Some Christians are already thundering from their pulpits that Hurricane Katrina is God's wrath against America's immorality. Wrong
, says Tony Campolo in an excellent article at Beliefnet
A brief surf around the internet shows a lot of Christian groups claiming that the hurricane was God’s judgment against New Orleans. Here’s a small sampling, from an August 31st entry
on Salon.com’s political blog:The real cause of Hurricane Katrina?Sometimes, it's hard to keep up.
We reported last night on the cause of Hurricane Katrina -- at least in the eyes of an antiabortion group called Columbia Christians for Life. The storm, the group says, is God's way of punishing Louisiana for having 10 abortion clinics.
Well, at least that's what the Columbia Christians for Life were saying yesterday. We've just received another e-mail from the group, and now it seems to be saying that God sent Katrina after Louisiana to prevent Southern Decadence, an annual gay-themed bash that was scheduled for Labor Day weekend in New Orleans.
The Columbia Christians for Life forwarded to us a press release from a Philadelphia-based outfit called Repent America. In it, Repent America director Michael Marcavage explains: "Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city. From 'Girls Gone Wild' to 'Southern Decadence,' New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. May it never be the same." -- from the War Room blog by Tim Grieve, Salon.com
Tony Campolo addresses such disgusting sermonizing in his Beliefnet article
. I encourage you to read it. An excerpt:. . . But when the Bible tells us about the grace of God, it is giving us the good news that our loving God does not give us what we truly deserve. Certainly, God would not create suffering for innocent people, who were--for the most part--Katrina’s victims. Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. . .
That acknowledgement may land Campolo in hot water with his fellow evangelicals! He ends his article with a call to compassionate response:Instead of looking for God in the earthquake or the tsunami, in the roaring forest fires blazing in the western states, or in the mighty winds of Katrina, it would be best to seek out a quiet place and heed the promptings of God’s still small voice. That voice will inspire us to bring some of God’s goodness to bear in the lives of those who suffer.
Earlier this year, on January 1, I wrote an entry on this blog
about some of the theological questions raised by the tsunami in Asia which claimed over 140,000 lives. In response to an article that said “There is no God in this disaster,” this is what I wrote:
As a panentheist
, I believe that all things are in God, and God is in all things. So I do believe God was in the tsunami -- but that doesn't mean that God caused the tsunami. I believe God can bring good out of bad events, but it doesn't necessarily follow that God caused the bad events in order to bring about the good.
The search for meaning in tragic events, or in the face of outright evil, is as old as the books of Job and Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Scriptures. There will always be those who seek to find blame for disasters -- as Jerry Falwell did following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when he said: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" (Later, of course, Falwell "apologized
" and said he didn't really mean what he had said.)
Jesus himself was confronted with those who sought to find such blame, even from among his own disciples:As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7, ESV)
Jesus' disciples assumed, wrongly, that since this man had been born blind, someone must have sinned -- either the man (before birth?) or his parents. They had to find someone to blame. But Jesus didn't buy into their blaming. He didn't have time to engage in finding blame but emphasized "working the works" of God who had sent him. In other words, action -- compassionate response -- is what's needed, not blaming. Using the elements of the earth, Jesus healed the man. Jesus calls himself "the Light of the World" in this story, but elsewhere (Matthew 5:14-16
) he reminds us that we -- all of us -- are the Light of the World. And we are all called to let that divine light within us shine forth, and to respond to events we can't understand with acts of compassion, not reasoning or blaming.