God and Hurricane Katrina – Part 3

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina has inflicted the kind of human suffering that is hard to express with words. Katrina produced so much suffering and misery that people feel lost and disconnected. In the midst of the tragedy in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama, people have asked many times: where was God in all of these events? Why did God allow these things to happen?

A few days ago, I heard a commentator on National Public Radio giving his views on events that followed Katrina. He was in a restaurant when he saw a couple holding hands to give thanks for their meal. In their prayer, the couple gave thanks to God for the food they were about to eat and for the many blessings God had bestowed upon them. Then, the couple prayed for the people suffering in New Orleans. They asked that God would provide them with food, help, and comfort.

The commentator asked himself: “What kind of God is this who blesses this couple but did not bless the people of New Orleans? What kind of God would give food to a middle class couple but would deprive thousands of poor people of food? I don’t want or need this kind of God.”

These were harsh words. How can we understand what happened in New Orleans and yet believe that God is good? For us to understand the tragedy of New Orleans, first, we must understand the nature of the God of the Bible.

The Bible says: “The Lord your God, is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:13). This description of God shows him to be a God who has a deep concern for needy people, just as parents are compassionate toward their children.

The goodness of God toward human beings is affirmed throughout the Bible: “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). The Bible also teaches that God loves us with a special love, since we are the work of his hands. The mercy of God, as displayed in his work of salvation, is manifested to those who are in distress and to those who are afflicted and in need of help.

Another fact that we must grasp, if we desire to understand the tragedy caused by hurricanes, is the reality of sin. In our days people don’t like to talk about sin; they don’t even want to discuss the possibility that sin is present in the world. But sin exists and every human being is a sinner. Because we are sinners, we also have to acknowledge that we live in a world that has been corrupted by sin.

When God created the world, he saw all that he had made and “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). But sin affected the original creation of God, and earth came to be under a curse. The prophet Isaiah wrote: “Earth is polluted by its very own people, who have broken its laws, disrupted its order, violated the sacred and eternal covenant. Therefore a curse, like a cancer, ravages the earth. Its people pay the price of their sacrilege. They dwindle away, dying out one by one” (Isaiah 24:4-6).

The destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina seems to be inconsistent with the fact that God is loving, good, and merciful. God did not create a world in a degraded condition. The reality of sin has caused the corruption of nature and all of us who live in this world groan as a result of the sinfulness of human beings.

Sin has polluted earth and has subjected the whole creation to corruption and degradation. Today evil and misery prevail and we, together with the whole creation, are witnesses of what sin can do to God’s good creation.

The whole creation is in a state of degradation. The apostle Paul speaks of the redemption of creation: “Creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:21-22).

This is why the Bible says that at the second coming of Christ there will be a new heaven and a new earth. On that day of redemption, creation will be delivered from the degradation that affects every living thing in this world. Thus, when Jesus comes, creation will be restored to that ideal condition that existed when God created all things. Creation mourns because our sins have defiled God’s good creation, but God’s grace will bring healing to his creation.

But, how about Hurricane Katrina? Jesus said that before the coming of the last days there would be signs in the skies. He said: “And there will be strange events in the skies–signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And down here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. The courage of many people will falter because of the fearful fate they see coming upon the earth, because the stability of the very heavens will be broken up” (Luke 21:25-26).

The roaring seas caused by hurricanes create anguish because people know the devastation a hurricane produces. Jesus said that roaring seas and strange tides are signs of the last days. However, if Hurricane Katrina caused all this agony today, what will happen when the seas and winds roar with much greater force before Christ’s second coming?

Jesus spoke of coming distress here on earth. He said people will faint with fear and trembling when disaster strikes. But when disasters happen, it does not mean that God has lost control over His creation. Some people believe that these natural events demonstrate that God is not in control of his creation. But in natural disasters we learn how devastating is the consequence of evil.

When confronted with the problem of evil and the pain and suffering associated with it, our greatest comfort is to discover that in Christ we meet a God who suffers with us, for us, and because of us. God is not indifferent to the hurt of the people: “I weep for the hurt of my people. I am stunned and silent, mute with grief” (Jeremiah 8:21).

The real answer to tragedies such as Katrina is the cross of Calvary because there our pain and suffering meet divine love. There, as we look at the one who was an innocent sufferer, we hear the words that bring healing to our broken hearts: “I care.” Jesus’ loving care is expressed in the poem written by Frank E. Graeff:

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained,
Too deeply for mirth and song;
As the burdens press and the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

O yes, He cares; I know He cares,
His heart is touched by my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

Other Posts on Hurricane Katrina:

God and Hurricane Katrina – Part 1

God and Hurricane Katrina – Part 2

God and Hurricane Katrina – Part 3

The Looting of New Orleans

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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4 Responses to God and Hurricane Katrina – Part 3

  1. Justin says:

    written on 9/24/2005

    Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina we see that the gospel of Jesus Christ and the cross is still offensive to many people. The Bible says, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; and he who believes in him shall not be ashamed. To you, therefore who believes, he is precious. But to them who are disobedient, the stone that the builders rejected, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, to them who stumble at the word, being disobedient. [1 Peter 2:6-8; Romans 9:33] So, how is it that we clearly see the offense of the gospel in the aftermath of Katrina? By the mouths of several so-called Christian spokespeople, who are preaching that God had executed judgment on New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast for their wickedness (a la Sodom and Gomorrah). The offense is clearly seen from the righteous and unveiled side of the cross where we are rejoicing in God’s mercy through Jesus–and not His judgment as some others are. The reason being is that these people are vicariously executing their own sense of justice (or what they would do if they were God) totally without even considering the message of the gospel and the meaning of the cross. Even worse, they have degraded the suffering that Jesus endured–and have trampled upon the Son of God as it is written in Hebrews 10:29, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, a unholy thing and has done [it] despite the Spirit of grace. Brothers and sisters in Christ, and those that do know yet know Him, I beg you by the mercies of God that you understand this simple truth. God has judged the world and found it and everyone in it guilty. Because of His great love for us, God, instead of executing His full wrath upon all mankind, sent His Son Jesus into the world to suffer rejection, torture, and to die upon a cursed cross, and suffer the penalty of judgment, which we deserved, which was separation from God, and to take the sin of the entire world upon His body, being made a curse for us, so that we would have a way to be reconciled to God, the gift of eternal life by placing our complete trust in what Jesus did. And after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven to forever sit at the right hand of the God, living ever to make intercession for us, being the mediator of the new covenant established and confirmed by His precious blood. Brothers and sisters, knowing this, was the suffering and shed blood of the Son of God not enough to stay God’s execution of judgment? Did it only serve to appease the angry God of the Old Testament for 2,000 years? Apparently, in the minds of some in the religious world, it wasn’t. By saying that God is executing judgment with a hurricane, they are saying that the precious blood of our Lord and Savior, the sinless Lamb of God, the only human being ever to live without sin, who willingly laid down His life for us, was not enough to satisfy God’s wrath. And herein is the offense of the cross because the sacrifice of Jesus was more than enough to completely destroy sin and wipe out all transgressions that were against us through the law, nailing it to His cross [Colossians 2:14]. What the gospel teaches is that the whole world is guilty before God; and therefore we are all on a level playing field. Consequently “saintly” folks like Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul, Billy Graham, and even the apostles are no more worthy (or less worthy) to receive forgiveness than the likes of Adolf Hitler, Ghengis Khan, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or the BTK killer, or any raping, murdering, child molester who has ever been born. Again, this truth is what offends religious people who think their works make them worthy and a “good choice” for God’s redemption, while they look down their noses upon people who otherwise are not walking with the same piety. The apostle Paul sharply scolded those religious people who judge others while they themselves commit the same offenses. Romans 2:1 says, Therefore you are inexcusable, O man whosoever you are who judges. For wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself because you that judges another, you do the same things. Let me remind you of what is written in James 2:10, For whosoever shall keep the whole law, yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. Consequently, you religious people who think the city of New Orleans received judgment for its transgressions, you are even more guilty because not only are you guilty and deserving of punishment, but you, thinking you are escaping the judgment of God while boasting in your own goodness and position, you will actually have a worse fate than they because as the Bible says, But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them who commit such things. And you think this O (religious) man, who judges them who do such things, and you do the same that you shall escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his (God’s) goodness and forebearanace and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? [Romans 2:2-4] In truth, anyone who thinks God has judged any country, place, or people since the death and resurrection of Christ is despising the goodness of God. Religious people just cannot bring themselves to the understanding that the worst vile person on this earth is just as worthy as they are of having relationship with God, being blessed, and healed, and prospered and totally forgiven. Although no one would actually admit this, but their words, when they make such claims about Hurricane Katrina, 911, and the Pacific Tsunami being God’s judgment, betray what is in their hearts. They are offended. When I was a police officer and did not know the Lord, I was offended when I heard that some serial killer had been born again in prison and had given his life to Jesus Christ. It disgusted me to think that this evil and wicked person would have even been given the chance to repent because of what he had done. My words were, “If that scum bag gets to go to Heaven, then I don’t want to be there.” According to Scripture, I was despising the goodness of God. Wow, was I deceived! The cross and the gospel of Jesus Christ was an offense at the time of Jesus, and still is today; and it is just as destructive because it comes from the mouths of our so-called “leaders” in the church. Jesus said this in Luke 13 in response to being told about the Galileans whose blood Roman Governor Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Do you suppose that these Galileans were sinners above all Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, No, but except you repent you shall likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and slew them, do you think they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No, but except you repent, you shall likewise perish. Jesus is teaching us that we cannot judge someone’s level of sinfulness based on what is or has happened in their lives–as if punishment and reward were distributed proportionate to a person’s wickedness or goodness. If this were true, wouldn’t a country like Haiti and the Sudan, or any Muslim nation have been destroyed long ago? Or wouldn’t a city like Las Vegas or Hollywood have been leveled by now? Rather, Jesus is teaching us not to judge another person, but focus on your own relationship with God or you will perish as well. Did New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast deserve the destruction it received? Not really. In fact, it deserved much more. I believe Sodom and Gomorrah paled in comparison to what goes on in many of our cities. But thanks be to God who doesn’t give us what we deserve, but has given us grace, mercy, and forgiveness because of the covenant in Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered so that God would have no more floods as in the days of Noah, or destruction like Sodom and Gomorrah. His anger is stayed; His wrath appeased as it is written in Isaiah 54:8-10, In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah to me. For I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, and my kindness shall not depart from you; neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed from you, says the Lord who has mercy on you.And in Hebrews 10:16, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them. And their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.As long as the true gospel is preached, people will be offended by it. For you who are offended by this letter and thus by the gospel of peace, you have your reward. Because the Bible speaks to them who refuse to humble themselves, despising the gospel, He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment do you suppose shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, a unholy thing and has done [it] despite the Spirit of grace? [Hebrews 10:28-29] I write these things not to intending to be harsh, but for your encouragement in the love of God in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, I am in no way suggesting that there are no consequences for sin. The Bible is clear when it says Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap. For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall reap of the Spirit life everlasting. [Galatians 6:7-8] This verse speaks of personal judgments or consequences of a person’s actions (good or bad) not the sin of a city, state, or region. It is the unconditional love and goodness of God that draws us to Him, so I ask you to meditate upon His love and rejoice in the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God extended to everyone through Jesus Christ, with all thanksgiving that God is not the author of destruction, but of life, joy, and peace. Finally, under the New Covenant, God’s method of correction with His children is through His revealed Word of God. This is supported by Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 10:11). May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Other Scriptures that support this teaching:Romans 5:18 Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation. Even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. John 5:22-27 For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son [so] that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honors not the Son honors not the Father who has sent him. For as the Father has life in himself; so has he given [life] to the Son to have life in himself. And [he] has given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.Isaiah 53:4 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement [punishment] of our peace [with God] was [placed] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. Galatians 3:13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs upon a tree. 2 Corinthians 5:21 For he [God] has made him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Mark 15:34 And in the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying Eloi, Eloi, lama sa-bachtha-ni? Which is being interpreted, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?Romans 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. Hebrews 9:24-28 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest enters into the holy place every year with blood of others. For then must he [Jesus] often have suffered since the foundation of the world. But now once in the end of the world he has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of man; and unto them that look for him he shall appear the second time without sin unto salvation.Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

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  2. Jeffrey says:

    Dr. Claude Mariottini,

    Good Biblical writing. Thank you

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  3. Jeffrey,

    Thank you for your nice words. I am glad you enjoyed the post.

    Claude Mariottini

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  4. Pingback: God and Hurricane Katrina – Part 2 | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

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