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:
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary