“Senada dg ayat2 lainnya, reward & punishment dr Allah swt. Jika iman & taqwa negeri akan dilimpahi keberkahan, jk maksiyat akan di adzab.”

This tweet from the Minister of Communication and Information of Indonesia shortly after disaster struck on Merapi and Mentawai can be roughly translated as follows. “Similar to the other verses (on the Koran, we can expect) reward and punishment from Allah swt. If (you have) faith and piety, the country will be awash with blessings, if (we do) evil (we will be given) hardships.” The italics are my own additions to improve sentence legibility, albeit with a bit of interpretation on my part.

From the tweet, we can concur that our minister believes that God gives rewards and punishment in form of catastrophes. Disasters may occur due to natural causes or human intervention, in which I agree that we can interpret the man-made disasters as an alarm call to be heeded, but I believe that natural disasters should not be interpreted as a message from God.

The annual floods in Jakarta can be taken as an example of man-made disaster – people agree that waterways and canals in Jakarta are mostly clogged with garbage and mud. The rapid unchecked development of the sprawling metropolis and its uphill satellite cities has decreased open green space, which in turn will reduce its capacity to contain the rainfall. This can be a clarion call to strengthen governmental building and zoning regulations and raise an awareness in public sanitation habits. It can also be a case in which God calls mankind to preserve his creations in a better way.

However, I believe that a natural disaster should not be interpreted as a punishment from God. Based on the tenet common to all faiths that God is benevolent and just, we can conclude that God would not intend harm those who are innocent. Natural disasters strike in an unpredictable manner to sinners and the pious alike. If a disaster is intended as a punishment, then it should happen specifically to those who God meant to punish, which in is the places where the sins are allegedly commited. Statistics should then show that natural disasters correlate to crime rates – something that is unlikely to happen. As an example, no major natural disaster has happened in Las Vegas, which has the highest crime rate in USA.

To say that God punishes the unrighteous through natural disaster amounts up to saying that the people victimized, such as Mentawai and Central Java inhabitants, were deemed sinful in their ways. To argue that the natural disaster victims are not the wayward ones and they bear the burden of other’s faults implies that God punish innocents with suffering they did not cause – refuting the principle that God is good and just, one of the basic principles of religion. Natural disasters should therefore not be portrayed as a punishment – however, it can be said that in hard times, God reminds us to always help those in need.

As a conclusion, God’s message can be heard in any kind of situations, especially in dire circumstances. In man-made disaster, it can be a reminder to carefully examine our steps – and in natural disasters, that we should help others in need. We should not treat a natural disaster as a punishment from God, because it would violate the principles of a just and benevolent God.

PS: this is the first essay out of 18. Should have finished by lunchtime but due to long hiatus in writing, it had taken 2 hours to complete this writing.


8 thoughts on “Catastrophe

  1. You said: "However, I believe that a natural disaster should not be interpreted as a punishment from God." You will lose the debate if you talk about God. I can name two stories from the Bible (and I’m sure similar stories exist in the Koran) in which natural disasters are indeed punishment from God. Book of Genesis, chapters 6–9."God, saddened at the wickedness of mankind, sent a great deluge to destroy all life, but instructed Noah, a man "righteous in his generation," to build an ark and save a remnant of life from the Flood."Genesis 18:2"God reveals to Abraham that he will investigate Sodom and Gomorrah, because their cry is great, and because their sin is very grievous. In response, Abraham reverently inquires of God if he would spare the city if 50 righteous people were found in it, then 45, then 30, then 20 or even 10, with God affirming he would not destroy it after each request, for the sake of the righteous yet dwelling therein."I can understand Pak Tiffatul perspective even though I agree that It is certainly not wise and insensitive to say those words to those suffering from the quake or flood or eruption.

  2. you should note that even by the interpretation of disaster-as-punishment in the examples you presented, God still saves the righteous. Now in these disasters, tell me, were all those who perish unrighteous? As I’ve mentioned, if we dare to claim that these disasters came from God, it implies that the victims were unrighteous. And to say otherwise would imply that God is unjust for punishing the message is, let’s not claim that these disasters are punishment from God.

  3. "Now in these disasters, tell me, were all those who perish unrighteous?" That I can not tell you, since who am I to judge. I can not judge that a man is wicked because I do not know what is in his heart. By the same reasoning, neither can I judge that a man is INNOCENT. So you really can not say that those victims are INNOCENT, just as you can not say that they are wicked.But this I can tell you: Not everyone perished in the disaster, which could be INTERPRETED that God did NOT punish everybody. What more I can tell you is that what Pak Tiffatul said was TRUISM which can not be debated. He quoted stories and verses from the Koran. And those stories and verses are indeed there, in the Koran. He did not make them up.Both the Koran and the Bible make it very clear that God does punish nations for their wickedness. Stories abound about it.Having said that, I moest also say that I do not make it my point that I agree with what Pak Tiffatul did, i.e quoting those verses at time of mourning. I simply say that Pak Tiffatul statement is very well grounded and is true, seen from Islamic and Christian perspective (from which Pak Tiffatul obviously views the world).

  4. Yes, he only quoted verses in his tweet, his statement about the scriptural truism is 100% correct. His implied conclusion, however, is clear – that these disasters that just happened are punishments for the so-called moral fault of all Indonesians in general. His conclusion (and possibly yours, too) is the one that I do not share. Such disaster will affect everyone in the area, morally righteous or not and you have basically agreed with me that morality does not determine survival in these circumstances. I will not argue that God did not punish Nations before, but I do believe we should avoid making such judgments today. My essay did not have proper temporal signifier and that is a shortcoming. In the biblical/koranic days there were the prophets who could indisputably declare that indeed it was a punishment from God, but now there are none such authority from God without whom, all interpretations are fair game. Coming from a Christian tradition did influence me in my thinking that just because God did that before he will do the same thing now, the same way Jesus did not stone the adulterer just because it was in God’s earlier law. I do agree with you that his timing is unfortunate, but so was his stature and position. Anyone else may come to the same conclusion, privately or publicly and it’s their right to do so. His opinionated tweets do concern me because being in public ministry should not be confused with pulpit – a necessity to be politically correct comes with the territory.

  5. "You have basically agreed with me that morality does not determine survival in these circumstances." I did not say that. I said you can’t determine the morality of the victims. You can’t say that there innocent, just as you can’t say that there wicked. "In the biblical/koranic days there were the prophets who could indisputably declare that indeed it was a punishment from God". Prophets were not prophets during their lifetime. They became prophets only centuries after they died, because then people realized that what they said during their lifetime had been indeed correct. They were often debated, doubted, disputed. So no, they could not INDISPUTABLY declare something — anything."The same way Jesus did not stone the adulterer just because it was in God’s earlier law." The conversation becomes theological now. But this is also true: from the first book (Genesis) until the final one (Revelation) you can find stories telling about God’s wrath upon nations.Let’s return to our bone of contention. What I primarily debate is actually this conclusion in your essay: "We should not treat a natural disaster as a punishment from God, because it would violate the principles of a just and benevolent God." I think the sentence would make more sence if you said: "We should not treat a natural disaster as a punishment from God, because there is no God." When you said: "…because it would violate the principles of a just and benevolent God.", you imply that there is God. And Christian and Islamic Gods do employ natural disasters as punishment, as we can read on the Koran and the Bible.

  6. The morality of the victim can’t be determined, yes, but then again if we should not judge morality of the direct victims, even more so we should not judge the nation’s morality as a whole because we still share the disasters. If we can’t really judge the nation’s morality, then how could we frame the disaster as God’s punishment? In the biblical stories, prophet is a title which was also attributed to the living. A lot of the prophets enjoy prominence in their lifetimes because of their role as an intermediary to God, at times also serving as judges, counselor and political leaders – i.e. Moses, Isaiah and Elijah. Although the Jewish people may not heed to their call all the time, I’d say most prophets are acknowledged as God’s messenger during their lifetimes. So, prophets do get authorized to declare something on behalf of God – and, our minister is still not His official messenger, so his interpretation is by no means an authoritative one.The message of God’s retribution in the New Testament, as I recall, was largely for the most part is missing up until the book of Revelation. There, the literal description is that all men would answer to God on judgment day, not a tsunami this week and then landslides on the next. The Christian God may have employed natural disasters before, but He has left no scriptural trace of doing so after Jesus. Jesus teaches the principles of compassion and being non judgmental and it’s possible that from that point onwards no further blanket punishment ensued – this, however, is not a universal point that could come across all religious beliefs. As for the root of our debate, I guess that our ideas about God may be very different. Man is said to be created in His image, but ironically man fashioned God according to their own ideas. Based on previous stories of God punishing people through natural disasters, some conclude that the current catastrophe is no different. To you, if these disasters are no punishment, then there can be no God – there is no room, even in these modern times, for the possibility of a non angry God. This essay is simply a rejection of the punishment message and another interpretation of the disasters based on the "God is good and just" principle. I believe that there are no absolute answers – and that there are other possibilities in regard to all our questions.

  7. OK, so God is just and good, so he does not punish a nation by natural disasters because the good will also suffer. That, basically, is your point right? Now, how can you explain why bad things happen to good people?

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