Summary: A serious look at quetions believers face in the aftermath of a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina.
Where Is God When Disaster Strikes?
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
We have all witnessed the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Rose and I had a special interest in those events as we watched them unfold last Monday. We were there a month ago. On July 31 when our family vacation ended, we decided to take a detour home. We drove across southern Alabama and Mississippi so we could see New Orleans for the first time. We stayed in a hotel a couple blocks from the Super Dome. We walked a half-dozen blocks to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter to see the sights and eat in one of New Orleans legendary restaurants. We walked and drove on many of those streets that you’ve seen on television. Seeing all of this happen in a place where you have just been gives it added significance.
But our real interest came from something much more personal. Our oldest son is a local television reporter for WAGA-Fox 5 in Atlanta. This year and last, the station sent him to the Gulf Coast to cover each of the developing hurricanes. Last weekend he went to Pensacola and then west to Mobile toward the path of Katrina.
We spoke with him often via cell phone. At one point, on Sunday he told Rose, “This is a monster.” We have special arrangements to get his station through our satellite dish. Obviously we watched or recorded every Atlanta newscast so we would know how he was doing.
I know we’ve all seen more than our share of devastation and suffering on television this week. But I thought a few quick clips of Tony’s reports might set the stage for what I want to talk about this morning.
Katrina was a monster. Early Monday morning it came howling ashore with 145-mile an hour winds. A 25-foot wall of water blasted across the Gulf Coast destroying everything in sight for miles. It leveled buildings, threw ships on to dry land, toppled oil-drilling platforms, blew windows out of hospitals, hotels, and high-rises.
At first, it looked like New Orleans had been spared the main force of the storm. Then the levies broke. Mayor Nagin estimated at least eighty-percent of New Orleans was underwater. In some places it was twenty-feet deep. It will months before people will be able to move back into New Orleans—if at all!
When the final tally comes in, it is likely that millions will be homeless and thousands dead. Who knows what potential sickness and disease still lie ahead? Homes and businesses have suffered billions of dollars of damage. The personal devastation defies description.
No one can see such events, even from afar, without asking the big question. Where was God? How can a good God allow such things to happen? We are not the first to ask those questions. We will not be the last. George Barna, the public-opinion pollster, conducted a national survey in which he polled adults: “If you could ask God one question, what would you ask?” The number one response was, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?”
Atheists don’t have to bother with such questions. Life is a cosmic accident. Disasters just happen. Some religious groups try to explain away suffering as an illusion. For many Eastern religions, suffering is just a part of the great circle of life. Individuals really don’t matter. Others define everything in direct cause and effect terms. Somehow those people in the Gulf Coast got what they deserved, so the argument goes.
Christians however can’t so easily dismiss the questions that disasters pose. We believe in a personal God who is both loving and powerful. God knows what happens and He cares. Disasters like we have seen this week force us to confront a hard question. How can God be good and great at the same time? How do those of us who gather to worship the Living God make sense out of such events? Why do such things happen?
I wouldn’t presume to have all the answers that such events raise. I don’t claim to understand it all myself. But I also don’t think followers of Jesus should let such events pass without turning to scripture for answers. Here’s how the Bible explains what has happened:
Bad things happen because we live in a broken world. The early pages of Genesis teach us that God created a perfect world. But it didn’t stay that way. He didn’t create evil, but he did create freedom. With freedom comes the potential for actions and events contrary to God’s will. Adam and Eve chose to rebel against the Creator. All of Adam’s descents are broken people living in a broken world. Bad things result.
In a broken world of broken people, the real question is not “why does a holy God allow disasters?” but “why are some of us spared?” That was Jesus answer when asked about our issue. His response is worth noting.