Why Katrina? How do we understand something like this in light of our faith and belief in an all-loving, all-powerful God?
I believe that before responding to this question we must first seek God as to what we can do to help the victims in addition to praying for them. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and reaching out to the “least of these.” What Jesus says in Matthew 25 is radical and shocking in its expectations. We must apply His words as an ongoing lifestyle and not only (though there is good in this) in short-term immediate responses to crisis situations.
Only after that can we authentically ask the theological meta-question: why would God allow such a thing to happen? From a Christian theological standpoint here are my thoughts.
*The Bible presents us with a fallen world, a world in bondage to decay, a world that itself cries out for redemption. In such a fallen world natural disasters happen. They always have – both small scale and large scale. We are not promised that we will always be protected from them in this life. Romans 8:18-23 states:
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
Romans 8:18 was probably the first verse in the Bible that I ever memorized. Again, it states: "I consider that the sufferings of this present life are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Why this verse, I now wonder? I am thinking that it spoke to me because, like everyone, I had experienced suffering. Unfortunately, for me in particular, a good deal of my suffering was brought on by my own bad choices. But it was clear to me that this life will contain suffering, struggle, hardship, and pain. And this clarity in no way caused me to doubt that there was a God who is loving, just, merciful, and powerful. All the sufferings I have personally seen and not seen have not changed my mind about this. I have no doubt that God is with me. I also have no doubt that there will be suffering in life.
*I have never believed, on the basis of biblical teaching, that the ultimate purpose of this life is to live “a long, healthy life.” From my Christian standpoint the most important value is, while I am in this life, to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. This does not mean that, e.g., when we lose a loved one that we will not deeply grieve. Or that, when a loved one or even our own self is greatly suffering, we will not feel pain. But biblically we are not presented with a pain-free life. I believe that how we live and die is far more significant than the fact that people die. As a pastor I have been with many suffering persons and have seen God greatly glorified even in the midst of great suffering.
*Everyone dies. The specifics of how persons should die are not given. Some die peacefully. Others die violently. But we do not have, in the Bible, any idea of a “good death.” There are a lot of not-so-good deaths in Scripture. Take Jesus’ death on the cross for starters. Think of the suffering and dying Jesus as portrayed in "The Passion of the Christ."
*I believe that from a Christian paradigm it is not only possible but probable that God did save lives in the midst of all of this. There are indeed persons testifying that this is indeed the case. Such persons see and experience the saving activity of God in what happened to them. It would be presumptuous to devalue the testimonies of God's redemptive activity that are and will be coming forth out of this tragedy.
*But of what value, then, are our prayers? Do our prayers move the heart and hand of God? I will be posting my response to this question soon.
*A FINAL NOTE: I have in my personal library many books that respond to the questions that arise in the midst of suffering and pain. One such book is Greg Boyd's Is God to Blame? We're selling his book now at our church because Greg is coming to be with us October 2-3-4 of 2005.