Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina: Was It A Judgment of God?

I've been looking around the blogosphere recently and finding many posts that reflect on whether or not Katrina might have been a judgment on the city of New Orleans. First of all, I want to express my profound sympathy for those hurt in this tragic event. The hurt continues and as many in the blogosphere have pointed out, as Christians it is our primary responsibility, in the wake of this horror, to reach out and help. This shows forth the love of Christ.

Nevertheless, at the risk of being politically incorrect, I do want to examine a little further the idea of whether or not Katrina could be a judgment of God. Of course, it sounds callous, presumptuous and even vengeful for Christians to make public pronouncements that Katrina definitely is a judgment of God. Especially if they do so in a way that seems to say that New Orleans or the other people affected by Katrina somehow are more deserving of such a retributive act of God than others. Of course they are not. In arguing against this idea of Katrina as judgment, a number of blogs quote the biblical passage that also comes to my mind when such terrible events occur:

Luke 13: 1-5
"There were some present at that very time who told him (Jesus) about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."


The blogs I have encountered use this passage to argue that it is not right for Christians to presume that Katrina was a judgment specifically intended for the people of New Orleans, since what Jesus seems to be saying in this passage is that we are all equally sinful before God. Although I agree that Jesus does imply that we are all equally sinful before God, it seems to me that many who have quoted at this passage neglect another important part of it, that is, the conclusion Jesus makes: "repent,(or) you will all likewise perish".

I agree with many that it is presumptuous to definitively label Katrina a judgment of God; but could it not be equally presumptuous to claim that it is not? The way I interpret Jesus' response to his questioners is this: since we are no less sinners than those who have been visited with such tragic events, we too may be in danger of such acts of God happening to us. Is that not clearly what Jesus is saying? How do we avoid such a calamity, according to our Lord? Only by repenting.

Another relevant passage is the one where the disciples ask Jesus: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John 9: 2-5)

In the above passage, I believe Jesus is showing that there is not always a direct causal relationship between personal sins and bad things happening to us. Taken together with the Luke passage, I believe Jesus is showing that the effects of sin are with us, whether we have sinned personally or not. He is not however, negating the idea that our sins might put us in danger of the wrath of God (in fact, quite the opposite, it seems to me).

Then also some blogs I read pointed to the story of Job, and/or verses from Ecclesiastes, to make the argument that the just may suffer while the unrighteous prosper but that in his inscrutable wisdom, "all things work together for good", "for those who love God" (Romans 8:28).

I agree that the story of Job shows us that Job's friends were completely wrong in their notion that Job's suffering was caused by some specific sin(s) in his life and therefore, Job merited what had happened to him. Likewise, Ecclesiastes also shows us that life is a mysterious thing; we can't know our future, and we certainly do not understand the ways of God. Part of this mystery is that, at times, the wicked seem to prosper, while the righteous are punished.

Taking these various truths together, it is right to be very humble before God when an event like Katrina happens. Life is mysterious. God's ways are hard to understand. We can't always look at events and easily interpret their meaning. Therefore we should be careful of making ignorant pronouncements, such as those made by Job's friends. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And sometimes, as Jesus talks about, bad things happen to sinful people, and that should be taken as a warning to us. We are probably no less sinners than anyone impacted by Katrina. We should thank God for His mercies to us, and heed the warning of Jesus in the face of such events: to repent.

Part of this repentance means to reach out, with His love, to help those who have suffered, in whatever capacity we can. In this way, we do the work of the Father and become good representatives of the light of Jesus.

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