Has Hurricane Katrina created hell on earth? People have died, lost families and homes, and are suffering the kind of devastation most Americans only see on TV, in the movies or read in books. Is this divine judgment? Some are already saying it is, and are specifying what sins God is judging New Orleans for. Apparently not learning from Falwell's verbal blunders after 9/11, some are giving an imbalanced view of the devastation, God's involvement and our response.
The truth is, I agree with the Reformed tradition on this. The world often experiences God's judgment in response to our ongoing sins. Such temporal judgment is designed to lead us to faith and repentance. It foreshadows the coming eternal judgment, and reminds us of the frailty of life. It draws our attention to a sovereign and holy God, and can begin to uncover our need for his mercy.1 My problem is in the way this sort of thing is being explained by some.
Many who want to hold to the idea that this is judgment stand and point the finger at the really bad sinners in our culture. Katrina comes, and you know whose fault it is? "The homosexuals." I have already come across a couple articles online that appear to be written by the Pharisee in Luke 18. A more biblical response is required of us all.
The difference between this kind of (pharisaical) response and the biblical response to disaster is humility. When disaster came to a colony, the Puritans understood it to be the work of God. Yet they didn't stand up and say, "Oh, thanks a lot Sabbath breakers! Thanks for begining destruction to us all!" Instead, they understood their corporate identity as a family, a church, a colony, and as humans. Sin in the camp was sin in the camp, and it was the community that needed to turn to God, seek him for mercy and restoration. Perhaps Sabbath breaking, adultery, gluttony, and/or superficial religion were the occasions for judgment, but aren't we all guilty of these sins, at least in the way Jesus explains the law?2
Instead of arrogantly pointing to "those people" as if they alone are guilty and worthy of punishment, we should humble ourselves and seek the Lord together, confessing our own sins, and the sins of our people.3 Then we are better postured to help others understand the holiness of God and the sinfulness of humanity. As we do this we should also perform works of mercy to show that God is also a forgiving God who will ultimately bring healing and restoration to this fallen world when Christ returns.
Hurricane Katrina and her wake is not hell, because opportunity remains for the world to turn to God, and for the church to return to her Savior.
At Grace we will begin taking up special offerings to go directly to the relief efforts for those suffering the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
Ps. 29:10, 11 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!
1. See Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5); Sin in chuch at Corinth (1 Cor. 11); Hebrews 12 on discipline. 2. Matthew 5:17-48 3. Isaiah 6:5