“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.