Possible Purposes of God in Natural Disaster, Part IITuesday, September 6, 2005
In an article by John Piper entitled "Was Hurricane Katrina Intelligent Design," NPR Senior News Analyst, Daniel Schorr on his 89th birthday, "observed that President Bush had 'staked out a non-position' on the debate between evolution and intelligent design. Bush had said that 'both sides ought to be properly taught in the schools of America.' Then, with manifest scorn, Schorr linked the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with the concept of intelligent design: '[Bush] might well have reflected that, if this was the result of intelligent design, then the designer has something to answer for.'"
Piper responds by saying, "No, Mr. Schorr, you have something to answer for, not God. God answers to no man. Come, Daniel Schorr, take your place with Job and answer your Maker: 'The Lord answered Job [and Daniel Schorr] out of the whirlwind and said: 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me...Who shut in 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, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?'" (Job 38:1-3, 8-11).
Piper is right and offers this suggestion: "...let us put our hands on our mouths and weep both for the perishing and for ourselves who will soon follow. Whatever judgment has fallen, it is we who deserve it--all of us. And whatever mercy is mingled with judgment in New Orleans neither we nor they deserve."
Of course, this dialogue raises the question of where was God during the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina? Perhaps the more accurate question is, "What was God up to with Hurricane Katrina?" A sense exists in which we could never presume to set forth God's purpose in such a disaster. Yet, we can offer some possible biblical purposes God may have had in mind and thus learn a great deal about our God and His ways. We can say that God may have had a number of purposes in mind by decreeing such a storm.
First, contrary to the castigations of Tony Campolo, God was and is no doubt sanctifying His people. We can say this with certainty as the Scripture says, "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be the First-born among many brothers (Rom. 8:28-29)." Paul here affirms that all things work for the good of believers. He then defines that good as being conformed to the image of God's Son that He might be glorified. Many believers are now suffering in the aftermath of Katrina. While the situation itself is not good, the Lord will indeed work it for their good. That is His promise.
Second, it is possible that Katrina was sent as a demonstration of God's power before wicked men. In Ex. 9:14 we read, "For at this time I will send all My plagues to your very heart, and on your servants and on your people, that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth." When men shake their fists in the face of God, He sometimes moves in a mighty way to remind them of who is King. His word is clear on this point. He wants men to know that there is none like Him in all the earth.
Third, the Lord may have desired the exaltation of His Name in all the earth. There is a close link between God demonstrating His power and the exaltation of His Name. God exists for His own glory and does what He does for His own glory. He alone deserves glory and honor and worship and praise and must have such in order to be true to His character. If He did not demand such, He would not be God, or, He would be an idolater. As God, He cannot give up His glory or He would not be God. Nor can He glorify another for that would be to give glory to something that did not deserve glory which would be idolatry. God cannot fail to glorify Himself as His character exudes glory. Thus, His glory, His reputation, and/or His Name must be exalted in all the earth. That is why God says to Pharaoh, "But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth (Ex. 9:16)." Later, Rahab, the harlot from Jericho, when speaking to the Jewish spies had this to say: "I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that your terror has fallen on us, and that all those who live in the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And we had heard, and our hearts melted, nor did any more spirit remain in any man, because of you. For the LORD your God, He is God in Heaven above and in earth beneath (Josh. 2:9-11)." The God of Heaven above and the earth beneath dried up the water of the Red Sea and later stirred up Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf waters and flooded New Orleans that His Name might be exalted in all the earth.
Fourth, is it possible that God brought temporal judgment on a wicked city? While we must be careful not to make statements of possibility into fact, and while we must not think that New Orleans or their people deserved punishment any more than any other city or any other human being lost or saved, we may say that it is possible that God brought temporal judgment to New Orleans. Peter warns us: "[God turned] the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, He condemned them with an overthrow, setting an example to men intending to live ungodly (2 Pet. 2:6)." New Orleans is an example to those who intend to live ungodly lives. It is not lost on some of us that the levees did not break until the partying resumed and God was mocked in the streets of the French Quarter. We cannot say with certainty that God waited for that very reason to flood the city but we can take heed. He may have. Our problem is that we fail to take God seriously, even in the church.
What about Gulfport and Biloxi? What about Long Beach and Waveland, etc. Were these wicked cities as well? Again, our Lord Jesus said, "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 (Lk. 1:2-3)." This statement is a warning to all of us.
What about the believers in those areas? Some were like Lot. "And He delivered righteous Lot, oppressed with the lustful behavior of the lawless. For that righteous one living among them, in seeing and hearing, his righteous soul was tormented from day to day with their unlawful deeds (2 Pet. 2:7-8)." And others were like some of the saints listed in Hebrews 11: "And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings; yes, more, of bonds and imprisonments. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented (36-37)." We might add that some suffered horrible deaths in the fury of Hurricane Katrina. But, they now see Christ Jesus face to face.
Fifth, by the hurricane, God certainly affords us an opportunity to put the grace and power of Christ on display through ministry. Our Lord gives us that opportunity both for our sake and the sake of those to whom we minister. Jesus said, "For I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in; I was naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me (Matt. 25:35-36)." At the same time, as noted, His glory is on display. How gratified the people of Louisiana were when they received clothes, food, and water from the good people of Hazard, Kentucky. As one of their representatives said, the folk of Hazard are coal and hill country people. They are poor but they are people of faith. In that part of the world that means Christian. They were poor but they gave. That's why in addition to cash donations, my former associate pastor Johnny Touchet led the charge in packing an eighteen wheeler to the gills with goods donated by generous people and drove to the afflicted area this past Sunday in the Name of Christ. He's partnering with other churches in the area to get something done without direct orders from his immediate superior. Of course, the King had already given him the directive to give a cup of water in His Name (Matt. 10:42).
[Part Three Tomorrow]