Thursday, September 15, 2005

Baptist Writer: Hurricane Katrina Was "God's Wrath"

In a rambling pontification on his internet-based radio broadcast, Baptist writer and "scholar" James White argues that the USA, if not the populace of New Orleans, brought Hurricane Katrina upon itself:

White seems convinced that Hurricane Katrina, like the 9-11 terrorist attacks, was an instance of God's wrath against the USA for rejecting "biblical Christianity" (which rejection, no doubt, includes allowing the Catholic Church to exist on American soil) and especially for "cultural degradation," such as allegedly promoting sexual immorality.

Yet the French Quarter --the section of the city known for its extravagant uber-partying, its transsexual strip joints, and its largely homosexual population-- stayed dry and mostly untouched. As one commentator noted, upon encountering the Wrath Theory embraced by White, God's aim must've been off that day.

Moreover, White's Wrath Theory cannot account for the fact that in the predominantly traditionalist, orthodox Protestant culture of 1900 --decades before there was any such thing as Planned Parenthood abortion clinics, or Playboy magazine, or MTV, or the gay "rights" movement-- a hurricane wiped out the town of Galveston, Texas, killing between 8,000 and 10,000.

(To be fair, White insists that San Francisco would've been more deserving than the Big Easy of such a demonstration of divine judgment. But it doesn't really matter because, as his Hyper-Calvinist Manichean theology informs him, merely being born human makes you ipso facto evil and therefore deserving of death anyway.)

Catholic blogger Mark Shea masterfully puts such nonsense to rest in his own debunking of the Wrath Theory:

...From where I sit, there are certain things I think it's safe to say. First, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Second, God is in control of stuff (including weather). Third, life is extremely mysterious. Fourth, God is the judge of the world, not me and not even my most especially holiest readers. Fifth, if I were in the position of people in New Orleans, I would be strongly tempted to give a good swift kick to the Holy Ones whose first thought is not, "How can I help?" but "This is your fault, you know."

Theodicy is a fun game in the abstract. Sort of like playing "Lifeboat" in a college bull session. I enjoy a good game of "What if" as much as the next guy. But playing Lifeboat is much less fun when you are in a lifeboat and sensible people know that there is a time and place for speculating on the mysterious purposes of the Almighty and a time and a place for shutting one's trap and just helping.

...Was New Orleans judged by this hurricane? Only in the sense that everything that happens to us can be a means by which God reveals himself and ourselves to us. Certainly, I think, we learned some very unpleasant things about ourselves last week. But then again, I think as the stories of heroism emerge (as they will) we will also find that (at least some people) learned some very surprising and good things about themselves and others last week too.

...In a strange way, it helped me make sense, at an experiential level, of Paul's talk in Romans about how the trials of this life are nothing compared with the glory to be revealed. It explained how an entire generation can look back fondly on a time of depression and war. Because the judgement does not consist of our external circumstances. It is, rather, how we embrace God's love and live it out under those circumstances.

Our task is not to check on other people's test scores, but our own.

Jesus Himself made a similar point in Luke 13: 4-5: "Do you think ... those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them ... were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

The bottom line is we don't know why thousands of Christians were killed in Galveston in 1900. Nor why tens of thousands of Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and others were killed in Indonesia and Thailand last year. Nor why over 650 (according to the latest count) were killed in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, although most of those deaths were the direct result of human error, incompetence, and malfeasance in the first place.
Nor can anyone this side of Heaven know why Katrina was "allowed" to do what it did.

It is, as Shea correctly points out, a mystery. Know-it-all "prophets" would do well to humble themselves before their Creator by keeping that in mind and "checking their own test scores," lest they risk invoking upon themselves the very same wrath they seem to think the Almighty rained down upon New Orleans three weeks ago.

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