Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hurricane Katrina and God

So reports have been streaming in on the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: 10,000 are estimated to have died, more than 29,000 are counted as missing, anarchy reins, food and shelter are scarce as the rains continue, putrified dead bodies are left to float in the receding waters or rot in their wheelchairs, residents are shooting at rescue vehicles and storming the hospitals, most of the drinking supply is contaminated, people are desperate and dying, policemen are turning in their badges in increasing numbers and no one wants to help the old with heart problems, the young with persistent fevers and the invalid, babies are dying of dehydration, rescue helicopters are unable to reach the stranded because unknown assailants keep taking potshots at them, there is rampant rape, the lack of toilet facilities and the decomposition of organic matter add to the stench of the grimy sewage water that is everywhere...

How could this happen in a civilised country like America? The media and people ask. Fingers are pointed: the government should have foreseen this, Bush made a tardy post-disaster appearance, the government didn't react fast enough or deliver aid quickly enough, there was discrimination and polarization between the classes and races...

The embarrassment for USA, the richest nation in the world and the self-proclaimed protector and provider of international aid, is that they were unable to prevent or deal effectively with a natural disaster at their own doorstep.

Crackpot "Extremist Christian" Theories
As with all natural disasters, some wingnut is sure to come out of the woodwork and pronounce God's judgement on the unfortunate victims. This time round, a group that calls itself "Repent America" says that New Orleans invited God's punishment on themselves by tolerating the wickedness of homosexuality and abortion in their city. Another group, "Columbia Christians for Life", circulated this email:
From: Columbia Christians for Life
Subject: Hurricane Katrina satellite image looks like 6-week fetus
To: Columbia Christians for Life

Satellite picture of Hurricane Katrina at looks like a 6-week unborn human child as it comes ashore the Gulf Coast, vicinity states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida at 12:32 PM, Monday, August 29, 2005

Hurricane "Katrina" (reportedly means "Pure" in Russian) - satellite image - Monday, 29 Aug 05, 12:32 PM (EDT) - coming ashore Gulf Coast - satellite image looks like 6-week fetus

check out NOAA website:

The image of the hurricane above with its eye already ashore at 12:32 PM Monday, August 29 looks like a fetus (unborn human baby) facing to the left (west) in the womb, in the early weeks of gestation (approx. 6 weeks). Even the orange color of the image is reminiscent of a commonly used pro-life picture of early prenatal development (see sign with picture of 8-week pre-born human child below). In this picture, and in another picture in today's on-line edition of USA Today*, this hurricane looks like an unborn human child.
Louisiana has 10 child-murder-by-abortion centers - FIVE are in New Orleans ('Find an Abortion Clinic [sic]')

Baby-murder state # 1 - California (125 abortion centers) - land of earthquakes, forest fires, and mudslides
Baby-murder state # 2 - New York (78 abortion centers) - 9-11 Ground Zero
Baby-murder state # 3 - Florida (73 abortion centers) - Hurricanes Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne in 2004; and now, Hurricane Katrina in 2005

God's message: REPENT AMERICA !
Egads! Don't know which God they've got in mind, but it certainly isn't the God of the Bible!

Crackpot "Liberal Christian" Theories
Great tragedies like this often bait out a lot of bad theology both from popularly acknowledged crackpots and popular Christian authors. In response to questions as to why God didn't do anything about Hurricane Katherina, Tony Campolo, the author of many Christian books, replied that the Bible doesn't say God is omnipotent. When disaster strikes, he cries with the rest of us. As Albert Mohler rightly points out, this is just not the God of the Bible. The Bible affirms God's omnipotence:
Rabbi Kushner may believe in a limited God who does the best that He can, but compare this concept with Elihu's testimony in the Book of Job. Elihu, whose admonition of Job is presented as true instruction, insists that God is actually driving the storms for His own purposes:

He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.

"Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know how God lays his command upon them and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine? Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge, you whose garments are hot when the earth is still because of the south wind? [Job 37: 11-17, English Standard Version]

The Bible simply does not leave room for the suggestion that God is doing His best under the circumstances. Nowhere is an event -- tragic or otherwise -- explained as due to God's inability to prevent what happened. Biblical Christianity does not find refuge in redefining God's power or in flippant interpretations of God's will. Instead, it points us to the fallenness of the created order and the created order's need for redemption. The Bible claims that God is both omniopotent and all-loving. The fact that these twin truths sometimes lead us into intellectual difficulty is no excuse for surrendering the Bible's assertion of unlimited divine power and authority. The problem lies with our limited understanding -- not with any limit on God's power.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord,or who has been his counselor?" [Romans 11:33-34, English Standard Version]
We may not understand the cause-and-effect workings of natural disasters but this is not an excuse to indulge in crackpot theological conspiracy theories that validate our own Christian hobby-horses (homosexuality, drunkedness, abortion), nor to proffer bad liberal theology to excuse God for not having prevented this disaster, nor offer soothing counsel that front deceitful lies.

What does God have to say?
After the Boxing Day tsunami, Phillip Jensen, the Anglican Dean of Sydney, explained that natural disasters are a part of God's warning that judgment is coming. When asked if the tsunami was the will of God, he replied,
"Yes. The will of God in this world involved his creation of the world, but it also involves his judgment upon the sinfulness of humanity and it also involves his salvation of people through the death and resurrection of his son. And so all the beautiful things we see in this world are an expression of his creative goodness to us and all the disasters of this world are part of his warning the judgment is coming, and both these things should focus our mind on the death and resurrection of his son and how he saved us."
He promptly got a load of flak from all sorts of religious leaders. Neil Brown, Dean of Saint Mary's Cathedral [Catholic] described Jensen's comments as "a rather horrible belief when you begin to think about it."

Well, if you say so Mr. Brown.

God (aka: Creator of the Universe, Sustainer of all Creation, Ultimate Judge of the World, a far more authoritative source if you ask me), on the other hand, tells us this:
  • that all our fallen world of pain and suffering, from childbirth to death, the hurt in all our relationships in our lifetime, to the toil of work, the "natural disasters" are all caused by the Fall (Genesis 3). In the beginning, humans lived in harmony with God and with the world: with God as ruler over the humans and humans rulers over the world. But as Adam and Eve tried to usurp God's place in his own creation, so the rest of creation no longer obeyed Adam and Eve. Even attempting to grow food would be a loathsome task and the ground would rebel by sending up inedible thorns instead (Genesis 3:17-19);
  • how will we ever be in a right relationship with God again? By repenting and acknowledging his rightful rule over us as our Creator and King. How will we ever be in right relationship with the rest of creation again? At present, the whole of creation is groaning as in pains of childbirth. Not only creation but us as well (Romans 22:18-25). But we have repented and turned back to acknowledging God and Jesus for who they are, we have been saved from eternal destruction by the death of Jesus so that at his second coming, we will be redeemed together with the rest of creation and rule over it as we were made to;
  • what do we make of "naturual disasters" now? We take them as a reminder of our own rebellion against God for the world rebels against us just as we rebelled against God. And in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus clearly warned his disciples that famines and earthquakes, along with wars and other ominous phenomena, would be the "birth pangs" of coming tribulation and judgment (Matthew 24). They remind us and warn us that we should not be deceived that this world is all there is. There will come a day when Jesus will return as the awful awesome judge and woe to you who are not in a right relationship with God then for you will be cut to pieces and there will be weeping and nashing of teeth (Matthew 24:51).
Victims of Disaster = Worse Sinners?
In Luke 13:4-5, after Jesus was asked to comment on an act of Roman-state-sponsored terrorism, he pointed out that 18 people had recently been killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Those people were no worse sinners than the other inhabitants of Jerusalem, Jesus said. When faced with a tragedy, the point is not to cast blame on either the victims specifically or on God. For God's point is that all should urgently learn from this that life is uncertain and no one knows when the Judgement Day will come: so it is wise to repent and acknowledge God as your king now (for he is already king over you), rather than putting it off until another day. Then, it will definitely be too late.

Mohler also points out usefully elsewhere that:
A faithful Christian response will affirm the true character and power of God-His omnipotence and His benevolence. God is in control of the entire universe, and there is not even a single atom outside His sovereignty. And God's goodness and love are beyond question. The Bible leaves no room for equivocation on either truth.

We must speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Scripture is silent. Christians must avoid offering explanations when God has not revealed an explanation. Finally, Christians must respond to a crisis like this by weeping with those who weep, by praying with fervent faithfulness, by offering concrete assistance in Christ's name and, most importantly, by bearing bold witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ-the only way to bring life out of death.
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