Some of the most irresponsible, wrong-headed, and downright foolish things I have heard in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation have come from the mouths of Christian leaders. Not quite as bad as one preacher’s quip about assassinating the elected leader of another country, they nevertheless reveal a dark side to the theology of some people that paints a sinister look on the face of the Christian religion. On the face of God. That picture is repulsive. “This happens in our country when we have taken God out of our schools and God out of society,” said one evangelist in a TV interview. “We don’t have a moral standard.” So why did church buildings get leveled? Why were inner-city ministries to New Orleans prostitutes, homeless people, and hungry children stopped in their tracks? Why such indiscriminate devastation and suffering?
And does anybody really think New Orleans is the seat of our nation’s moral confusion? Tsunamis, hurricanes, and house fires are natural phenomena that occur for a variety of reasons. To add a layer of guilt to what the victims of those tragedies have experienced is to add (spiritual) insult to (bodily) injury!
But didn’t God use a flood in Noah’s day? Send judgment on Sodom? Overthrow Nineveh? Yes, but only after graciously sending a specific prophet with a clear advance warning and giving people the opportunity of repentance and escape. He didn’t send a prophet after the fact to figure out only then what a disaster meant or who its real target was.
Has anybody read the Book of Job? While we humans often bring anguish on ourselves, that is too glib an answer to explain all suffering!
During his ministry among humankind, Jesus spoke to this sort of thing time and again. When some fellow-Galileans were assaulted and killed by thugs under Pontius Pilate, he rebuked the idea that they were somehow being punished by God. He held the same view of eighteen people who died in a construction accident in Jerusalem. And a fellow who had been blind from birth.
For anybody who thinks the way to “lead people to the light” is to work at scaring them to death with images of a vicious God tossing thunderbolts and pouring the waters of Lake Pontchartrain over the poorest sections of New Orleans, I beg to differ. That’s mythical Zeus. Not God made flesh in Jesus.
Christians do well to unite with all people of goodwill to show mercy. We only look foolish and offend God by turning storms into political commentary.