by Rev. William Cwirla
I find myself watching more television than usual these days. Especially in the morning after my early morning walk. I’m looking for some good news — that New Orleans really isn’t all under water after all, that it’s all a very bad dream. I did the same after 9/11. That disaster was caused by bad religion and people who believe it. Hurricane Katrina was caused by a mixture of moisture and air. “Natural causes,” as we like to say. “Acts of God,” as the insurance companies put it when they don’t want to pay up.
“Why?” many will ask. “If God’s in charge, then why? If the universe is so intricately and intelligently designed, then why? Why didn’t God stick His Designer’s hand in front of the whirlwind and make it go back out to sea? Why did He allow a direct hit on a city built below sea level? Why even build a city below sea level?” That’s a question for each other, not for God.
Some are quick to answer the “Why?” question by pointing the finger of blame. Moralists will point to the hedonism and decadence that is New Orleans’ signature: Mardi Gras, “Girls Gone Wild,” or the homosexual “Southern Decadence” festival. Watch out, Las Vegas! Environmentalists will blame global warming. Liberals will blame George Bush. Who really knows? Nature abhors a vacuum. Silence begs to be filled with chatter. And when God’s not talking, we love to fill in the blanks.
The Bible runs lean on the “why” question. When Job asked it out of his suffering, the answer he got from the Lord in the whirlwind was a bunch of questions. “Who shut the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors?” (Job 38:8-9). In other words, “I’m God, you’re not God, and that’s good. Now stop asking questions and start worshipping.”
Some people asked for Jesus’ reaction to a political atrocity, some Galileans who were slaughtered by Pilate while worshipping. Why did it happen? What did Jesus think? He upped the ante with a construction accident — eighteen people killed by the tower of Siloam falling on them. Jesus’ word in response: “Repent, lest you all perish.”
Repent means to have a new mind, to come to a new way of thinking about God and about yourself. Repent of sin? Of course, every day, all of us. Do you think a category five hurricane is bad? It’s a walk in the rain compared to the Last Day! Repent also means to come to new thinking about how God does business, whose ways are not our ways, and whose thoughts are not our thoughts.
Why didn’t God do something? Lots of people prayed on Sunday morning. Unlike earthquakes or tidal waves or tornados, hurricanes give you plenty of time for prayer. They are slow-moving disasters. Plenty of prayers rose up like incense before the throne of grace. So why didn’t God do something to interfere with Katrina?
In the movie Bruce Almighty, Bruce discovers that it isn’t easy being God. He draws the moon in a little closer for a romantic dinner with his girlfriend and causes tidal waves and flooding on the other side of the world. He tries to answer everyone’s e-mailed prayers with a “Yes,” but as God, played by Morgan Freeman, points out, “Saying yes to everyone’s prayers just doesn’t work.” The truth is, you and I wouldn’t want to live in a world under the hand of the Divine Micromanager of All Things. A bride prays for sunshine for her outdoor wedding; the farmer begs for rain for his parched land. What’s a God to do?
God creates in freedom. Clouds, water, air, sea, and dry land, all do what they are designed to do. Usually, everything happens benignly out in the Atlantic somewhere, and the fish go surfing. Occasionally one of God’s free creatures of air and water slams into a populated chunk of land. To put a Divine Hand in the way would do the ultimate harm — withdraw the freedom of air and water and cloud. It’s the equivalent of turning stones to bread.
Why didn’t God do anything about the whirlwind heading toward New Orleans? He did in a way no one would have thought to ask. He dropped dead. He embraced it once and for all in the dark death of Jesus on the cross. “It is finished.” Everything that needed to be done has already been done. In Jesus’ dark death, all the devastations, the deaths, the destructions have been answered for and atoned. The suffering Son suffers along with His creation. He asks the “Why” question for us all: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He absorbs the silence. He dives headlong into its death and brings up from the depths a new creation. Even Noah, bobbing on the water with the animals and his family in the ark was only a temporary fix, a band-aid. It was hardly a new creation that popped out of the ark on Noah’s 601st birthday. Only a sneak preview, picture-type of the coming Jesus attraction. The real lifeboat is the death of Jesus, and that’s already been done one time for all time, once for all people.
Where was God when the winds blew and water rose? Right there in the midst of all of it. The One who “fills all in all” never abandons His creatures or His creation, even when it does some terribly devastating things. He is the Word who made all things and in whom all things hold together. He is with us always, until the end of our days and the end of all the days. He is Calvary-committed to His creation, and in Him, all things are already made new, even as we struggle to clean up the mess of the old.
He works all things together for good to those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. All things — the good, the bad, the ugly, the terrifying, the destroying, the devastating. All things are lifted up in His death. All things. It’s not as though we can load the cosmic dice to come up sevens with our prayers and good works. Instead, every roll of the dice, from snake eyes to box cars, from tidal waves to hurricanes, comes up an eternal winner because the Owner of the cosmic casino insists that it is so, all for crucified Christ’s sake.
Faith clings to the Promise that God is actually reconciled to this world as it is in the death of Jesus and does not count men’s sins against them, and that in Christ He works life in the midst of death, and victory in the middle of a shutout. The world doesn’t need to be micromanaged by a Divine Meddler; it simply needs to be held by the cross-scarred hands of the creative Word Incarnate whose Death swallows up all death once and for all.
Just because it’s all done to death in Jesus, doesn’t mean there isn’t much for all of us to do. Giving, helping, praying, tending our neighbor in need. Each according to his or her vocation and gift. For some, it will mean giving above and beyond the usual. For some, it will mean lending a helping hand. For all of us, it will mean prayer. Jesus is in the midst of that activity too. He is your neighbor in need for you to serve — the man in the ditch who fell among the thieves, and the man whose life has been swept away by the whirlwind named Katrina. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
The important thing to remember and trust is that crucified and risen Jesus is always there, right there in the middle of it all, in the eye of the storm, to save you.