ASK Commentary
September 13, 2005 

Hurricane Katrina and Other Great Disasters

Commentary for September 13, 2005 — God Is Responsible 
 
It has been my practice not to comment immediately on various news events. I prefer to allow some time to pass to gain some perspective on initial and follow-up events. Hurricane Katrina was one such major event. I am writing this Commentary 2 weeks after the event so I can have some perspective of time to the hurricane disaster. 

Hurricane Katrina was the most massive and widespread destructive natural event in the history of the United States. The physical damage from wind blast and subsequent flooding was worse than several nuclear bombs set off side by side along the coast of three southern states on the Gulf of Mexico (although the loss of life was much less). By the grace of God, the loss of life was not as high as feared. Some estimated that deaths would number 10,000, but more than two weeks after the event it appears that only about 1,000 people will be found to have died; those who did not heed the warning to evacuate the danger area. It is possible that the total may be closer to 500 dead. Fear has diminished that long-term deaths from pestilence would occur.  

Over 1,000,000 people evacuated from the coastal areas. Schooling must be found for over 300,000 children whose buildings no longer exist. Many of those children have been traumatized. Massive societal and physical infrastructure must be carefully rebuilt. One major lesson of this disaster is that civilization is extremely fragile.

Though hundreds of thousands have been rescued and temporarily relocated, the economic devastation will have a long-term effect on the prosperity of the United States, no matter how great its economic power. The billions of dollars to be spent in recovery (both by government and private sector) would have been better spent on other non-emergency priorities. The economic value of ruined buildings is literally money “down the drain.” 

Those flooded out in New Orleans, Louisiana, learned first-hand the full meaning of the image Jesus was conveying at the end of His teaching parables to the people:

“And why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever comes to me, and hears my sayings, and does them, I will show you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that hears, and does not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.” 

Luke 6:46–49

New Orleans certainly did not have its “foundation on a rock.” Indeed, the city was not even built “upon the earth”; it was built below sea level. Therefore when there were breeches in the levies, water filled 60% of the city area. Not a wise thing to do. 

Another one or two more such disasters could bring the United States to its economic knees in spite of its God-given natural resources (see the articles “The Power of the United States” and “The Secret of United States Economic Success.” God has blessed the United States with so much, including power. God can take that power away quickly. 

Most of you reading this around the world are not probably aware of the economic importance of New Orleans to the United States and the world. A writer friend of mine who lived a long time in New Orleans until 2002 wrote this regarding the importance of that great city:

“… The city is absolutely ESSENTIAL to the economy of this country. 1/3 of the gas and oil moves through it, 1/4 of the gas and oil are refined in the area (between New Orleans and Baton Rouge), and 1/3 of the grain that feeds the WORLD passes through the port. So it is, in a manner of speaking, the most strategically important city in America. One of the reasons I moved, in fact, was a report I read after 9-11 that the ideal city for a "dirty bomb" by terrorists would be New Orleans because it was so strategically vital. And now we've dirty bombed ourselves.”

Note these words again: 1/3 of the grain that feeds the world passes through the port” of New Orleans. This means that 1/3 of all overseas grain shipments from the United States goes through the city of New Orleans. Markets and economies around the world will be severely strained and even ruined with a result of famine and pestilence if the surplus grain from the United States cannot be shipped overseas. Coupled with the effect of higher oil prices, an economic double-whammy could hit the poorest nations of the world. It is possible that millions of people could die around the world as an aftereffect of this one disaster event. 

For confirmation of the importance of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, see the article “New Orleans, a Geopolitical Prize” by George Friedman of the geopolitics thinktank Stratfor. In terms of tonnage New Orleans is the largest port in the United States and fifth largest in the world. Friedman notes in his article:

“The commodity chain of the global food industry starts here, as does that of American industrialism. If these facilities are gone, more than the price of goods shifts: The very physical structure of the global economy would have to be reshaped. Consider the impact to the U.S. auto industry if steel doesn't come up the river, or the effect on global food supplies if U.S. corn and soybeans don't get to the markets. … New Orleans is not optional for the United States' commercial infrastructure. It is a terrible place for a city to be located, but exactly the place where a city must exist.”

Who’s Responsible? God Is … 

Columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote an article in the September 9, 2005 Washington Post titled “Where to Point the Fingers.” He correctly understood who was to blame for the disaster:

“Let's be clear. The author of this calamity was, first and foremost, Nature (or if you prefer, Nature's God). The suffering was augmented, aided and abetted in descending order of culpability by the following: …”

Nature is not alive, Nature does not exist as an entity, although it teems with life created by God. Mr. Krauthammer goes on to detail the shared blame to be held by governments going up the scale from the local, county (parishes in the state of Louisiana), state, and federal government, as well as individuals such as the President of the United States, and even the American people. All have a share of responsibility in their failure to properly respond to this massive disaster.  

Of course, Mr. Krauthammer is absolutely correct. God is responsible. If He is not, then who is? Blind chance? Satan? Human action? 

Referring to the damage from Hurricane Katrina, the humorous-spoof website and newspaper The Onion headlines its September 7, 2005 issue: “God Outdoes Terrorists Yet Again,” meaning that God has done more damage to America than terrorists have ever done. Here too, there is considerable truth to the joke. 

Remember always that God is ultimately responsible for all evil that occurs. Think of the following verse as applying to the major cities of New Orleans, Louisiana; Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi; and Mobile, Alabama:

“Shall the trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in [to] a city, and the Lord [YHVH] has not done it? Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he reveals his secret unto his servants the prophets.” 

Amos 3:6–7

The trumpet “blown in the city” was a standard signal in ancient times to warn of coming danger. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath were a great, great evil. The modern equivalent of the warning trumpet was “blown” in the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by the local, state, and federal officials through the news media. People were warned to evacuate (just as in Ezekiel 3:17–19 and 33:4–5). 

Everyone in the city knew that a great evil was approaching, the great hurricane was coming, and evacuation orders were given. As always with such warnings, many did not or could not heed the warning. Great destruction struck the Gulf of Mexico coasts of three states, and later the levees broke to flood the city of New Orleans, one of the most morally corrupt cities in America (and perhaps the world). 

God was responsible for the Hurricane. God creates evil (Isaiah 45:6–8). If you do not like this fact, take it up with God. God gives a warning to those who object to His actions in the affairs of men. Read Isaiah 45:9–12. He warns Israel (or anyone) not to strive or contend (which means to struggle or oppose) what God is doing in His creation. If God wants you dead … you will die:

“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.” 

Deuteronomy 32:39

“The Lord kills, and makes alive: he brings down to the grave, and brings up. The Lord makes poor, and makes rich: he brings low, and lifts up. He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory.” 

1 Samuel 2:6–8

Many have died and been made poor by this event. Some will be made rich in the recovery. Such is life. 

I cannot state dogmatically whether this disaster was a direct act of judgment on the part of God. It is not possible to know for sure. The object of the passage in Amos 3:6–7 quoted above is ancient Israel, of course, not the United States. However, if you read the context of the Amos passage, God is presenting generic information and asking a rhetorical question using ancient Israel as an example. He is letting the reader know how He operates among men in general, within the specific context of His message to Israel through Amos. 

The apostle Paul tells the Roman ekklesia that the people of the land are instructed to obey their rulers for the very reasons of safety. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, those who did not listen and obey suffered from the destruction:

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation [judgment]. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Will you then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and you shall have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to you for good. … Wherefore you must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay you tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.” 

Romans 13:1–6

Was Satan Responsible? 

Perhaps, but if he was it was as God’s agent, and therefore God is still responsible. Satan dislikes disorder, chaos, and public sin in the nations he controls. And he controls the United States through the Babylonian system of religion and government just as he controls all nations of the world. They are under his power at the present time. The power that Satan sought to give Christ if He would worship Satan is still in Satan’s hands to this day (Matthew 4:8–10). Read Dr. Martin’s biblical commentary on Satan’s rulership style in Chapter 18, “The Deceptive Role of Satan the Devil” in Essentials of New Testament Doctrine (Portland, OR: ASK, 2001). 

Satan is the prince of the power (authority) of the air (Ephesians 2:2). Suffice to say that Satan used the power of wind to destroy when he killed Job’s sons:

“And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell you.” 

Job 1:19

This is how many of those who did not evacuate lost their lives (and their property and belongings) in Hurricane Katrina. The devastation for wooden structures in the hardest hit areas was almost total. 

Was Man Responsible? 

Of course mankind and his governments have responsibility in this matter because of a lack of preparedness for the disaster, particularly in New Orleans. The September 1, 2005 Houston Chronicle newspaper has reprinted an article from 2001 titled “The Foretelling of a Deadly Disaster in New Orleans.” This reprint article pointed out the danger that New Orleans was likely to suffer from a major hurricane. The events as predicted occurred precisely as described. Hurricane Katrina hit landfall in the morning of August 29, 2005. Note from “A Timeline of Government Response to Hurricane Katrina” that several warnings went out, warnings that went unheeded by thousands of people. 

Note what the apostle Peter said about individuals and nations:

“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him.’” 

Acts 10:34–35

Indeed, God is not a respecter of persons, unless you care for others and fear God, work righteousness, then He will notice you and protect you. This is something you must be responsible for yourself. You must be prepared. 

Be Prepared for Disaster 

There is no place in the United States or around the world that is not subject to natural disasters potentially on the scale brought by Hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean months earlier. You have a responsibility to yourself and others to make preparations for disaster. 

A small amount of preparation can help you survive many kinds of disaster, or if you are not affected, then your preparation may assist others around you survive. This means having on-hand the basics of food, water, clothing, transportation, and communications for each person for a number of days. You determine what you need, but it is important to have a plan for disaster. Although not biblical, the notion that “God helps those who help themselves” is especially true with regard to disasters. 

Remember, if you and your family are prepared then you will be less likely to be a burden to others and more likely to be a help to others. 

Remember that God’s protection in a time of trouble is always available, at His choosing:

“Blessed is he that considers the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble [literally, “day of evil”]. The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and you will not deliver him unto the will of his enemies.” 

Psalm 41:1–2

The Response of the Ekklesia and Individual Christians 

 
When the apostle Paul asked for assistance for the saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Corinthians 16:1–4 and 2 Corinthians chapter 9) who were suffering because of famine during a sabbatical year, he collected funds from the Corinthians, Galatians, and other ekklesias on the route to Jerusalem to distribute money and produce to poor Christian brethren. See Dr. Martin’s article “The Chronology of New Testament Times.” 

In disasters such as Hurricane Katrina our first responsibilities are to our own families, friends, acquaintances, and that includes the ekklesia of God. Our secondary responsibilities are to those who are not near to us in either relationship or distance.

“This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that you affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.” 

Titus 3:8

“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.” 

1 Timothy 6:17–18

I recently saw television commercial soliciting funds from Christians for non-Christian Jews in Israel so they would have the ability to properly celebrate the Sabbath. While feeding the hungry is worthy, whatever the people (and those Jews are potential and will be future children of God), it is not the responsibility of Christians to assist non-Christians unless you have some other relationship to them. The household of God must come first in your minds if not your actions (Ephesians 2:18–22).
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” 

Galatians 6:10

Remember that Paul helped the Christian saints in Jerusalem, not the Jewish inhabitants in general who were suffering as much as those of the ekklesia. There were other provisions for them as supplied by Herod’s government building programs. However, in such matters you are always and totally free to do as you wish in such matters without anyone judging you. However, keep your priorities in mind when you help anyone for any reason — and be generous. God will know and understand your attitude when you give. 

Conclusion 

God is in charge whether you like it or not. He is ultimately responsible and often directly responsible for great catastrophes that occur in the world. Do not let theologians tell you otherwise. If they object, ask them: who then is responsible? They will likely give the standard response: “It’s a mystery.” Well, there is no mystery. God is responsible for catastrophes and He does as He pleases in the affairs of men. 

If you are caught up in a disaster, call upon God for mercy, and do your utmost to help yourself, your family, and those close to you. Only then think about helping others distant from you. Preparations can often be helpful. 

You were not brought into this life to have a smooth ride. Evil days will come (Psalm 49:5, 90:15; Proverbs 15:14; Ecclesiastes 11:8, 12:1; Ephesians 5:16). You were born to experience, learn, and often suffer in preparation to gaining your full stature as a first-born child of God seated with Christ in the Family of God.

David Sielaff
david@askelm.com

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