I don’t claim any kind of prophetic abilities here when I say that I was overwhelmed Sunday night, the night before Katrina made landfall, with feelings of guilt, foreboding, and anguish regarding what was about to happen to the people there. That was proven the next morning, when I saw the news report that Katrina had been downgraded, and even when the following day came with pictures of destroyed buildings and roads, yet I felt a false sense of relief from it all, knowing that things could have been much worse (had Katrina hit full strength, with a more direct hit on NO.)… Of course the disaster that Katrina had caused was only the beginning of the story as the floodwaters have rose, and as the week has progressed it has become clear that this is becoming perhaps one of the most catastrophic events in the history of the United States. Meanwhile in SoCal, life continues as normal for most of us, ambivalent to the events just a few thousand miles down I-10….
Last night, I talked to Kyle back home about all of this, and how he is (as well as I am) frustrated:
-with the utter lack of government support and the inane comments by people like Dennis Hastert in the aftermath… ( http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050902/ap_on_go_co/katrina_hastert_hk1_5 …reminds me of Mugabe, who actually did what Haskert proposed, both to cities that didn’t vote for their party. Maybe that’s why we don’t go into Zimbabwe… they think like us.)
-and with the Bush administration’s slashing of funding that was designed to help save the city from impending disaster many years previous… ( http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20050901.wsciam0901/BNStory/Front …as much as I understand the rising water to be a problem for landing helicopters, I dont’ understand why we can’t drop supplies, like we do in other parts of the world when disaster strikes.)
After our conversation I got to talking with some seminary friends, who were over at our community playing cards. They all shared my sympathy, although not all were keeping up with the events in N.O. Somehow we got on the topic of sin, and how there are many people (mostly Internet religious-right swamis, likely) making comments like “this is God’s judgment on a sinful and perverted city” or something to that effect. While none in the group agreed with this assessment at all, three of them claimed, “That is ridiculous propoganda,” while the 4th in the group said, “Well, we don’t know what God’s plans were. After all, He ‘judged the land’ on many occasions in the Bible. The point for us is to hear and respond to their suffering regardless.” This didn’t make the other participants at the table very happy.
While I couldn’t wholly disagree with his assessment, I found it quite unsatisfying as a way to explain this disaster. I think that asking, “Was God judging New Orleans?” is absolutely the wrong question to be asking in the first place! I have a Christological point to make in this regard. While I am no Dispensationalist, I do believe that after the resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, in the flesh, and sits on the right hand of the Father, having been given all authority and power in heaven and on earth. This is the same Jesus who walked and lived and sympathized with the poor, many of whom were plagued with sin, and the same Jesus who condemned the powerful and rich rulers, who were sinners also (in a deeper, though seemingly less obvious sense) and yet condemned the poor as having deserved their position thanks to their sinfulness. While God has always identified with the poor, Jesus experienced their misery and suffering first-hand, and at the cross He felt the full weight of human suffering. It is how Christ is able to say, “What you have done for the least of these, you have done to me”–in the spectrum of human existence, this is where Christ identifies Himself, and as such it is where we are called to be identified, and to identify with others. This is the Jesus who now sits in judgment over humanity; the God who looks at how we treat each other, how we conduct ourselves in public and private, how we pray and cry out for mercy, and how we ignore the work of His Kingdom. He has full authority; not the law, or our sacrifices, our church attendance, or our weekly tithes (if people still tithe in this country) or our ability to influence others will be what saves us. It’s Jesus who holds the fate of each one of us… and for some of us (the “least,” who are the greatest in the kingdom) that is a comfort, but for most of us it should likely be considered as a warning…b/c even as a Christian, I find myself identifying all too often more with the Pharisees than with the poor.
In light of this understanding, we should be extremely suspicious of anyone claiming God’s wrathful judgment on a city filled with sin… especially since it is the poor and needy, who are no strangers to suffering and neglect and exclusion from the rest of society, who likely spend a whole lot more time trying to make ends meet than partying it up on Bourbon Street, who are the majority of victims in this disaster. The partiers and college students in large part escaped the storm (or at least the horrors that followed it.) Most of the people who had cars escaped; many who did not leave town could not afford a car, or did not own one, and that’s why they stayed.
We should wonder why such proposals never come from the same side as the suffering. That’s called confession, for anyone who was wondering. We don’t do much of that anymore, although the church used to think it was pretty important. As highly unlikely as it seems for sin to be the reason for Katrina to leave a million people homeless–if the call to repent came from within the levee walls, we would probably greatly sympathize with this, despite the fact of whether we agreed or not. But unfortunately, these calls for repentance come from ivory towers, from those who watch the horror below them and thank God that they are “not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get to the Republican party.” (Luke 18:11-12) Then they turn their TVs back over to Desperate Housewives and hope no one catches them.
The question “Is God judging New Orleans?” is wrong. The question should be, “How will Christ judge me, if I sit idle by this disaster and do nothing?”