Men have no pleasure (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company where there is no power able to overawe them all. … [W]ithout a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. … The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law… —Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651
Do not let sin control the way you live; … Instead, give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life. And use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you are no longer subject to the law, which enslaves you to sin. Instead, you are free by God’s grace. —Romans 6:12-14, NLT
No lights, no cooling, no food and water. Rumors flying; communication non-existent. Armed gangs roaming the streets. Explosions, fires, rising water. Dead bodies in the streets. No sanitation. No medical help. Not even a soft place to lie down to sleep.
New Orleans after Katrina was apocalyptic. I cannot begin to imagine the despair that must have spread like a plague through those stranded by the hurricane.
A horrific situation was made almost intolerable by the desertion of at least one-third of the New Orleans police force. Of those who remained on duty, many took cover in barricaded buildings, leaving the people they had sworn to serve and protect to fend for themselves.
When the police disappeared, civility and hope disappeared with them.
Thomas Hobbes observed that in the absence of a strong legal power, men and women will resort to the rule of “every man for himself.” When the city is rebuilt, the New Orleans Superdome should be renamed the Hobbesdome.
Naturally, the news media have headlined the most lurid of the stories: looting; snipers shooting at rescuers; mobs fighting over airdropped supplies; rapes and assaults. There can be no denying that these things happened. But I’m certain there’s more to the story.
I’m certain there were some who did not give in to despair.
I’m certain there were some who, despite the absence of the police, chose to obey a higher authority.
I’m certain there were men and women who, though they were hungry and thirsty and frightened and exhausted, chose to heed the calm, inner voice of their Father God through acts of kindness, generosity, selflessness and love.
I’m waiting to hear about those who did not lose faith, who did not succumb to the call of their baser instincts, whose words and actions were a source of light in a very dark time.
If you trust me, you are really trusting God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the darkness. —John 12:44-46, NLT (Jesus speaking)
Jesus claims to be our source of hope in desperate times. He claims to be our peace in moments of terror. He is calmness in chaos. He is wisdom in confusion. He is reassurance when panic sets in.
He also claims that we, ourselves, can be a light to each other.
In New Orleans and Biloxi and Pass Christian and Jefferson Parish, in every time and place of horror, God has people who shine with his light.
You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. —Matthew 5:14-16, NLT (Jesus speaking)
It would be easy to condemn the Big Easy and all who call it home, to tarnish every refugee with the actions of the few who embraced lawlessness. That would be a monstrous injustice. In the coming days and weeks and months, I’m certain we’ll begin to hear stories about men and women and children who, despite everything they had to endure, burned like candles in the darkness.
I want to hear those stories.