From the pulpit: Natural disasters are not our place to judge

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 18, 2005

During the past couple of weeks, there has been considerable local conversation about the presence of God as judge, jury and executioner in the storms that have demolished lives, homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast. The conversation is an important one, albeit a tad uncomfortable and a bit controversial. I have read reports of farfetched ideas from anti-abortion groups saying that just before Katrina hit south Louisiana, the storm took on the form of a 6-week-old fetus. Their point being that God struck the city of New Orleans as punishment for abortion clinics. I also read a quote from a Louisiana congressman, Richard Baker, &8220;We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.&8221; The point being … well, I’m not sure what his point was.

Closer to home, there has been a lot of press given to our State Sen. Hank Erwin, who pronounced that the sinful, idolatrous, gambling city of New Orleans simply got what it had coming

an angry God. And that, basically, it was too bad for all the innocent, God-fearing people who lived within the hurricane destruction distance of New Orleans. Perhaps they should have known better than to live that close to ruination.

I understand the attractiveness of such thinking. It’s brutally honest and savagely simple. We as humans do bad, and God visits even worse upon us to teach us a lesson. The biggest problem with such thought is that it is contrary to the whole of Biblical thought and the whole of Jesus’ work and ministry on earth as God incarnate. In other words, God in Jesus is neither brutal nor savage. God is not some vindictive, mean and gruesome swirling power that is waiting to demolish life and bring destruction.

The God that we come to know through the whole of Biblical thought, and particularly in the life and ministry of Jesus, is demonstrated in reconciling love and unconditional mercy for the purpose of reclaiming us and delivering us into a completed union with God. The ultimate word of judgment that God speaks is a word of mercy and grace, and it is spoken through the Word of God who came to save, not kill; heal, not wound; bind together, not tear apart; and deliver, not destroy.

So, how are Christ-followers supposed to respond? I put forward two options. We might want to begin by removing the idea that God purposely sends hurricanes, tsunamis or earthquakes to specific places. Maybe the better response is holding firm in the faith that in these natural disasters, which by the way strike places where there are no abortion clinics, casinos or public housing, God is present. And in the power of God at work through God’s people, good will come. How will that unfold? What will it look like? I don’t know. But it will come. And not because God has brought destruction, but because in Christ God has decided to bring salvation to creation.

The other response, it seems to me, is to fall prey to embracing the idea of an angry God waiting to mete out judgment that we deserve.

In which case, I probably better run home and gather my family and my precious belongings. I know not all is pure and holy there and I suspect that the same is true for you and your home.

And for the city of Alabaster, and every other place in all of creation. I suggest we read Romans 8 and then decide