For several weeks now the images have been ashing across our television sets, have been seen on the front pages of our newspapers, and are now emblazoned on our minds. Devastation. Flood. Fires. Dire need. Looting. Violence. Death. All this in the wake of just one storm, a storm named Katrina.
And what was God’s role in this? That’s something a lot of people wrestle with. Did He send this disaster? If so, then why? Is He punishing the people of New Orleans? Or did He merely allow Katrina to happen? Does He care at all?
Obviously, God does care deeply about all people. He gave His only Son over to death out of love for sinful humanity. There can be no doubt about His commitment to us. But how does that square with tragedy and disaster? God must be doing something through this - something that is for our good. Many people think that God “allows” things to happen, but that He doesn’t send them. Try telling that to Job, or to David. They recognized rightly that God is not that impotent. He doesn’t allow things to happen. He does things. Sure others are involved too sometimes, like the devil, or an army of invaders, or a wicked person. But behind these enemies with their evil motives, is God at work with a righteous purpose. He is not a passive God, but an active One.
OK, then he must have been punishing people. New Orleans is known for its paganism and licentiousness, after all; so God must have sent this hurricane to wipe it clean, so to speak. Try telling that to the hundreds of orthodox and solidly confessional Lutherans who lost their homes, jobs, and even their churches to this hurricane. Was God punishing them too?
The Bible teaches us that natural disasters are harbingers of the destruction that will come upon the world at the last day. God sends hurricanes, oods, disease and even death to teach us that this world is coming to an end and that we all ought to repent of our sinful ways. It is not matter of one group of people being more evil than another group and the more evil ones suffering disaster. Every one is sinful. And everyone needs to repent.
One day Jesus encountered some people who were discussing Herod’s having killed some Galileans. Jesus said to them “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).
And this is the message for us in the face of tragedy. All of these things that cause such suffering are just a sampling of what sin has actually wrought. They are glimpses of the deeper, darker reality of a broken and dying world, a world eagerly awaiting its own destruction so that it may be reborn as a new creation (Romans 8:19-22). They are also little, tiny, tastes of the wrath of God and its power, meant to turn us away from our sins while there is time for repentance, so that we will not have to swallow the fullness of it.
So, while observing the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, while praying for and helping the victims, be sure also to heed the Lord’s warnings. Turn from the way of sin and nd your life, forgiveness, and salvation in Christ, who has suffered the fullness of God’s wrath for you, so that you won’t have to. Then you will be able to say with David: “You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord, according to Your Word... Before I was aficted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. You are good, and do good; Teach me Your statutes” (Psalm 119:65, 67-68).