Question: P.T. Jose M
Is the recent flood in Kerala the result of the wrath of God, tragedies being predicted by certain God-men? Is there any theological validity for these prophecies?
Answer: Saji Mathew Kanayankal CST
First of all, we have to understand that flood is a natural calamity. Though not as a regular feature, there is a possibility for flood because of the geographical location of Kerala. In the history of Kerala, few floods were reported in the past and many of us are aware of the great flood in 1924 (Malayalam Era 1099). It is already realised that the big port city of ancient Malabar Coast Muziris was dropped off in a great deluge and earthquake in 1341 and many new places were formed as its aftermath. Therefore, the claim that the present flood is the result of the wrath of God may not be reasonable. However, an analysis of flood and its biblical understanding may help us to understand and interpret reality with new insight and vision.
The Reasons of the Present Flood
As per the reports, the state of Kerala has received around 40% excess rainfall during this monsoon season. Dr Satheesh C. Shenoi, the director of Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) says; “the unprecedented rains are due to an abnormality of the low-pressure area that builds up annually over the Bay of Bengal, which causes the south-west monsoon.” The geographical location of Kerala is very conducive for good rains and most of the years the land is blessed with plenty of rain due to its terrestrial speciality. The state is located between Arabian Sea and Western Ghats with the annual route of monsoon wind. The warming up of Arabian sea accentuate evaporation that leads to the formation of clouds moving to the East with monsoon winds. The Western Ghats check monsoon winds and the land gets a good rain. However, this year, formation of low pressure in the Odisha Coast of Bay of Bengal and its vigorous eastward movement of monsoon caused heavy rain. The low pressure which usually moves to central India spread over a much larger area causing abnormally gusty winds and heavy rain. Along with it, a once-in-eleven-year dip in the activity of the cycle of sun, known as ‘solar minimum’ had added the monsoon rain of this year. The time of ‘solar minimum’ is a period marked by weakest solar radiation which results an increase in the beaming of cosmic rays towards the earth. It is to be remembered that 1924 was also a solar minimum year.
The global warming and climate change that heat up the sea waters are the major reasons for the unusual low pleasure. In such a warm temperature the earth acts itself to regulate heats by forming low pressure that may lead to rain that cools the air. Some scientists also observed that Elnino, which typically weakens the monsoon by veering its winds away from Indian subcontinent by unusual warming of surface waters in the Eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, has peered out this year. As a result, there was a high intensity of rainfall in a short duration that resulted unprecedented deluge in the entire state.
Flood: Biblical Vision
The flood narrative in the Book of Genesis (Gn 7:1–9:28)gives us a picture of a world destroyed by flood. As per the biblical narration, flood is the result of humankind’s moral depravity and sinfulness, the all-pervading corruption and violence which also demanded divine punishment (Gn 6:5). In a closer observation it would be clear that the destruction through flood was not arbitrary, for through the flood, God is just completing the destruction of earth, which has already been spoiled by human beings for the earth was corrupt and filled with violence (Gn 7:11).
It is true that in our experience the flood is a harmful element as well as an unpleasant obsession. However, according to the vision of the biblical flood story, it also functions as a creative force of God, which helped the universe to return to its original purity and wholeness. The flood story does not end with annihilation of the nations, rather it opens up for arenewed creation and a new covenant (Gn 9: 1-11). From this perspective, flood is interpreted as an integral part of the saving act of God in the redemptive history. One of the most significant terms in the Old Testament, ‘covenant’ first appears in connection with the flood story and unlike other covenants, this covenant is ‘a cosmic covenant’ wherein the whole earth, including every living creature becomes its partner. In spite of human sin and violence, God has committed Himself to this world and binds Himself. The rainbow, the unconditional covenant sign, stands as the symbol of God’s mercy and love. Thus, the story of the flood is an affirmation of the story of creation and speaks ultimately not of divine punishment but of God’s faithfulness to the works of His hands. In this narrative, destruction is not the last word; rather it is salvation and new creation. The ark of Noah is a symbol of hope, a hope for the people at the time of danger.
The Flood in Kerala: A Human-made Disaster?
While agreeing that the density of rain was higher this year, the human factor that intensified the disaster should not be ignored. The planning method of the disaster management authority and the officials were inadequate in addressing the challenges of massive and heavy rainfall. It is true that human being cannot prevent such great amount of rainfalls, but it is possible to improve the prediction of weather preventing the possible catastrophes. There was certain failure in foreseeing the effects of the opening of all gates of the dams in such a short time that resulted sudden and unexpected flooding of low-lying areas. In short we were “unprepared and underprepared.”
It is to be noted that the places of acute landslides like Idukki, Wayand and the high ranges of Westyern Ghats are ecologically sensitive zones. The buildings and settlements constructed in the riverbeds and watersheds of the plane lands blocked the normal waterways and the flow of the rivers. As a result, the exit points for the water to flow into the Arabian Sea became extremely narrow. Moreover, the change of land use patterns and climate change have worsened the situation. In the name of progress and growth with the idea of ‘projects that benefit the public,’ we skewed our policies and ignored the importance of wetlands and the sensitivity of ecologically fragile zones.
While understanding the migration of farmers to the different parts of Western Ghats especially in the context of famine after the Second World War and thereafter, there is no excuse for the aggressive human intervention and unscientific and unauthorised encroachment, quarrying, mining, deforestation, illegal repurposing of forests, and land levelling. As per the study of Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, Kerala lost 906,440 hectares (9064.4 sq.km) of forest land between 1973 and 2016. In the past years, especially during the last two or three decades, we manipulated forests and rivers, robbed the natural resources, cut down the mountain slopes, deformed the paddy fields, mined tonnes of rocks and sand indiscriminately, changed the nature of riverbeds and built skyscrapers on wetlands and hilltops. With the political support, many violated the environmental protecting laws, ignored the advice of many scientists and watered-down policy from time to time. Now in the form of deluge, we were forced to retaliate for our own ineffectiveness and greedy grabbing!
New lessons to Learn
As Dr Manmohan Singh, our former Prime Minster, at the time of tsunami in Tamil Nadu told, it is a time to convert ‘a disaster into an opportunity.’ The slogans that appeared after flood on the ‘rebuilding of Kerala’ were inspirational and thought-provoking. In his message Mr Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala called upon for a ‘New Kerala’ and he underlined that his aim is not to bring back Kerala what it was before flood but to create a ‘revamped state.’ This revamping should not be mere reformation or renewal; rather it should be a process of complete and total restructuring with reprioritising the essential elements. This process is to be scrutinised and planned systemically, scientifically, technically, logically and fairly. First of all, we need a restructuring of our concept of development and we need to ask whether we should continue the present model of development at the risk of damaging the environment. The new model of development should be ecologically harmless and sustainable. A proper system of land management should be executed with the adequate provision for water flow over the land and protecting the ecologically sensitive zones and wetlands. There are some good models ahead of us especially the developed nations who follow strict laws in construction, land management and the protection of the environment. Indeed, the state has to face a lot of challenges socially, politically and economically. However, if it stands with the same unity that is manifested at the time of flood and work hard together for the common good, it can overcome the disaster of the flood and thus realise the dream of a revamped Kerala.
As flood in the Bible was an opportunity to recreate the perverted or spoiled creation, ‘the flood of 18’ is also a time to remake the lost ethos of Kerala. During the last few years, Kerala became a divided land – politically, economically and religiously. Flood was a moment for the people to realise the futility and vanity of money, power and political or religious rivalry. As water purifies, the flood also purifies the land, people and their perverted minds and thoughts.
Finally, with regarding the prophecies; though the Catholic Church does not negate private revelations, apparitions and visions, it asks the faithful to discern it diligently. According to the teachings of the Church, the revelation is already completed in Jesus Christ. However, it has not been made completely explicit. It remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 66). If the visions and revelations contribute to a deeper understanding of the faith or provide new lines of theological investigation or helps prophetically to the living of the Gospel, the Church makes more studies on it and approves. However, as per the teachings of the church, no private revelation is necessary for salvation. The private revelations “do not belong to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 67). Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger clarifies, “Such a message can be a genuine help in understanding the Gospel and living it better at a particular moment in time; therefore it should not be disregarded. It is a help which is offered, but which one is not obliged to use” (Message of Fatima, Theological Commentary). Moreover, the authenticity of the person who claims to have vision is also to be scrutinised. Sometime, it can be a product of hallucination, fantasy or certain dreams or imaginations. If such visions function as if foretelling riddled with human imagination and deception that cause unnecessary fear and anxiety to the people or to exploit their faith, its authenticity is doubtful and an undiscerning acceptance of it is not approved. The person who believes in Jesus follows the sacred scripture, obeys teachings of the Church, utilizes devoutly the sacramental practices of sanctification and prayer, and remains in communion with the Pope, is already employing the necessary means of salvation.