Was God in New Orleans?

About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were sacrificing at the Temple in Jerusalem.

rescue“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than other people from Galilee?” he asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will also perish unless you turn from your evil ways and turn to God.

“And what about the eighteen men who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will also perish.” —Luke 13:1-5, NLT (Jesus speaking)

Who is responsible for the death and destruction inflicted by hurricane Katrina? Did God send the hurricane?

Was Katrina God’s warning to abandon the shameless hedonism that New Orleans has made so famous?

Was Katrina the earth’s indictment against our national addiction to the petroleum we slurp from beneath the Gulf of Mexico?

If God is loving, if God is powerful, why didn’t he step in and protect his people from harm? Among the dead, the injured and the newly homeless, how many counted themselves as members of God’s family of faith? Why did he ignore them in their time of need?

When those eighteen men died in a tragic accident in Jerusalem, some said it was God’s judgment on their sins. Some are saying the same things about the people of New Orleans.

Jesus had a different interpretation: yes, the men were sinners, but they were no worse than anyone else in Jerusalem. If God had killed them as a judgment, why stop there? Why not wipe out the entire city?

If Katrina was neither a judgment against sin nor a heavenly shot-across-the-bow, we’re off the hook.

But God is not.

Many Christians believe that God has intervened in history at various times for various purposes. The whole Intelligent Design debate revolves around the premise that while the universe obeys a set of natural laws, God himself has sometimes “tweaked” those laws just to make things exactly right.

Assume the ID premise is true. If God has reached into creation to give life a helping hand, why not reach down and put the kibosh on a killer like Katrina?

The Scriptures only give us a few hints.

The world that God first created was perfect. In his love for men and women, God awarded us the ultimate proof of his love: free will. We accepted the gift and exercised our right to turn away from God, our creator.

This act of rebellion, this first sin, was more significant than we could ever have known. It not only ruptured the relationship between humanity and its creator, it warped and fractured the perfect world that God had created. The world itself broke as a consequence of our rebellion against God.

How is that possible? Perhaps God withdrew his personal intervention. Perhaps Richard Dawkins was partly correct—the watchmaker has not misplaced his creation, but merely stepped back, allowing it to wind down and corrode, granting it the freedom to fend for itself without interference from the one who created it.

Perhaps a consequence of free will is that we have been put in charge of a planet that we did not create and do not understand.

Therefore, Katrina was not so much a punishment as a natural consequence of the choices we have made to rebel against God.

You may not know why God permits a given evil, and you’re not going to find out in most cases. But you do know this: He’s in it with us. He’s willing to put up with suffering, too. … He himself pays a price. Maybe a price greater than any of us pays. Maybe a price we can’t even grasp.

I read the Bible this time of year, about the Passion story and Christ willing to come down and suffer and die, and I find it overwhelmingly attractive and powerfully affecting and it just seems to be right. —Philosopher Alvin Plantinga, as quoted by Richard Ostling

God had a backup plan: Jesus re-entered history. He lived the gritty, sweaty life of a Jewish carpenter and itinerant preacher. He gave himself up to the Romans to be tortured and executed. He suffered horribly, and his suffering was in fact a punishment, a judgment, by God his father. Jesus was not punished for anything he did—the Scriptures say he lived a life of perfect obedience to God. He was punished for your sin, and mine.

God has not chosen to eradicate pain and suffering and natural disaster. Instead, he has shared in that pain with us. At first glance, it seems an odd response to a broken world.

But it’s a response that grows out of love. And in the end, this love has the power to overcome the world’s pain and suffering.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. —John 16:33, NLT (Jesus speaking)

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  1. Thanks for the reminder; a very thoughtful response to an unthinkable tragedy.

    In His everlasting grace,


  2. Good piece. I just blogged on a similar subject this afternoon. I find it funny that those who claim Katrina is God’s judgment never seem to worry about the small catastrophes like the tower collapse Jesus talked about. I also find it amusing/sad that they think they can tell when something is God’s judgment and when it’s not.

  3. It’s called “Joe’s Fearless Prognostications.” Everyone’s an expert.

    Thank you again for sound reason and biblical insight, Charlie.

  4. Even though some people are opposed to the idea of judgment as an explanation for Katrina, I hope all keep in mind that some day, maybe last week, God’s judgments for sin will begin in earnest. Revival for America might be delayed until America sees itself as filthy in the sight of God. The American church and America as a country have received so much from God, yet we live in a state of unrepentence for personal and national sin making excuses for both. God’s holiness is much misunderstood by me and those who might dismiss Katrina as a natural disaster apart from the providence and sovereignty of God.

  5. enjoyed your comments…I think we need to look at tragedies like Hurricane Katrina in the eternal perspective. These are the last days, and God will allow things to happen that will soften our hearts and turn us to Him. Not only is this a test to see if we will remember Him, but to see if we will reach out in compassion to those in need, just as Jesus would have done.

  6. A day or two before Katrina hit, a gay acquaintance of mine who works out at my gym in Chicago told me that he was planning to attend the Southern Decadence in New Orleans. I had never heard of the event and asked him what it was. What he shared made me sick to my stomach. If he was correct in his explanation, Southern Decadence goes beyond decadence and even debauchery—an event that worships genitalia and sodomy. 100,000 gay men and lesbians were expected to attend Southern Decadence. Katrina hit two days before the event was to begin. Think of the added loss of life and misery had it hit during Southern Decadence. The fact that it did not is proof of God’s mercy and grace. When it comes to sharing the Gospel, homosexuals are the most unreached people group in America and perhaps the world—we are far more ready to send a missionary to a third-world country then take the message of salvation to a gay neighborhood. I pray that Katrina will be used to wake up the evangelical church to take the Gospel to the untold millions of men and women who Satan has deceived into believing that they are gay – and introduce them to the One who died for them and can change their lives!

  7. The Virtual Bible Study” this week (Thursday at 8pm Central time) will center on the question: DID GOD SEND THE HURRICANE TO PUNISH THE GULF COAST?

    You can listen to the program by going to http://www.Collegevue.com and follow the link to “The Virtual Bible Study”. Your participation is encouraged via phone calls and/or email.

    Join us for this important study!


  8. I don’t understand the idea that nature was warped by mankind’s sin, and that that’s why the we have natural disasters. Would proponents of this view claim that there were no earthquakes, tsunami or hurricanes before Adam sinned? As a scientist, I would find that hard to believe. Scientifically, it seems clear to me that the Earth had a long history of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and hurricanes prior to the existence of mankind. The geologic record provides evidence of faults that moved millions of years ago (presumably generating earthquakes), long before Adam sinned. Unless you want me to keep my scientific mind in a separate compartment from theology, then it seems I must conclude that earthquakes are NOT a sign of imperfection in or warping of God’s creation that resulted from mankind’s sin, since they were occurring before mankind even existed.

    So then why did God create a world for us to live in that is not safe? I don’t claim to have an answer to that question. I do take comfort in the fact that, through Christ, God suffers with us, as Charlie pointed out in his quote from Alvin Plantinga. Further insight came to me from a friend who is in Alcolholics Anonymous. He often talked about how helping others was very important in his own recovery. When I was struggling to comprehend why God would create a world in which a tsunami could kill nearly 300,000 people in a single day, this friend pointed out to me that if we lived in a world that was completely safe and trouble-free, we would never have an opportunity to learn how to help one another.

    For those who are struggling with the question of why God allows evil to occur, I would recommend Chapter 4 in John Hick’s book Philosophy of Religion (Prentice-Hall, 1990). It was there that I learned that the idea that the very fabric of nature was warped by humankind’s sin was St. Augustine’s (354-430 AD) answer to this question. The answer suggested by my friend– that human qualities that we value (courage, generosity, kindness, unselfishness, etc.) can only be developed in a world where real danger, pain and uncertainty exist– was originally proposed by St. Irenaeus (c.130-c.202 AD). In the words of John Hick (p. 44), Irenaeus suggested that “human beings were brought into existence as intelligent animals endowed with the capacity for immense moral and spiritual development. They were not the perfect pre-fallen Adam and Eve of the Augustinian tradition, but immature creatures, at the beginning of a long process of growth. In the second stage of their creation, which is now taking place, they are gradually being transformed through their own free responses from human animals into ‘children of God.'” In this view, God did not design the world as a paradise that was subsequently broken by sin, but rather, God designed it for the purpose of transforming humans into God’s likeness.

    Augustine sees all evil as either sin or the punishment for sin. Irenaeus sees pain and suffering as a necessary tool in God’s mission of transforming humankind and sculpting us into the kind of caretakers of his creation that he desires us to be. Much of the pain and suffering in the world does appear to me to be a direct consequence of human greed, selfishness and short-sightedness, but not in Augustine’s sense of original sin warping the fabric of nature. Rather, the collapse of the tower of Siloam may have been due to shoddy construction– the sin of not exercising care and attention in one’s work, not treating everything one does as being done in the name of the Lord (Colossians 3:17). Similarly one could, I suppose, view at least part of the devastation of hurricane Katrina as due to human sin– the sin of not respecting the power of the natural world that God created. God is not tame, nor is his creation, apparently. Much of the city of New Orleans was built below sea level, and it was known for a long time prior to hurricane Katrina that the levees were not capable of withstanding a category 4 or 5 hurricane. Much of the destruction could have been prevented. This is not to say that humans are capable of preventing all evil. In the words of John Hick (p. 45), “In practice it is often impossible to trace a boundary between the suffering that results from human wickedness and folly and that which befalls humanity from without; both are inextricably mingled in our experience.”

  9. Thanks for your excellent comments. I’d like to say something about the idea that nature was “warped,” as I put it, by Adam’s sin.

    On the one hand, you’re absolutely right about the role of geological forces and weather in the formation of the earth. We know that volcanism was much more active in the young earth than it is today, and the geological record shows continental movement, uplift and submergence of massive areas of land, etc.

    The question becomes how literally to interpret Genesis 2 and 3. And, Romans 8:18-25. Verses 20 and 21: “Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God’s curse. All creation anticipates the day when it willl join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” (NLT)

    In Genesis and Romans, there is an implication that the earth itself was “cursed” by God, which suggests things were somehow different prior to that curse.

    Was there a time of quiescence in the Garden as God walked with man and woman on the earth? Or is this figurative language intended to communicate a deep sense of longing for the day when God will make all things perfect?

    Frankly, I’m not certain. I think it’s an interesting question, among many others.

    I never feel that our faith in God is at all threatened by scientific curiousity and rigorous scientific exploration. By no means should you keep your scientific mind separate from your faith.

    But neither should you march in lockstep to the sometimes narrow interpretations of the evidence by the scientific community.

    e.g. this quote by Richard Dawkins in Salon, 30/apr/05:

    “There is just no evidence for the existence of God. … So the relevance of evolutionary biology to atheism is that evolutionary biology gives us the only known mechanism whereby the illusion of design, or apparent design, could ever come into the universe anywhere.”

    Embrace the discoveries of science, but view them through the lens of faith that believes there is a loving and creative God who is the author and perfector of the universe.

  10. Good for you Charlie, too bad some of your readers missed the point. Did God send hurricane Katrina to punish gays in New Orleans? No more than he sent Ivan to punish Bush voters in Florida. Think a little about the fact that hurricanes have been spawning and hitting these parts for millions of years, well before Europeans colonized North America. BTW, Canada legalized gay marriage but since God the “all powerful” only has natural means of exacting wrath on “sinners” he can’t reach them there with either a hurricane or an earthquake. What a bummer, eh?

  11. Franklin Graham, no staunch fundamentalist, has been mocked and besmirched because he both publicly and in church settings suggested that Katrina’s attack upon New Orleans may have been God’s way of calling for revival in a city known for its sin, immorality, witchcraft, voodoo, homosexuality, drunkenness etc. Diane Sawyer smugly insinuated that such an idea of God judging a city was unthinkable! Why? Because God missed the target allowing the French Quarter to remain above water while flooding the houses of worship! Others all across the news media, including the conservative Fox News Channel, have suddenly become armchair theologians pointing out the Scripture Luke 13:1-5 that to them seemingly says that Jesus is not in the business of saying that one set of sinners is any worse than another. The tower of Siloam, they say, was just faulty construction and had nothing to do with judgment from God. (They totally miss the context of that passage which has Jesus clearly pointing out that sinners certainly WILL BE JUDGED in the last part of the passage they quote!)

    Political correctness has now invaded the religious thought of America so much that one is asking for ridicule if one even suggests that God could possibly be involved in any of man’s affairs—unless it is in a positive-only way. We just can’t have a God who is disappointed, much less angered, at men’s sin. Look, it’s simply a question of whether you want to believe God’s revealed Word (the Bible) or whether you want to assign your own attributes to God according to your own logic. Everyone has an opinion of whether God would judge sin or not, and we are entitled to that opinion as Americans, but opinion does not change almighty God.

    Will God judge individuals or cities or nations? In Genesis 3:14, because of sin, God judged Adam and Eve, nature, agriculture, etc. In Genesis 6:5, 13 we are specifically told that wickedness was the reason that God decided to judge the world with a flood of total destruction of all but righteous Noah and his family. God judged the Canaanites for their sinfulness. He judged Annanias and Sapphira for lying to Him in Acts chapter 5. God judged Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness in Genesis 19. He judged King Nebuchadnezzar for his pridefulness in the Book of Daniel. God judged the Northern Kingdom of Israel through their capture by Assyria and He judged the Southern Kingdom of Judah through being captured by the Babylonians and the seventy year deportment. God judged the sins of mankind on the back of His innocent Son, Jesus. He judged King David for his sin of adultery. And by the way, it was David’s innocent baby born of the adulterous affair who died in that judgment. So much for the theory that God’s judgment cannot have consequences for innocent people.

    Even the prolific Christian writer, Tony Campolo misses this simple truth because he wants to create a God that suits his politically correct philosophy by saying that God would not consider New Orleans more sinful than any other city. Rubbish! The Bible is filled with many more instances where God judges sinful cities, nations, lands, peoples, and practices. Now, believe what you want about God, but the clear biblical evidence is this—“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7.

    I did not receive a phone call from God intimating to me that Katrina was His judgment on New Orleans. But don’t you think it’s a little arrogant for the “non-judgment” crowd to be so dogmatic that it would be absurd for anyone to suggest that God is involved in the world? What kind of Christian believes that God just set the earth in motion in eons past and never intervenes? What good would prayer be in that case? If God did not intervene by sending Jesus to be the substitute for the sins of mankind, where is any possible salvation for the soul?

    The conclusion of the matter is this: one can trust his own logic or he can trust God’s revealed Word in the Bible. One of those two has veto power. Which one is it?

  12. “My thoughts are not your thoughts” said God. Therefore, all believers just continue to stay obedient and do His will. Disasters will come, so let them. We want to find reasons, and we came out with what we all know according to evidences. So, it is human for us to put things aside if we have not good reasons or evidences to support. Big problem is when we have the evidences, we tend to cling on to them as the ‘glories of our intelligent mind’. But still, God said, “My thoughts are not yours”. So let us wait upon God for each of our life path. Do not be anxious of what tomorrow might entail. Trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not unto our own evidences. Let all disasters come as they should, just like Stephen, it did not really matter as he did understand through God’s wisdom why he was being stoned. But we all still continue to live our lives abundantly in His sight. Fear not death, as Christ has conquered death. Pray without ceasing for our day to day living depends on God’s providence. Sodom is still all around us. But the Lord decides. I would chose not to ‘understand’, as having wordly wisdom to do so is ever complicating. Be like little children, and be approved by God. Amen. Richard HL Lim

  13. In your essay you say that man has the “right” to reject God. I agree that we can reject Him, but to say that any of us have God-given “rights” seems a bit audacious, maybe even arrogant. God gave us the free will to reject Him, thereby making His love for us and our love for Him more valuable somehow. That we live in a post-Eden fallen world completely explains why any bad thing happens to any of us. I’m thankful that we have Him to help us through those bad times.

  14. Robert Carter says

    The God of the Old Testament is a monster, pure and simple. He kills with a lust and pleasure that is the definition of Evil.

    Thank the heavens that our Lord Jesus Christ came to defeat this creature of darkness, strike him down, and bind him forever with his love.

    Now all that remains is for Christ to bind the minions of older darkness, like Mr. Graham, who still invoke its name… and mistakenly call him by Jesus’ name.


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