Once again we are witnesses to a disaster and we are bound to ask: What is the best way for a Christian to respond?
We respond with awe at the mighty power of God, who is stronger than Katrina or any other hurricane of any category. The sovereign Lord rides the clouds of the heavens (Ps. 68:33), and the stormy wind fulfils his word (Ps. 148:8).
We respond with sorrow, grieving the dead. What images of death we have seen in the past week, and what stories of grievous loss! We weep for the man whose wife slipped his grasp and floated away in the storm. We mourn the dead grandmother under the blanket at the convention center. We grieve for the bodies we saw floating in the streets. And we mourn the loss of all the dead we will never know, the people trapped in their homes for too long, dying before medical care could reach them, and still waiting for the dignity of a decent burial.
We respond with humility, acknowledging the limits of human competence. Many people are angry today, for many different reasons, and they will be angry for a long time. There are so many people to blame: the ones who didn’t evacuate, or spend the money to build a bigger levee, or develop a better disaster plan, or provide help sooner-on and on it goes. Anger usually comes when people’s expectations go unmet. This is a country with high expectations, and many people expected more.
We are all entitled to our opinions about this, of course, but we should also see the frailty of the human condition in all of this. How weak we are in the aftermath of a hurricane! We very casually put our confidence in modern telecommunications, in our insurance coverage, and in the ability of our government to do something about a disaster. But how easy it now seems to end up in a situation-even right here in America-where there is nothing that anyone can do to help. And how quickly that situation becomes totally desperate! Who will ever forget the squalor of the Superdome, or the utter frustration of seeing people with needs that are so easily met, if only we could get the help where it was needed?
We respond with pity, knowing that the depravity we have witnessed is common to us all. How bitterly disappointing it has been to see all of the violence and anarchy in New Orleans: the looting, the raping, and at times the almost complete breakdown of human society. The aftermath of the storm has brought out the worst in human nature. But then what would we expect from people who are fighting for their very lives and no longer have any outward restraint on their sinful desires? What a pitiable exhibition we have seen of the depravity of the human heart! And what great need we have of a Savior who will deliver us on the day of destruction.
We respond with indignation, seeing that the poor have suffered even more than the rich. Hurricanes are indiscriminate in their devastation, raining destruction on everyone in their path. Almost no one on the Gulf Coast has gone unscathed. But more of the poor were left behind, in many cases because they did not have a vehicle that could get them out of town, or the money to get a seat on a bus or an airplane. The righteous perceive the structure of injustice behind the disproportionate suffering of the poor.
We respond with trust, believing that God is working his purposes out for our nation and our world. But this is not to say that we know what those purposes are. Is Katrina God’s judgment on America, as some have said-his punishment for an unjust war on Iraq? Or is it perhaps his wrath against the casino towns of Mississippi and the wanton depravity of New Orleans, as others are saying? But if that is the reason for all this destruction, then what shall we say about all the other godless cities in this country, including our own? And what shall we say about all the godly people whose lives have also been lost, and all the faithful churches that have been destroyed? These questions are better left to God, who alone has the right to say what justice and what mercy he will show.
Finally, and most importantly, we respond with compassion, helping those who are suffering and will suffer. There are many things that people can learn from Hurricane Katrina. They can see the awesome power of God in nature. They can see the frailty and fragility of human life. They can see the limits of human competence and the wicked depravity of the human heart. But they can only see the grace of God if people reach out to help them in the name of Christ.
This week we have seen many heroic and hope-giving examples of human courage. Now it is our turn to help. To begin with, Tenth Presbyterian Church is encouraging its members to give generously to the disaster relief agency of the Presbyterian Church in America. Checks should be designated for “Hurricane Relief” and sent to Mission to North America, 1700 N. Brown Road, #101, Lawrenceville, GA 30043 (or visit www.pca-mna.org). We also support the work of World Relief, which is receiving donations to “Hurricane Katrina Fund” at P.O. Box 868, Baltimore, MD 21202 (or visit www.worldrelief.org). I am concerned that, like 9/11, this most recent disaster may have a negative impact on other Christian ministries. To that end, I urge you to make sacrificial gifts over and above your regular tithe to the church and your regular giving to other Christian organizations.
Soon there will be much more for us to do. We will be working with our denomination to identify one or more PCA congregations that we can help in the months and perhaps years to come. If possible, we will send out work teams later this fall; look at your schedule to see if you have time to donate, or if perhaps your employer will give you time to participate in what will surely be a national effort. We will also give you more information about the City of Philadelphia’s plans to house up to 5000 refugees. Be ready to open your home and your heart to people in need, just as your heavenly Father has opened his home and his heart to you.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org