Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Judgment, Hurricanes & New Orleans

God's Judgment? Once again, a large hurricane was headed for New Orleans and once again I’ve heard Christians assess it as God’s judgment. I’m ashamed to hear God’s people, who have been generous recipients of god’s mercy deny it to others! In 2005, I wrote an e-mail response to the the judgment-by-e-mail that circulated like buzzards when Katrina did it’s damage. I’m repeating it here, now because the Biblical issues haven’t changed.

On God’s Judgment
By Joan C. Thomson
Autumn 2005
When Katrina headed for New Orleans, I grieved and cried out to God for mercy. Thankfully it “weakened” to a category 4 hurricane from a huge “5 1/2”!

As a teen visiting several times with my family, I knew New Orleans as a beautiful city with huge sprays of magenta bougainvillea trailing over wrought iron balconies. Artists set up their easels in Jackson Square. Royal Street hosted antique and gift shops one after another while a streetcar ride through St. Charles garden district was a delight. Beautifully landscaped courtyards with fountains peeked out through passageways and the food was renowned. And yet, most people only know about Bourbon Street. I’ve been there, too. It is horrible—once you see past the continual carnival atmosphere, but it’s only one part.

I’ll miss the good parts of New Orleans (as it was) yet after Katrina hit I began to hear (as usual) speculation about whether the hurricane was God’s judgment on the area. So I looked for commonality between New Orleans, Gulf Port and Mobile (another beautiful city). New Orleans and Gulf Port have in common newly acquired big gambling while Mobile taught New Orleans how to Mardi Gras (literally). Even as I found these parallels, the Holy Spirit began to convict me. IF God were judging these cities on the grounds of such wickedness, THEN we’d better pray for lots of places! My dad agreed as he enumerated the types of legal gambling in Texas. Was it Mardi Gras? —many US cities have it, as do many throughout Europe. Was it the homosexual parades? Many US cities have those too, including Charlotte.
But even Sodom and Gomorrah had Abraham to intercede for them. God would have relented for even ten righteous people. We can be sure that most places have at least ten! If it was God’s judgment, where were the intercessors? I read an exhortation that said more changes aren’t seen in particular groups because instead of praying for them, we Christians are too busy throwing stones.

Was it God’s judgment? That is for God to say. Even Jesus said, “For I did not come to judge the world but to save it.” (John 12:47b) Judgment will come at the end. “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.” (I Corinthians 4:5) Paul said that we aren’t to judge the world at all. “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (I Cor. 5:12) Yes, I’m aware of the verses that say we will judge the world. Notice that they are written in the future tense.

Jesus warned against our passing judgment on those who are the victims of disaster when He said, “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:4,5) That puts us all in a difficult situation since, if there is to be any judgment, it starts with God’s people. “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God…” (1 Peter 4:17) But guess what? The context has nothing to do with “natural disasters” but persecution for being a Christian. V13 “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.”

We’re a lot less likely to pray for a person or place if we’ve made up our minds that God is judging them.

One reason I’ve been so distressed over Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast is that I knew a hurricane could just as easily have hit Galveston and Houston, the city in which I was born and lived until 1985—over half my life. My husband lived most of his life there as well. Our families are there still. Now here we are a few weeks later with Rita bearing down on Galveston and Houston. Yes, Houston has its evil and plenty of it but that doesn’t mean that everyone who lives there is evil.

I’m ashamed to hear Christians saying that Rita should veer over to New Orleans and “finish the job”. Please don’t react to events in an uninformed manner—please base all your opinions, thoughts and comments on the Word of God for it’s the only worthy standard. “But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36) When you feel the urge to point the finger—PRAY INSTEAD.

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