"Let the people on Mount Zion rejoice.
Let the towns of Judah be glad,
for your judgments are just"
- Ps. 48.11, NLT
I have heard more than just whisperings about Katrina's being the judgment of God. I must disagree. In fact, I must say that to suggest it as such is potentially dangerous. In this post I will be discussing the judgment of God and the proper response of believers to disaster.
Here's what I've heard: (1) There was to be a homosexual "party" in the Big Easy that was canceled due to Katrina, (2) All the casinos along the Mississippi coast were destroyed due to Katrina, (3) New Orleans is renowned for its riotous parties, (4) all the Christian rock music in our churches has brought upon us the judgment of God (since judgment begins with the house of God), and (5) it is the natural result from our abuse of the environment. So let's talk about these reasons. Are these reasons deserving of the disaster that Katrina incurred? Yes, they are. (Except for Reason 4, which is the ridiculous soapbox of a godly man from another generation who insists that all music should be 1930s- and 1940s-style gospel music. There are worse things the church would be judged for before it would be judged for its choice of music. Reason 5 we'll have to discuss some other time.) Does God judge people for their sin? Yes, He does. Do innocent people suffer as a result of God's judgment on a community/nation? Yes, invariably they do. Daniel and his friends were godly young men, yet they were dragged into exile just as the ungodly were from their neighborhood.
In spite of these things, however, I first have to ask myself, "Who was hardest hit by Katrina? What people were primarily 'judged' by this storm?" It was the poor, the unloved, the marginalized. It seems to me that the judgment of God would at least primarily strike those deserving of the judgment (if I am to judge it). It seems to me that the casino owners merely lost money while the poor lost everything. It seems to me that the homosexuals were nowhere near New Orleans. It seems to me, that this is not how the judgment of God works. And if it does, then it is a poor judgment. (Again, I am speaking as if I am capable of making such a judgment.)
Second, Luke tells the story of how 18 people were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Jesus says that their sin was not greater than those who were not killed in the disaster, that their sin was no greater than yours and mine. And therefore we need to repent lest something similar happen to us. So what do we learn from this story? What is Jesus telling us about disasters? I believe he is saying that my sin is as great as the homosexual's sin and that both of us deserve judgment. I believe that he is also saying that it is proper for believers to keep their mouths shut in the face of disaster because we deserve it as much as they. Does this argument mean that the Gulf coast wasn't judged? No, but it does argue against a believer's right to point a finger in judgment. If it is judgment, it is God's just judgment on people like you and me, and our only response ought to be holy service to those suffering.
Jesus says, Judge not lest you be judged. Believers are always quick to say that surely we need to call sin, sin. Surely that. Jesus, however, does not qualify his statement. He simply says that we are not to point the finger at others and condemn them for their sin - for we are sinners too (and perhaps our pride is the greater sin). James, in chapter 4, reiterates this truth about judgment. He says, "Don't speak evil against each other, my dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize each other and condemn each other, then you are criticizing and condemning God's law. But you are not a judge who can decide whether the law is right or wrong. Your job is to obey it. God alone, who made the law, can rightly judge among us. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to condemn your neighbor?" (James 4.11,12).
Third, Job teaches us that disaster befalls the righteous just as it does the unrighteous. Disaster does not equal judgment. If it does, then it necessarily must for every disaster: For the loss of my job, for a friend's cancer, for a church's burning to the ground or flooding, for the death or the dying of a church, for the accident that leaves a sister paraplegic. Is every disaster the judgment of God? No. Is every disaster allowed by God? Yes, for He is surely sovereign. And, as Martin Luther said, at the end of the day even the devil is God's devil.
So here is my conclusion about Katrina: It was a natural disaster, divinely permitted. As believers we are to be vehicles of God's grace to those put in need because of this disaster. We are to serve selflessly. We are to speak with our hands and our feet and our wallets. We are to speak comfort and not judgment - we are not even to discuss the possibility of judgment with one another. We are to realize that we all deserve God's judgment, and yet we daily experience His grace. Therefore we must withhold our own judgment and be concerned only with showing grace and love to others. Otherwise we play the part of the unmerciful servant.
Christians need to stop judging others, especially brothers and sisters. We were not called to condemn one another. We were called to be a community of Christ followers, working to reconcile all people to God.