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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

How could God allow Katrina?

Last Sunday morning, we wrestled with the question of "who is to blame for the tragedy of hurricane katrina." Is it Satan? Sin? Our society? Is is God?

Whose to blame.

I came across this article today that I thought would further the dialogue on the subject. Any thoughts?

How Could God Allow Katrina?
The problem of evil forcefully reasserts itself.
by Will Reaves

While the dead have yet to be counted and the damage to New Orleans is not fully assessed, it seems safe to say that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will be with us for years. Already, the recriminations for Katrina are growing, with the federal, state, and city governments each being blamed for playing a role in the disaster response, and occasionally blaming each other in turn.

For Christians, however, the primary focus—at least at this stage—should not be assigning blame but being salt and light in the midst of crisis. (Here are some good ways to start.) Beyond the practical help, there are two particularly pressing questions of faith. The first is, as many asked after the tsunami last year, "How could God let such horrid things happen?" The second, after witnessing the breakdown of order and civility in the hours following the storm, is, "How could we let such horrid things happen?"

Both of these questions deal with theodicy: Why does God allow evil to exist? Can't God stop both human and natural evil? If he can, why doesn't he? That these perennial questions arise in response to every tragedy, war, and disaster shows the enduring nature of our doubt and the magnitude of the question. Both "natural" evil (natural disasters, disease, suffering of animals) and "human" evil (wars, genocides, injustice) mock our ability to make the reality of an omnipotent, loving God sensible in the wake of suffering.

Is Human Sin God's Design?

With human evil, the explanation comes slightly easier: God allows us freedom; thus we are free to choose to do evil. Dating back to Augustine of Hippo, Christian theodicy has frequently declared evil to be the lack of good, a perversion of the blessings of life and freedom that God generously granted to us. By describing evil as a "non-thing" Augustine absolved God of the responsibility of creating it; by making it the result of creaturely freedom, the blame shifts to us creatures. Augustine's teachings on the inherent depravity of the human will seem particularly justified in the wake of the collapse of order in New Orleans.

As Christians we should not respond smugly to such events; Augustine, along with more recent writers like C.S. Lewis, emphasized that Christians are frequently just as weak-hearted and needing of God's sanctifying grace. Both Lewis and Augustine agree that, as Kenneth Kantzer puts it, "The Christian life then becomes a slow, painstaking, often very painful, and always infinitely complex process by which God structures within us the perfect goodness of Christ." Only by seeking and yearning for God's will to be done in our lives can we begin to combat the evils of the world.

When Blame Cannot Suffice

But even with the issue of human evil "settled," the issue of "acts of God" remains. We can plausibly blame the evils of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot on Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. But who could be at fault for cancer or hurricanes or earthquakes but God? How does theodicy ultimately answer the question "Why is life unfair?"

As it was in the days of Job, it is somewhat faddish to assume that even illness or sudden misfortune must somehow be the fault of the sufferer. Thus, such events are God's righteous anger bearing down upon the wicked; there is no evil or unfairness because the suffering is just punishment. But the illusion that affliction only happens to those who really, in some unknown way, deserve it cannot bear up under scrutiny. Kathryn Lindskoog dismantles this line of thought in Building Your Church Through Counsel and Care. There comes a point where the issue of blame simply must be left aside. Only then can we truly begin to serve those who are suffering.

John Stackhouse, summarizing what he calls the "challenge of evil," notes the ultimate impossibility of understanding the plan of God. He argues that trust in God must come first, and only then can we begin to learn to accept his purposes. The inherently subjective and personal nature of the problem serves to keep us humble and avoid pat answers to explain away the pain of others.

In the end, he suggests that the question "Where is God when people suffer?" was best answered by Mother Teresa: "God is there, suffering with [them]. The question really is, where are you?" Thus, the true answer to the problem of evil is not an intellectual defense of God but an active expression of Christian love. We can hope and pray (and act) to show that love in the days ahead.

1 comment:

Teresa O. said...

What a great blog. The summary says it all, “hope…pray…love.” All I know is this - Psalm 33: 4: For the word of the LORD holds true, and everything he does is worthy of our trust.”

We have a phrase at work, "don't blame or shame." There is no way I would say God is to blame. However, these events make me think of the signs Jesus told us to look for in the end times. God is in control and Larry King recently asked a minister on his show, "it's been 2000 years and Jesus still hasn't come back. What do you think of that?" The minister replied, "It’s 2000 years closer." And, that's what I think of when these events happening - Jesus coming back in all is glory.