Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What Katrina Should Tell the Whole World

This Chicago Sun-Times article gives a good rundown of foreign reactions to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It's overwhelmingly sympathetic and has included an offer of an increase oil production by Saudi Arabia's monarch, King Abdullah. No doubt with a tongue placed firmly in his cheek, Hugo Chavez, has offered Venezuelan oil and foreign aid to America.

Particularly touching to me was an editorial appearing in The Nation in Thailand, which said of the hurricane and its aftermath:
It is a crisis that the US must deal with effectively, and we are confident that it can. America’s civic groups, charitable organisations and the great generosity of American corporations and individuals, which react swiftly to bring relief to major disasters no matter where in the world they take place, have sprung into action. The professionalism and dedication of disaster relief agencies has also lived up to their best standard in this hour of need.

Sadly, the outpouring of compassion and courageous rescue operations so far witnessed have been marred by widespread looting and some violence reported in New Orleans, which was particularly affected by the storm, and in other places.

It will make months and years to return to normalcy in the hardest-hit areas.

Thailand, both its government and people, should provide whatever assistance it can to aid the Americans. We still remember when the US government dispatched dozens of aeroplanes and thousands of soldiers, to help tsunami victims in Thailand and other Asian countries. Furthermore, Washington has pledged $950 million out of the estimated US$12 billion promised by all Western donors.

The rest of the world that has benefited from American generosity should show solidarity with Americans who are now picking up the pieces.

Regardless of what other peoples think of the US government and its foreign policies, most of the world owes it to themselves to reciprocate goodwill to the American people.
But there have been other international reactions, of course. Attempts to explain why Katrina wrought so much tragedy and damage have ranged from the partisan to silly, from hateful to foolishly facile.

In a phone conversation earlier today, a friend originally from Germany said that she'd been told that some in her former homeland are claiming that the hurricane and the consequent flooding were a result of President Bush's policies on global warming.

More disturbing and ludicrous is the argument made on an Iraqi insurgent group's web site that Katrina represented God's judgment on America. The Sun-Times article also notes:
Islamic extremists rejoiced in America's misfortune, giving the storm a military rank and declaring in Internet chatter that "Private" Katrina had joined the global jihad, or holy war. With "God's help," they declared, oil prices would hit $100 a barrel this year.
No doubt America has many faults for which we might be rightly held by God. But there's no more reason to suppose that God was judging America through Katrina than there is to believe that Muslim nations like Indonesia were the recipients of God's wrath in last December's tsunami. In fact, when some Jewish, Hindu, and Christian leaders made that argument following the tsunami, I rejected it. (See here.)

This morning, I read, during my devotions, words Jesus spoke to His followers regarding the final days of earth, warning people not to become obsessed with when He would return. Some of what He says here bears relevance to the insurgent group's assertions:
"When you hear of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don't panic. This is routine history, and no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. But these things are nothng compared to what's coming." (Mark 13:7-8)
The point, at least for this discussion, is simple: We live in an imperfect world. Bad things happen. But, as Jesus points out, the sun shines and the rain falls on the good and evil alike.

If God were to lash out at us in judgment, none of us--American or Iraqi--would stand.

Fortunately, God is gracious and loving. He remembers, the Bible says, that we are all dust: finite, sin-imprisoned people who need, not His condemnation, but His liberation.

That's what Jesus offers to us:
"Come to Me [Jesus says]. Get away with Me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly" (Matthew 11:28-29).
Because the world is susceptible to forces of nature that are no respecter of nations, classes, races, or religions, Jesus says that we all need to make following Him our highest priority. "Stay with it," He says. "That's what's required. Stay with it to the end. You won't be sorry; you'll be saved" (Mark 13: 13).

Events like Hurricane Katrina or last December's tsunami remind us of how fragile life is--even for citizens of the wealthiest nation on the planet--and how important it is to be in relationship with the God we know through Christ, Who sustains us in this life and gives us hope for the one to come.

Even in the face of grim, impersonal disaster, Jesus promise and call remain the same: "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you know Me, you will know My Father also" (John 14:6).

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