Why are there disasters like the events in Japan? Are they "natural" disasters or "supernatural" events caused by God? A recent poll finds that evangelicals are far more likely than other Americans to believe that God causes disasters and sometimes does so as punishment.
A majority of Americans believe that God controls everything in the world, according to the poll from Public Religion Research Institute, in partnership with Religion News Service, conducted the poll March 17-20, 2011. A vast majority of white evangelicals (84 percent) believe God is in control of everything, which is more than mainline Protestants (56 percent) or Catholics (52 percent).
Evangelicals are also far more likely than other religious groups to believe that God uses disasters to punish people or send signs. A majority of evangelicals (51 percent) believe that "God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some of its citizens," Only one-fifth of mainline Protestants or Catholics hold this believe.
More people believe that natural disasters are a "sign from God." Just over a third of Americans believe disasters are signs from God. However, a majority of evangelicals believe this (59 percent), which is more than other religious groups.
The poll also found that 83 percent of Americans believe that is important for the U.S. to help out financially when nations like Japan suffer a natural disaster. This support is roughly the same for evangelicals (86 percent), other religious traditions, and those who are not religious.
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of The Albert Mohler Program, said that Christians should remember that Jesus warned against linking tragedies as the result of sins by specific people.
"Disasters like this often bring out the most reckless forms of theologizing," Mohler said. "We must affirm both the sovereign power and the loving character of God, and that means that we must know that disasters like this will test both our faith and our faithfulness."
BreakPoint's Chuck Colson said earthquakes are part of the natural order. Christians should not blame anyone but should instead focus on helping.
"I have no doubt that Christians – those who follow a God whom the atheists call cruel and inhumane – will be in the vanguard of helping the hurting in Japan because He has taught us to love one another on this beautifully created, intricately complex, and even sometimes dangerous planet on which we live, and because humans are, after all, the crown of creation," Colson said.
Editors Note: The Public Religion Research Institute provided Christianity Today with a religious breakdown of questions from the poll. However, Christianity Today is responsible for all analysis and interpretation of the results. Around one-fifth of Americans are identified as white evangelicals in the poll. The margin of error for this subsample is around seven percentage points. The results are descriptive; religious differences could be due to partisanship, ideology, income, or other factors.