September 30, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Tragedies beyond our control remind us we need God

The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina a month ago, and Hurricane Rita last week, was beyond belief. The heartfelt response to help the victims of the hurricanes was deeply felt around our nation and around the world. With the desire to help, there was also a frustrating sense of helplessness bordering on despair for the people so deeply and personally violated. It is difficult to comprehend that hundreds of thousands were left with nothing.

I think the horror of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita—and the memory aroused by the fourth anniversary of 9-11—stirred something deep within the soul of our nation. Much as a grave physical illness does, so I think these catastrophes touch a deep abhorrence for what we cannot control in life. The recent hurricanes and 9-11 made it abundantly clear that we as a nation and we as a human family are very vulnerable to powers beyond our control. The sense of vulnerability to those powers is not something most people of our culture are accustomed to experiencing. An exception would be those who live in the powerlessness imposed by poverty—financial poverty or physical or emotional poverty.

In a sense, as happens with hurricanes or terrorist attacks, when we experience the threat of harm that is simply beyond our control, we want to react, sometimes with violence. I think of an editorial cartoon that showed three semitrailer trucks pulling into the hurricane-devastated area: one trailer carried food and water, another first-aid supplies; the third trailer was labeled “Blame.”

I suppose it is a natural instinct as old as humanity to want to strike out—in this case to find someone to blame in tragic circumstances. Nonetheless, I don’t think I was the only one who was disappointed when blame became a major focus so quickly in the aftermath of Katrina. There is no question that in disasters of such enormous proportions, the preparedness needed to respond should constantly be reviewed, and that problems and failures experienced should be corrected for future eventualities.

To deflect attention from the spirit of compassionate and massive response (and information needed) truly to help the unfortunate victims of the hurricane with a focus on “who was to blame for what” was not in their best interest. Nor did it present our best face as a nation.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that recent tragedies can be a wake-up call at several levels. Certainly, like 9-11, the massive Hurricane Katrina serves as a reminder to all of us that we need to be alert to the kinds of preparations needed to either avert disaster or to respond in the face of it. We are also reminded that we are not always aware of “neither the day nor the hour.”

I believe these tragedies can also serve us spiritually. In a culture that for the most part lives as if it doesn’t need God, it could be helpful to be reminded that when all is said and done, sometimes we simply have no control over what can harm us. I would like to think that Katrina and Rita can cause us to acknowledge our need for God more consciously. Maybe the ominous specter of natural disasters can remind us that “here we have no lasting city [or home]” (Heb 13:14). That is truly what thousands of citizens of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have so tragically experienced.

Suffering is never far from us. If not our own, we know of loved ones who’ve been struck with cancer or some other debilitating affliction. It moves us to deepen our faith as we see them struggle with suffering. The great consolation available to us, if we turn to our faith, is the fact that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ suffered for us and suffers with us. We have the blessed alternative to join our sorrow and suffering to his. It doesn’t take the affliction away, but it can make it a bit more bearable, especially as we renew our perspective that here is no lasting city. There is indeed a kingdom where every tear will be wiped away. There is a kingdom where there will be neither terrorism nor ­devastating hurricanes. There is a kingdom where there will be no homeless people.

On the way to that kingdom, we walk with the homeless and those who suffer from violence of any kind. We do so because we are brothers and sisters made so by Jesus. We do so because we are called to love our neighbor. We journey to the kingdom in a world that is imperfect now and will be so in the future. We either contribute to building up or we don’t. By the grace of God, we can do our part to make it better. †


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