Eugene Volokh asks does God hate poor people? In response to the assertions of some Christians that hurricane Katrina was a judgement from God on New Orleans:

If this is so, then wouldn't it follow that God must really dislike poor people? After all, poor people generally bear the brunt of most natural disasters: It's harder for them to evacuate; they are less likely to have insurance; their assets are less likely to be diversified, so the economic damage is more likely to be severe for them; they are closer to the poverty line, so even small losses may harm them more than larger losses harm rich people; and so on. If you live in a poor country, you're much more likely to suffer from disasters than if you live in a rich country. If you're poor in any country, you're much more likely to suffer from disasters than if you live in a poor country.

The same is in considerable measure true for wars, at least since World War II: Tragic as 9/11 was, the loss of life in America was far less than the loss of life in Rwanda, Uganda, Cambodia, and who knows how many other poor countries in recent decades. And it's true for AIDS and most other diseases: Rich gays in the U.S. are much more likely to survive AIDS than poor people -- gay or straight, promiscuous or monogamous but infected by nonmongamous spouses or in other ways -- in Africa or Asia.

So, which is it: Does God dislike poor people? Or might it be that disasters, wars, and diseases are actually not God's punishment for sin?

The general explanation is that some disasters are intended to punish, and some disasters are merely allowed to happen.

As a rather conservative Christian myself, it appears to me that most of the evil and terrible things that happen to people in the world are either the direct result of their own evil actions, or the direct result of the evil actions of others. Arguably, much of the suffering in New Orleans is due to poor/incompetent preparation by local officials who neglected their duties -- and some of that blame then rests with the voters who elected them.

However, the Bible certainly does teach that God punishes evil-doers, though not all bad events are punishment. From Jesus' teaching on two specific events in his day that killed a lot of people:

Luke 13:1-5

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

Update:
A pseudonymous Reader at the VC makes a pithy observation:

This explanation of killing sinners would also make God into one heck of a liar. I have it on substantial authority that God promised not to kill any more sinners with flood waters. . .

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» Divine Wrath from The Debate Link

Eugene Volokh writes a spectacular take-down of the dissident religious view that the natural disaster to hit New Orleans was a product of its wicked and sinful ways. If natural disasters are God's way of handing out punishment, Volokh notes, then Go... Read More

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