Hurricane Katrina: Lessons in Disaster

“Out of the south cometh the whirlwind . . .
He causeth it to come, whether for correction,
or for his land, or for mercy”

~ Job 37:9, 13

Once again, America and the world have been given an awesome reminder of the power of God’s creation. This power is so great that many men without faith stop to ponder its magnitude and come to the inevitable conclusion that the creation is mightier than they are. Incredibly though, they fail to see God who created such power and come then to the sound grasp of the infinite power of the Almighty who created and directs all things. “By the breath of God frost is given: and the breadth of the waters is straitened. Also by watering he wearieth the thick cloud: he scattereth his bright cloud: And it is turned round about by his counsels: that they may do whatsoever he commandeth them upon the face of the world in the earth” (Job 37:10-12).

Some have erroneously supposed that God began the processes of evolution and then held Himself aloof while they ran their own course. They do not see God conducting the affairs of the earth. But, they are amiss for, “He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth: his word runneth very swiftly. He giveth snow like wool: he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow” (Psalm 147:15-18). They can easily see a major storm as nature run amok. However, not only is the storm not beyond His control, but it actually comes from God and accomplishes His purpose. “The LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3).

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, numerous theological lessons beg to be drawn out of the rubble and that which was, and is, and is to come. Undoubtedly, many will rise to that challenge and bless us with observations likely dominated by the morbid and morose. However, let us not take up the form of the strictly theological, but rather consider some biblical worldview and Christian commentary on current events—a sort of cultural exegesis.


THE SENSATIONALISTS


In the days leading up to the storm, we were treated to numerous ‘doomsday’ scenarios of the storm’s potential. Words like ‘catastrophic’, ‘devastating’, ‘disastrous’, ‘nightmarish’, et al, were the common fare. Of course, viewing images of the storm’s actual damage makes the vocabulary seem lacking. For the most part, the forecasters were fairly accurate in their assessments prior to the storm’s landfall and this raises an interesting question.

When evacuation orders were given to the Gulf Coast, thousands of people complied. They fled for refuge north, east, and west. There were also thousands of people who did not leave, but planned on riding the storm out. Those staying behind included some who simply had no means to leave or were physically unable to do so. No doubt, some stayed for the thrill of it all. I heard a report of at least one bar in New Orleans that had some people in it who were going to ride out the storm and booze it up. One guy was quoted as saying something to this effect, “If I’m goin’ to die, I want to do it with my best buddies and a beer in my hand.”

However, a number of people who could have left clearly chose not to leave. So, here is the question: Why did people remain in target areas when they were informed of the imminent danger from the storm and they had the wherewithal to leave? From many of those folks’ own statements, they just did not believe the reports nor that the storm would be that bad. Their disbelief is at least in part a reflection of the lack of credibility of the news media in general. They have heard these sorts of warnings many times before, only to find the media’s predictions exaggerated and their facts askew. Why would this time be any different? It is somewhat understandable that people did not believe the report, though it turned out to be valid, because the message had its feet cut off according to the true proverb (Proverbs 26:6).

The news media is full of sensationalists who seldom let the facts stand in the way of a good story. Their reports often tend toward morbidity and shock—a fact that is evident merely in their selection of what to report. Sensationalism sells media and makes gains of power, prestige, and payola. When the ball starts rolling on a story like this, there is a frenzy of competition to stay ahead and gain the audience. The lust for gloom has also been manifest in the wake of the storm. Adding much unneeded stress, reporters have hammered away at government officials for fatality statistics in the midst of massive search and rescue operations, disorder, flooded cities, and time-critical needs—a thing that common decency winces at.

I suppose also, the fact that this stuff sells, is a statement about our culture today. There is not a lot of value put on plain honesty. And, the news media is not looked to as purveyors of such honesty. When was the last time you heard a person who is dependable and honest being characterized as being as right as a reporter? Here the Christian faith stands in direct opposition to the culture. We are responsible to “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17). It is our highest business to deal in truth. Let us be trustworthy in disseminating the facts of Scripture as well as life. Let us be right from the pulpit, the press, the street corner, the grocery store, the living room, and everywhere else. Let this faith permeate us that we might shine as honest lights in the midst of a deceptive generation.


THE OPPORTUNISTS


The early reports of the storm damage were followed hard by a multitude of tongue-wagging liberals who sought to seize the opportunity to advance their agenda. Some have been general in blaming the fabled global warming for the storm, but all have agreed in their effort to lay the blame for this storm in the lap of some despised person or group.

The criticism continued to be leveled against the U. S. for backing out of the Kyoto Protocol. The liberal par excellence, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., came to the fore when he published a piece that pulled no punches and directly blamed Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour for the storm that wrecked the Gulf Coast. He chided the Governor for supporting energy policy as opposed to environmental policy, in his words. With a virtual finger in Barbour’s face, Kennedy said the Governor is reaping what he sowed because of his opposition to Kyoto. One has to question the timing as much as the substance of these charges. This whole pile-on reeks as much of bad manners as it does of bad science, as Douglas Wilson so ably put it.

Sadly, it is quite common in our culture for people to seize opportunities to advance their personal interest or receive the self-satisfaction of “I told you so.” Capitalizing on the bad circumstances of others for braggadocio is completely anti-Christian. Christ, the Messiah, was given “the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary” (Isaiah 50:4). Solomon wisely observed that there was a proper time for everything and he proclaimed, “A word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (Proverbs 15:23). The tongue is powerful and can be used to pull down, pluck up, and destroy. But, it can also be used to lift up, to help up, and to build. We do not shrink back from having to deal honestly with hard things, but our “speech” is to “be always with grace” (Colossians 4:6).


THE LAWLESS


Katrina destroyed much with wind and water, but was unable to dampen depravity in humanism’s disciples. With vain imaginations, many have been looting the homes and businesses in the damaged areas. This reality is more confounding in New Orleans where 80% of the city is estimated to be under water. People are stranded there, isolated from the rest of the world, and plundering everywhere that is not guarded, which is pretty much everywhere.

I know what the mantra is with the liberals: Don’t pass judgment on people in desperation. I am certain there are people who are seeking desperately for basic sustenance and are likely availing themselves of whatever essentials they find in the open. I am not commenting about them one way or the other. I am referring to those I have seen on internet video feeds who are wading through water that daily becomes more toxic, carrying televisions, stereos, computers, bicycles, etc. These can hardly be considered life-saving necessities.

In all of this, the irrationality of covetousness is clearly seen. God called the man a fool who had joy in his possessions and was about to die. There is no electricity to run these things. There is no place to take these things. What consolation will a stolen 54” plasma television be to one who dies of starvation, thirst, or disease? In these kinds of scenes, there is no community, only a radical individualism, every man doing “that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 16:6).

Law and proper authority are needed to maintain civil society. Paul told us that the law is made “for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers, and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons” (1 Timothy 1:9-10). The law restrains the wickedness of man, but the law of God stands whether there is a presence of human authority or not. The Christian faith prays imprecations for the lawless as well as intercessions for the helpless.


THE PETULANT


We were hardly over the shock of the initial images of destruction from the coast before the wagging fingers came out toward Europe and the broader world community. Immediately, tongue in cheek calls for help and aid were issued to them. This was mostly a pretense to facilitate the criticism of other countries for not helping us as much as we help them. We were treated to patriotic strains of the numerous times and ways the U. S. has responded to the disasters and troubles our neighbors have suffered.

Is this a sanctified whining? Should Christians join in the chorus singing, “Woe to the World”? First, let me say that I am not commenting on whether other countries should or should not help us at this time. Neither am I contending that we as a nation have not done anything to help other countries. What I am considering is whether it is Christian to join the popular sentiment of bashing these other countries this way. Frankly, these complaints come from a presupposition that runs afoul of what the Bible teaches concerning giving and charity; it makes no difference that it is on an international scale, and it actually betrays an attitude of unthankfulness.

It is decidedly anti-Christian to congratulate oneself for acts of charity. This is unprofitable self-flattery. Paul said, “Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). He stated clearly that charity “vaunteth not itself” and “seeketh not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). To vaunt our own actions in order to receive credit and praise is to play the hypocrite to be seen of men. Christ taught, “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know that thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:3-4). This precept is violated when we tout our own giving to shame others for their lack of giving and failure to measure up to our standard.

Furthermore, the Christian does not give in order to get a reciprocal gift. Christ taught, “But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14). Faith does not give in order to get and neither does faith give in the hopes of getting. Faith’s standard is much higher: “And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:34-36). When kindness is returned, we are thankful. But, faith is not quenched even when evil is returned for good. Faith gives because faith has been given to. Faith gives because Christ is the motivation. Faith gives because “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).


THE BENEFICENT


Not all of the commentary arises from the negative. One of the early arrivals at the disaster site was the disaster relief unit of the Southern Baptist Convention. They deployed quickly and set up shop to distribute hot meals and needed supplies to the helpless. You may take issue with the SBC on various points, and you may have valid reason for doing so, but in this at least, they are getting the faith right. The Bible explains, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

This storm has made some children fatherless and some spouses widowed. To extend the hand of charity is to bring God to these people—to bring them “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows” (Psalm 68:5). Faith does not consist merely in a set of abstract principles. Real faith lives and works in the real world and does not omit the things that are important in life. Jesus said to the abstract religionists, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23). Judgment, mercy, and faith have to do with loving our neighbor as ourselves, as demonstrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I certainly pray that many good Samaritans will relieve the distress of the hurricane victims.

Another example of the right response was the effort of the Elliot Baptist Church in Elliot, MS. This independent church planned and executed a massive relief work that is frankly unbelievable. They began by immediately housing and feeding evacuees in their church facility. With prayerful support and some financial assistance from local churches across the country, Pastor Cecil Fayard and the church launched a relief effort taking food and various necessary supplies to the coast. They responsibly distributed to those in need. They helped in large cleanup and rebuilding efforts. I stand back in awe of the grace of God flowing through His people and out to others.


THE SUMMARY


I have not entered into speculation as to why this storm did what it did; I will reserve that for others. I have no doubts that it came from God, for “He causeth it to come, whether for correction, or for his land, or for mercy” (Job 37:13). I will not speculate about the secret things that belong to Him. I do not doubt that it will ultimately result in God’s praise.

I am also sure that despite the scenes of the many who are hopeless while they look to their god—the government, there are many whose faith will not lead them to despair while they faithfully look to the God who made the universe. They will not sorrow as others and they will not murmur. They are suffering a trial that I have not endured, neither can I understand, but I pray for them and seek ways to help. I am sure that the pagans mock them and say, “Where is thy God?” (Psalm 42:10). But, faith looks into the pagan brow and replies, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). I am also sure that “Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies” (Psalm 60:12).

About Jeff Short