At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? - Luke 13:1-4
While perusing my usual cyberhaunts this morning, I came across a suggestion that Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans was our Sodom and Gomorrah. New Orleans is one of our more notorious U.S. cities due to its yearly celebration of Mardi Gras. Sodom and Gomorrah being notorious Biblical cities that were destroyed for their wickedness, I can see how some attempting to explain such a massive tragedy would resort to this comparison in order to satisfy one's own theological dilemma. Someone feels the need to say something similar whenever an event of such proportions causes injury and death. We heard it after the tsunami in December. We heard it after 9/11. We hear it about AIDS and homosexuals. We hear it about earthquakes in California. This explanation makes some people feel better about their God, and maybe even about themselves. After all, the tragedy didn't happen near them. Something like this only happens in areas where there are higher concentrations of sinners.
Let's face it. We don't really know. In moments like this, the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah are dusted off (along with other tales from the Old Testament where cities are smitten...smote...whatever) in order to show that this must have been God's punishment for especially evil parts of the world. On the other hand, Jesus offers no explanation in the above passage for why the tower fell on those Galileans. God calls Job's friends clueless when they try to explain Job's incredible misfortune. Unfortunately for some, admitting to cluelessness isn't satisfactory either. So we turn to how many instances of debauchery and carousing, how many feminists and homosexuals, were present at the time and blame that instead. When others question the crassness of it all, the answer is typically, 'God's ways are not our ways.'
Theodicy is the trickiest issue in theology. I'm willing to bet that a substantial amount of atheists have become so because of theodicy-related issues. The logic of it all doesn't square with a loving God. And if God is loving, why didn't God stop it?
I think it drives more people--believer and unbeliever alike--crazy enough to avoid it completely, rather than mumble a pithy 'not our ways...' variation, or declare an area like New Orleans a Biohazardous Wickedness Zone. I'm with Jesus on this one. It's easier to say what a tragedy isn't than to say what it is. At least that way we have a better chance of saying what it is.