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Some Thoughts on Disaster, God's Mercy & Christian Compassion

Here are reflections on Katrina from a Christian worldview by my friend Rodney Tolleson:

Some Thoughts on Disaster, God’s Mercy,

& Christian Compassion

September 1, 2005

Rodney Tolleson

When the world faces disaster, it reels from the human suffering and sometimes rails at a God it doesn’t even believe exists for “allowing” suffering and evil. When Christians face the same disastrous situations, they face similar temptations (like questioning God’s actions) and additional ones as well.

One temptation is to try to defend God. When the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon there were some Christian spokespeople who stated that God had nothing to do with the devastation. When our friends are questioning why a powerful and good God would allow such suffering, we sometimes want to exonerate God.

Another temptation is to try to blame the unrighteous. For example on Wednesday, August 31, 2005, Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America stated that, "Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city…" in reference to Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans just days before a homosexual festival called “Southern Decadence” gathered in the city.

Let me comment on each of these temptations:

Does God need Christians to defend Him?

Throughout the Scriptures we learn of God’s great sovereignty, His powerful ruling over all events in history. Ephesians 1:11 refers to God as “him who works all things according to the counsel of his will”. And Amos 3.6 clearly teaches that God is responsible for disasters, “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?

God does not need our defense. He deserves our awe! He is powerful and sovereignly allows or ordains all things that come to pass for His own purposes! It would be better for Christians to say nothing than to try to defend God.

William Cowper was an 18th century English poet who wrestled deeply with depression and certainly knew personal disaster. His mother died when he was 5, and his father shipped him off to a perverted boarding school at 7, and these were just the beginning. In his hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, Cowper wrote the classic Christian response to disaster:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take: The clouds you so much dread

Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence Faith sees a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding ev’ry hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain;

God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.

William Cowper understood what we so desperately need in our day, God is in control and there is no need for Him to apologize for being in control! If we could but see history from God’s perspective we would first of all see His overwhelming mercy and then we would even see tragedies as a part of His eternal plan to glorify Himself by saving as many as will believe on His dear Son.

Should we blame the unrighteous for tragedy?

Was the disaster in New Orleans a judgment on a Mardi Gras city? Was the hurricane destruction in Beloxi, Mississippi God’s judgment on the casino industry? Should we say that natural disasters are God’s judgment on the unrighteous?

Jesus speaks very clearly on this matter. When he was commenting on 18 people who died in the tragic collapse of a tower, he said, “… do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:4-5)

In some sense, Jesus is asking us all a question: “Do you think that New Orleans was ravaged because it was more wicked than Chicago or Denver or DeMotte, Indiana?” If God sent destruction to our town, we could still say that God had judged a wicked city.

The message of God is very clear during disasters.

§ Marvel that God has mercifully spared so many so long. God is so patient will all of us. He could damn all humanity this moment, but He gives time for sinners to turn to Him.

§ Turn to God from sin and self-sufficiency. Calamity reminds us of our frailty. We should learn to depend on God more deeply during these times. Self-sufficiency in the face of God’s sufficiency is sin. Every time we observe a tragedy we should repent, that is, we should turn away from our own sinful, careless, self oriented, and self sufficient ways and turn to the all sufficiency of God in Christ. According to Jesus’ words in Luke 13.4-5 it is eternally dangerous to do otherwise.

Copyright © Rodney Tolleson – You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do NOT alter the wording in any way (including this copyright statement) and you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. All other uses require written permission.

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