From Lisbon to Katrina to Haiti (Part 2)

Hello friends!

Here is the rest of the article I wrote on the theological implications of Hurricane Katrina. I hope the material will clarify our earlier discussion regarding the Haiti earthquake.


According to the religious leaders cited in the previous posting, God never left the Flood Business–despite the Scriptural verse that says the exact opposite! “WHEN the LORD smelled the sweet odor, he said to himself: “Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the desires of man’s heart are evil from the start; nor will I ever again strike down all living beings, as I have done” (Gen. 8:21).

On the other hand, had Jean Jacques Rousseau witnessed Katrina, I have little doubt how he would have interpreted the disaster.  Katrina illustrates how the various bodies of government (e.g., the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana, the Federal Government, FEMA, the Mayor, the Governor, the President, the local residents, and so on) failed to make maximum use of the resources available. Local officials knew in advanced that this type of storm was possible and that the levees could break. Why was nothing done about it? Why were the monies allocated for rebuilding the levees not utilized decades after they were collected from the government? Why was there no effective evacuation plan? Why did it take so long for the relief agencies to respond? How the local inhabitants compound the problem with their disregard for the law. Although the weather was fierce, the onus of Katrina’s damage did not come from the weather but from the systemic breakdown of government.

The Lisbon earthquake and Hurricane Katrina characterize  only one kind of theological dilemma involving theodicy. On December 26, 2004, an undersea earthquake measuring 9.3 100 miles off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia produced the second largest earthquake in recorded history and generated massive tsunamis. Over 230,000 people lost their lives in just a matter of hours. Given the destructive force of the tsunamis, would Rousseau agree with Voltaire, and hold God responsible for the tsunamis?

Not necessarily.

One could logically argue that given the technology, wealth, and information we possess of weather patterns and seismic conditions, nations can now take steps to help minimize natural catastrophes. Tectonic plates will continue to shift; magma from volcanoes will continue to explode with fiery force; the wind will continue to generate hurricanes and tornadoes (which incidentally, were also detected on the planet Saturn—a place far removed from human habitation). Natural law will not change; yet, when these disasters occur, people of good faith can bring tikkun (repair) through a tsunami of compassion.

When God enjoins Adam to, “Fill the earth and subdue it!” (Gen. 1:28), the biblical narrator may have had this type of thought in mind. “Conquering the earth” may very well involve fixing nature’s many imperfections. A mature faith in God requires that we be responsive to the various mishaps and flaws of creation through a covenantal co-relationship with the Divine.

Back to the Future Redux

With respect to the earthquake victims of Haiti, it is vital that the Western nations helping see to it that no individual or organization, or government, profit from the help that is being sent there; strict accountability will help ensure that greatest number of people will  find the miraculous rescue they desperately need. When I saw pictures of the 85 metric tons airlifted to Haiti, the victims must have thought this was  manna from heaven. In a broken world, full of suffering, God calls upon his to act as His deputies and liberators.

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