Sins and Misfortune
Before the prophet Elijah predicted the heavy rain in today’s
reading from 1 Kings, he had predicted the three-year
drought that preceded it. According to the Scripture writer,
the drought was God’s punishment of King Ahab, who had
rejected the God of Israel for the pagan god of his wife
Jezebel—his infamously wicked wife, as the author of 1 Kings
viewed her. Most ancient cultures believed that misfortunes
like droughts and floods were brought about by the sins of a
people or their king.
Of course, Jesus made it clear that one cannot simply
blame misfortune on one’s sins, or the sins of one’s fathers.
Nor indeed is a prosperous life a sign of one’s sinlessness.
With the rise of modern science in the 17th and 18th centuries, we viewed the natural world as running under its own
laws, completely divorced from humankind’s sins. It is an
interesting irony that with today’s science, we can see how
humankind’s pollution of our atmosphere does bring about
global climate change, manifested as unprecedented extremes
in weather patterns like droughts and floods.
One cannot always draw a straight line between one particular sin and one particular misfortune. Nonetheless, the
sinful structures in our world, themselves a reflection of
original sin, magnify all misfortunes and impede their relief.
As Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel, following the letter of the
law is not enough. We are called to strive for a global change
of our own personal climate to alleviate, not magnify, sin.
Br. Guy Consolmagno
Guy Consolmagno, SJ, is the Director of the Vatican Observatory
and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation.