Will Isaac be another Katrina? As the storm approaches the Gulf Coast, memories of the devastation of exactly seven years ago resurface in everyone’s mind. Isaac is in the headlines at the moment, but this has been a summer of disasters.
When I last checked, 70 wildfires were burning west of the Mississippi. Seventy! With the Waldo Canyon fire just a few miles from our house, I’m well aware of how destructive a wildfire can be.
We’re also in one of the worst droughts in the history of our country. Farmers are plowing under shriveled crops, and food prices are expected to skyrocket. And in the midst of the drought, localized flooding in places as disparate as New York, California, Texas, and Utah is washing away homes.
Of course tragedies are nothing new. The tornadoes that struck Joplin, Missouri rarely make the news anymore, nor do the earthquakes and tsunamis that demolished so much of Indonesia, India, and Japan not so long ago. A friend of mine went to Haiti this summer on a short-term mission trip, but the earthquake there no longer makes headlines. There is always something new coming along to grab our attention.
I’ve noticed that the church tends to respond to disasters in one of two ways. There are those organizations and individuals who rush to help. Millions of dollars are raised; plane-loads of volunteers rescue, restore, and rebuild. We have taken to heart the story of the Good Samaritan. Those suffering are our neighbors, and we do what we can to love them.
Then there are those who try to answer the question, “Why?” Why did the hurricane strike here instead of there? Why did those people, that nation, lose everything in an earthquake? And the finger-pointing begins. Katrina hit New Orleans because they were worse sinners than the rest of us, and Isaac is God’s back-up plan. The earthquake rocked Haiti because their leader made a pact with the devil. The networks pick up such statements and broadcast them widely because it increases their ratings.
A quick Google search came up with plenty of “prophesies” linking Tropical Storm Isaac with God’s judgment. One widely circulated post links the storm’s timing to a gay festival scheduled for this week. But gay festivals are held in lots of places besides New Orleans—we even have one here in Colorado Springs every summer. (I haven’t seen anyone blaming the fires on that, though.)
Of course, there are Biblical precedents for such claims. Everyone knows the story of Sodom and Gomorrah—God destroyed both cities with fire and brimstone because of their sinfulness. He used the Israelites to wipe out entire peoples seeped in corruption, and hundreds of years later the Israelites themselves were exiled to Babylon because of their insistence on idolatry. God cares a great deal about the issue of evil in our midst, and takes firm, if reluctant, steps to eradicate it. (Read Isaiah and Jeremiah to get a sense of God’s anguish over the need to discipline his children.)
We sit here, arrogant in our righteousness, and blame the victims. If we look for sin, we will find it—we’re all sinners. But we need to be very careful before we blame sin for every tragedy that comes along. As Jesus pointed out,
Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13: 2-5)
This is when we should look for the log in our own eye before we begin to judge others. We all deserve to suffer, and it is only by God’s mercy that some of us are spared.
Maybe the real question isn’t “Why them?”—but rather “Why not me?”