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Wednesday, September 07, 2005 

Weighing In on Katrina

God Struck America
Land that I Love

With a heavy heart, I seek to lay out a few things that have struck me concerning the recent catastrophe in the Gulf region. My wife and I have already made small contributions toward relief, but there are still more to be made, and more decisions to be reached. As with anything so unprecedented as this disaster, these reflections will be (and should be) more raw and off the cuff, with less chance for reflection that they adequately deserve.

* * *

As my title makes clear, there is no doubt that God is behind the hurricane, God was riding on the hurricane as it destroyed the Gulf shore, and He received glory in its wild, chaotic sweep across the ocean and land. Make no mistake - Father, Christ, and Spirit drew the energy and winds across the ocean, spun the water and waves in the vortex of the typhoon, strode ashore in its destructive energy in Florida, dealt mercy to thousands in Florida, rode back out on the dark clouds into the Gulf of Mexico, increased the raging fury of the winds and the bite of the waves and the thundering pressure of the rains, and then crashed into the Gulf coast, dealing mercy and death to all that He was pleased to. God did this. Does calamity strike a city like New Orleans unless the Almighty has done it (Amos 3:6)? Who else holds together a chaos that is a hurricane if not the risen Christ (Colossians 1:16 - 17)? In the words of the hymn God Moves in Mysterious Ways by William Cowper:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

Or, lyrics from O Worship the King, a hymn written by favorite Isaac Watts:

O! tell of His might! O! sing of His grace, whose robe is the light, and canopy space!
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form, and dark is His path on the wings of the storm.
No, it will not do to say that God was not watching, that He wished He could have done something to stop it. Our God is an awesome God, and He is dangerous. In the wild fury and chaos of the storm, the impenetrable darkness and stinging, lashing rain, an important and priceless aspect of the character of our Lord is revealed. Our God is entroned on the hurricane, He is in His temple, let all the earth cry, "Glory!"

Let us learn to bless our sweet Jesus in harvest and hurricane; in sunshine and tsunami. All of life is opportunity to worship: with Job we have the opportunity to bless God or curse Him. May God give us the grace to look beyond a frowning providence and worship Him in Spirit and truth.

* * *

It is supreme folly to worry about which politicians did not do their duty, failed to live up to their requirements, or had foolishly engaged the country in other endeavors thus leading to the horrible incidents in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. I recently read an article by Michael Moore (director of the anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11) sarcastically prodding Bush with the disaster in New Orleans and implying the blame and incompetence were his fault. This sort of maligning is happening, it seems to me, at every level of the political hierarchy: the police, the city mayor, the legislature, the state government, and the federal level (especially Bush) were all incompetent and unprepared and directing funds and resources away from where they should have been going.

The first rule in all of this is that what the critics are saying may very well be true. We may come to find that the W. has committed massive crimes against America in all of this, and should be impeached. We may discover huge vice and grafting and political crookedness at various levels of Louisiana and Alabama civic positions. We could find that the GOP have been making key investments and political moves banking on the fact that someday something like Katrina would come crashing along, and they will get rich off of it. All of these things may come to be true. However, now is definitely not the time to sort these things out. Currently, America has a wonderful opportunity to unify and rally against a common antagonist, namely, the problems occuring on the Gulf coast. After this is completed, THEN let us deal with who was to blame. It would be foolhardy for an army, in the middle of a battle, to stop and ensue in an argument that divided the army in half. They surely would be conquered. Only after they win the war is there opportunity to deal with the original problem.

My personal guess is that when we finally sort everything out, we will find out that yes, President Bush and several others were all guilty of not being prepared at various levels. Then, we come to see that NO ONE was prepared at any level for this. Of course we were devoting resources towards Iraq. This foolish bickering on the part of certain parties that always have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight is ridiculous to listen to. Those in control should bear the brunt of criticism - they are, after all, wearing the mantle of leadership with its attendent responsibilities and priviledges. I know that personally, while I have spent more time praying for believers and survivors in the affected area, I have done little in tangible efforts to help. I suspect this is true of much the country (I know it is of my own personal sphere of influence). We should not be so quick to cast stones. Keep your hands empty that we may help the relief effort more.

* * *

The Christian response to this event is very important. We need to bear the responsibility of leading the culture in response to this event, teaching them in our own actions and attitudes how to respond. Where else will millions of pagan, children-of-wrath, unbelieving, unregenrate heathens learn to deal with this crisis if not the Church? This is why we are still on this earth, that God, in His divine and infinite patience, may have mercy on more for their repentance.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Galatians 6:9 - 10

While this may be controversial, I think it an obvious biblical teaching. The people who are to feel the benevolence and resources of Christ through the Church is... the Church. We support fellow believers before we support children of the serpent. Notice, Paul is quick to say that we are to support everyone. No one should take these comments to mean I or Christians do not care for others not of their own ilk. We do, and the early Church is replete with stories to that effect. We are the ones who do care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the disenfranchised (and it is about time the Christian church started living up to this name). However, first and foremost we are to care for children of God.

This should be more obvious the more we think about it. In airplanes, you are instructed to ensure oxygen to yourself in the event of an emergency first before you help children and those around you. This is not selfish; it ensures your ability to help others more efficiently. Why in the world would we send millions of dollars to people who are by nature selfish and sinful, and there is every chance in the world that they will graft off the donations, pocket some for themselves, use resources unwisely, and spend in a manner that reflects a materialistic worlview that doesn't include a Christ-centered eschatology? No, instead we ought to give to Christians, who ideally are less selfish and more others-centered, and will seek to distribute in God honoring and kingdom-centered means. This is the method Paul establishes. When the famine breaks out in Jerusalem, he does not take up a collection for various relief agencies. He intends the money from Gentile churches to go to Jewish churches. The money goes from one church to another. I do not think it a stretch to say Christians should give within their churches to churches that are suffering or are locationally placed to help the suffering. Finally, the opportunities to give a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, that is, to witness to Christ while distributing the monies, is only possible when the money comes from other Christians in relationships developed before or because of the hurricane. Red Cross won't lead a single soul to Christ.

On a different point, we do not speak the truth nor help the culture when we say that the hurricane is punishment on the sinful tendencies of New Orleans or the gambling district of Alabama, etc. While we must affirm the first statement above - that God is sovereign over Katrina - it is presumptuous to give reasons why. God brings rain and sunshine on the just and the unjust... and He does the same with hurricanes. There were several Gospel-centered, faithful churches and seminaries that felt more wrath from Katrina than did sinners and their establishments. So if the hurricane wasn't for punishment, why did God do it?

Luk 13:1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
Luk 13:2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?
Luk 13:3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Luk 13:4 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?
Luk 13:5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

The reason Katrina, 9/11, and towers fall is to teach us something, not to punish us. We all deserve our own personal Katrina every day. We are no better than any who perished in Katrina. Rather, disasters are a warning of the coming judgement, which will make Katrina seem tame in comparison. The key word Jesus uses here is "likewise." Jesus told them that unless they repented, they would all "likewise" perish. They did not repent, and forty years later (the length of a generation in those days) all of Jerusalem fell to the ground in A.D. 70. The destruction of Jerusalem (which Jesus prophecied on several times to verify His truthfulness) is a type of the eschatological destruction that is coming for all men. Every time a natural disaster hits, we are to do a reality check, and reevaluate how things are in our souls.

Finally, every time a hurricane or something hits, it didn't hit somewhere else. In other words, though the Gulf coast tasted God's wrath, Minnesota tasted His mercy. This wasn't the case during the Flood in Genesis. Then, everyone tasted God's wrath, except for Noah and his family. So every time a hurricane lands, we must give thanks for God's covenant faithfulness. New Orleans is flooded, but Minneapolis, MN is not. God has kept His promise.

* * *

Rebuilding will be slow and tedious, which is as it should be. We should not think or try to recover from this quickly. There was much that was beautiful in New Orleans that we shoul lament the loss of, and anything that can be salvaged should be. Any opportunities to help the Gulf coast region and help the economy should go together as much as possible. Doug Wilson offers an interesting suggestion:

In the early returns, it appears to me that there are two things that the various levels of government can do after the rescue operation is complete. The first is to redesign and rebuild the levee system to be able to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. The second thing the federal government should do -- if it is really serious about rebuilding this region of the country -- is to make a list of the devastated areas by zip code. Once the list is complete, the federal government should grant full and complete federal tax-exemption for five years to all businesses and individuals located in those zip code areas. And just watch what happens.

I think this idea has some merit to it. While I am certainly the least to offer economic advice, a time of furious rebuilding could have a profound affect on the economy. Here is a great chance at job explosion with returns for at least a decade. Non-taxable areas would certainly generate interest and business development. With a well-communicated, realistic phasing plan, companies started in the heyday would have ample opportunity to prepare to go back under taxation. Similarly, businesses that develop a branch or an arm to explicitly provide goods or services to said areas could also receive a kick-back or pension appropriate.

Finally, it would be wonderful to house some of the victims in our homes until their own homes are rebuilt. My pastor has spoken of the opportunity we have to bring these people away from the disaster, build and invest into them as much as possible, and then send them back with resources and spiritual nourishment to be a blessing in their original homes. God providentially used the Jewish expulsion from Rome, and He can use Katrina in a similar fashion.

* * *

Let us love on our wounded brothers and sisters, and break ourselves in helping them. I have several excellent quotes by Spurgeon, Machen, et al on the necessity of fighting for our doctrinal convictions when they come under fire. How much more so when it is our very flesh and blood, members of the body, that are under attack. If we have all things but do not have love for those currently suffering, we have nothing. Let us strive to love the victims of Katrina even as Christ has loved us.


Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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