I hope they make sense. I have a bishop coming today so I'm not sure I'll have the luxury of developing any of this further until after the feast.

Fr David Moser

#27 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 04:13 PM

Am I alone in thinking that the terrible deaths of 500,000 people is not any more of a philosophical or theological problem than the terrible death of one person? This discussion seems to assume that if 500,000 people suffer terribly all around the world over a millennium it's nothing, but if 500,000 people suffer terribly all on the same day in the same place it's a sign from God. The assumption seems to be that the world is fundamentally orderly and just and that anomalous incidents of extraordinary disorder and injustice are therefore a problem threatening our understanding of the world. Well, if we think that the world is fundamentally orderly and just, the earthquake in Haiti should threaten our understanding of world, because the world is not orderly and just; it is fallen and out of order and behaves without reason, and God allows this for a time because the only way for Him to set everything aright is to put us all in straightjackets or encase us all in stone, to take away all our freedom, which would be to destroy our Godlike nature, and to revoke the dominion that He has given us over this world. Then He could stop all earthquakes and floods and storms and the like.

The magnitude of the disaster in Haiti warrants a commensurate magnitude of response on our part, but it is not an exception to the way of the world and should not pose any special problem for us. If it does, then we are not looking at the world rightly.

Dn. Patrick


Dear Fr,

I think that your questions raise crucial issues. But I do believe that a catastrophe is qualitatively different from individual suffering or death. ie I do not believe that a catastrophe is just a lot of individuals who have suffered or died.

Rather a catastrophe at least as I understand it is some event of increased significance and that has the meaning that Fr David suggests. ie it is death & suffering unleashed through a natural event or a person (or group of people) on a cataclysmic scale. As part of this it always has a social message rather than mainly a personal one which would follow from an individual's death or suffering. In other words it is from this I think that the Church often interprets a catastrophe as a wake up call from God. It has been allowed by God for wider, social reasons & it has meaning for us as part of a greater social reality.

In all of this I'm not trying to deny the role of the individual or person. I'm just saying that the focus is different between catastrophe & individual suffering.

That there is precedent for this way of seeing reality- look at the ongoing search by the Church for meaning when the Roman Empire collapsed in the west; when the Byzantine Empire and Russian Empires collapsed. Also the continual messages in the lives of the saints concerning natural disasters.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#28 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 05:16 PM

Dear Fr. Raphael,

I have said here that God can cause and has caused great calamities such as earthquakes, against some who have said here that He doesn't ever do so. I would add that He does sometimes allow great calamities for special purposes of "righteous chastisement," even though we pray for Him to spare us such. I do not therefore rule out the possibility that a particular calamity may serve a special divine purpose.

However, the meaning of the large calamity is the same as the meaning of the small calamity. If one family in my parish suddenly died when their house fell in on them, the parish would have occasion to reflect upon the same truth as when many families in a faraway city perish in the same way. Part of that truth is the disordered world we live in as a result of our fall, which allots comforts and miseries unequally among people, among places, and among times.

If we do not understand or accept this part of the truth and look instead for some special meaning in every great calamity, we open the door to several dangers: foolish speculation about the special sins of the afflicted people ("They made a deal with the devil"), Calvinist confidence in the sovereignty of God ("God did it"), and embarrassment of the Gospel through our obvious difficulty in confidently providing good, simple explanations for common occurrences.

It seems to me solipsistic for us to look for special meaning in every earthquake, as if God made or allowed the Haitians to suffer so that we Americans would learn something. This personalizes the sufferings of many other people just as much and less appropriately than our own personal suffering. It also seems to me somewhat superstitious to over dramatize natural disasters as exceptional events with special moral meaning.

In Christ, Dn. Patrick

#29 Owen Jones

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 05:34 PM

Powerlessness is the beginning point of Christianity and what distinguishes it from everything else. It is a voluntary surrendering of power, becoming a slave to Christ, so that God's power can then be manifested in and through the believer. To accept powerlessness, and to adopt an attitude of powerlessness is not a shirking of moral duty. It has nothing to do with fatalism or with stoicism (although ancient Roman stoicism has been inaccurately portrayed for the most part). As for various contemporary uses of the term powerless, it was certainly never intended as exempting one from moral responsibility, except by stupid people who do not comprehend the spiritual paradox at play.

As for natural disasters and powerlessness, etc., any spiritually sensitive person is going to try to relate such disasters to God in some way. The secular person is going to say, what stupid, superstitious people! Don't they see that that attitude is self-defeating? How can we even help such people??? It is really no different than personal disasters. The real issue about powerlessness is control and domination. Most people believe that the key to happiness, success and self-fulfillment, all of which are distortions or deformations of the soul in the first place, is to acquire power, control and domination over one's environment, either through will, passion, or intellect, with the latter always being the most deadly. Thinking that you are in control because you have arrived at certain unassailable intellectual conclusions is the cause of all other evils.

If a natural disaster, or personal disaster forces people to become humble and grateful, then, whatever it takes! But those oriented by power will say that this problem must never be allowed to happen again. If only people weren't poor. If only people had given more. If only there were no corruption. If only buildings had been built better. If only....

The power oriented person is actually going to become angry at any disaster and think the solution is to first find blame, punish those responsible, then reform the whole way people do things, and then expect, naively and childishly, that all of his good intentions will prevent anything bad ever happening again.

#30 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 06:46 PM

Andreas,

I put quotes around the initial question for a reason-- it is not my question. It is a question with which I have been confronted, with the expectation that I can "answer" it. I am seeking the proper way to engage people who are perhaps, as you put it, "infected" by Enlightenment thinking and are scandalized by the notion that God would allow such evils to take place, because it just doesn't seem "fair." To that end, I am grateful for the contributions people have made to this thread.

Are you suggesting that those who ask such questions shouldn't be engaged? Perhaps I have misunderstood you.

In any case, forgive me if I have inadvertantly caused any scandal myself.

In Christ,
Evan


Dear Evan,

No, you have not caused any scandal. I think Owen, in his post 29, comes close to what I was thinking (if I have understood him correctly). I think that for us to have a discussion about this particular disaster is rather unseemly. In general terms, I do not think we are empowered to reverse the effects suffered by the natural world as a result of the Fall. There are, I believe, instances here and there now and then when prayer - for rain, for example - is heard by God. But generally, we will not change the fallen natural world or its effects upon mankind. To assert that we can may lead, as it seems to me, at best to disappointment and at worst to despair and loss of faith. The fallen natural world can be a dangerous place. Disasters can certainly be a test of faith. But what Christ has empowered us to do is to have a faith which stands such testing, a faith to accept God's will when faced with those things which are beyond our enquiry, scrutiny and comprehension.

#31 Paul Cowan

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 07:36 PM

Has anyone read the story of Jonah lately? His self righteous expectation of punishment of Ninevah.

I believe God will take the life of a person to prevent them from greater sins in the future to help them save themselves from hell. I fully believe this is what happened with my own father (nonorthodox).

I do not believe though and I site Ninevah and my father as my base, that God will NOT kill "you" (plural or singular) to help "me" repent. That is a cruel God and not one I want to know. I can say for certain that I hope I do not die in a freak tornado over my house so a person in Haiti will debate over my death and think he should repent over his sins. If a person has to rely on the death of another to say "hummm, I should probably look at myself and repent" then that person is in a world of hurt. I dare say he will not come to that conclusion on his own and my death is for naught.

Nina, you said

It happens, yes, and things are destroyed, yes, and poor people suffer *however* much help arrives from US and then we rebuild and life goes on. This is what they have told me.


Our government is sending over $100,000,000. Money we don't have. Money we are borrowing from China. Money that I seriously doubt will go where it is needed but to the pockets of the dictators and gangs as it has over the decades and is proof since they are no better off today than they were in the 1950's. Our politically motivated "help" can not be sustained or repeated without further bankrupting our own country. We are trillions of dollars in debt now. Where are they getting this extra cash? We are criticized for being the police force of the world. The US can not be the EMT of the world also. WE in the near future will have to rely on the poorer nations to support US. We can't even support ourselves.

Sorry for the soapbox.

How is this for a topic to look at...
God is a personal God and is fully functional and interactive in the lives of His people.
God set the universe in motion and has nothing else to do with it and its natural state of (d)evolution.
God's relationship to His people is a by-product of the natural occurences of the (d)evolution of the universe He set in motion and peoples' existence in relation to natural occurences in that universe.

Paul

#32 Kosta

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 09:37 PM

There are indeed cases where natural disasters are wrought by collective mans' sin's. Whether it be Sodom and Gomorah or the fall of Constantinople. Both jews and Orthodox christians have ascribed cetrain tragic events in their histories as chastisements. The earthquake in Haiti is too fresh and the peoples suffering is great and unbearable, and we shouldnt kick them when their down. I'll pray for now, and if this topic is still running in a month, ill chime in with my 2 cents.

#33 Nina

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 01:20 AM

Am I alone in thinking that the terrible deaths of 500,000 people is not any more of a philosophical or theological problem than the terrible death of one person? This discussion seems to assume that if 500,000 people suffer terribly all around the world over a millennium it's nothing, but if 500,000 people suffer terribly all on the same day in the same place it's a sign from God.

Dn. Patrick


I totally agree.

#34 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 09:09 PM

It seems that the most obvious place to look for advice on such a topic would be in the Fathers. However with Theophany on the way for us on the OC I am far too busy to find such homilies. All I can find right now with the very brief time at hand is the following from Oct 26 which is when we remember the Great Earthquake of Constaninople in 740. In the desctription for that day in St Nikolai Velimirovich's Prologue it says:

In the time of the Emperor Leo the Isaurian, in 740, there was a terrifying and long-lasting earthquake in Constantinople. The people realised that this was God`s punishment for their sins and entreated the most holy Mother of God and St Dimitrios with great penitence, until God had mercy and the earthquake ended.


Then Le Synaxaire from Simonos Petras monastery on Mt Athos has a simple commemoration title:

Memory of the great and fearsome earthquake which out of love for man, God sent on the city of Constantinople in 740, under the iconoclast emperor Leo the Isaurian, so that from this threat the Christians would repent of their numerous sins.


Now normally these titles & entries are taken from the older lives of saints and in both these cases this seems almost certain. What is interesting then is that while both of these are different from the other, they both ascribe earthquakes to one source- our sin. The Synaxaire edition however is even more audacious in calling an earthquake an act of God`s love so that we would repent of our sins.

Now although such descriptions are brief enough their message is quite clear. The only way to misread them would be from an attempt to see them either as merely `mythical`descriptions of God`s activity or as old fashioned and therefore not applicable in reality. However I do not think that either way of looking at this is proper to the Patristic tradition or proper to what has occurred.

Instead I take it that these descriptions say exactly but in theological language what an earthquake is.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#35 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 10:30 PM

But whose sins? Those of Haitians? Of ours in England, the US and Canada? Or of mankind's as a whole? And if the latter, why do the Haitians suffer so for them - are they more sinful and deserving of chastisement? Any opinion must be capable of standing the pastoral test. Who would go to the widow of a drowned sailor and say that if he'd had greater faith, he could have walked across the surface of the sea to dry land? Who would go to any of the injured or bereaved Haitians and say that this is a sign of God's love so that they would repent?

Edited by Andreas Moran, 17 January 2010 - 11:00 PM.


#36 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 10:32 PM

But whose sins? Those of Haitians? Of ours in England, the US and Canada? Or of mankind's as a whole? And if the latter, why do the Haitians suffer so for them - are they more sinful and deserving of chastisement?


This is a very good good question I believe.

Let`s keep in mind though that it is definitely not correct to think that our sins do not have a destructive effect on others around us. Even the most immediate evidence shows that the effect of our sins spreads like a wave to effect others in a profound way. If this occurs then as part of the `normal`course of things through God`s allowance then it is not such a stretch to understand how our sins could have a much wider effect also.

The only question then becomes not whether this occurs- but how it corresponds to God`s mercy.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#37 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 10:52 PM

A big PS to the above. I speak in my posts as greatly influenced from my priestly experience with others. As any priest can tell you when he is involved in a parish `situation`this brings him rapidly to the point where he can see how individual sin affects so many others. He sees that sin is like dropping a stone into a pond where the waves spread to cross the whole pond. It is not long before he stands contemplating this process and greatly struck by how the sin of one person touches so many. Finally he stands before the entire pattern and no longer can unravel in a rational way the multiple effects caused by this. He sees that only common work, repentance and turning to Christ can unravel the effects of human sin.

Again then on the larger, cosmic level it is no stretch for the priest to see the larger world situation in a similar fashion. Sin spreads its effects like an invisible wave, potentially destructive but also potentially for the good if it is approached in repentance and turning to Christ.

Do I repent when you hurt me by your sin- the answer is yes.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#38 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 10:56 PM

A big PS to the above. I speak in my posts as greatly influenced from my priestly experience with others. As any priest can tell you when he is involved in a parish `situation`this brings him rapidly to the point where he can see how individual sin affects so many others. He sees that sin is like dropping a stone into a pond where the waves spread to cross the whole pond. It is not long before he stands contemplating this process and greatly struck by how the sin of one person touches so many. Finally he stands before the entire pattern and no longer can unravel in a rational way the multiple effects caused by this. He sees that only common work, repentance and turning to Christ can unravel the effects of human sin.

Again then on the larger, cosmic level it is no stretch for the priest to see the larger world situation in a similar fashion. Sin spreads its effects like an invisible wave, potentially destructive but also potentially for the good if it is approached in repentance and turning to Christ.
In Christ- Fr Raphael


This is exactly what I was taught by Bishop Eirenaios (God rest his soul). The weak and innocent suffer from the sins of the strong and wicked. The developed world has raped the earth and she protests.

#39 Paul Cowan

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 11:08 PM

The weak and innocent suffer from the sins of the strong and wicked. The developed world has raped the earth and she protests.


ummm, no. Global warming or cooling did not do this. Ozone pollution did not do this. extraction of too much fossile fuel did not do this. The weight of 6+ billion fat human bodies did not do this. Flatulance did not do this. 2 techtonic plates shifted against each other directly under the island did this. It just so happens those living on the island were poor and constructed poor structures.

I will admit the developed world, ALL of it not just the US, needs to be its brother's keeper. But even if the Haitians were as "wealthy" as the Queen of England, the earthquake would still have occured directly beneath them. Then again, perhaps satan's flatulance did cause this.

#40 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 11:15 PM

Paul... maybe I`m not understanding. But `natural`disasters and the consequent death they cause are a result of the Fall. Or to say it another way- earthquakes, floods, etc were not found in Paradise.

Thus the death or hurt now potentially caused by nature is a result of the Fall, our sin. That is why saints such as St Herman can cause such disasters to cease- in their `space`nature reverts to its true and benevolent natural state.

In Christ- Fr Raphael




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