This is my column from the October 2005 edition of our diocesan newspaper ChurchActs
As I write this (in early September) the full scope of the Hurricane Katrina disaster is just becoming clear. I've only learned today that all the members of my family are safe and out of New Orleans. Prayers of thanks for my family and prayers for the safety of everyone still in the city are the order of the day. Inevitably out of events like this a couple things happen. Certain groups begin to shout how God has expressed his anger through the storm and many people begin to wonder why/how God allows things like this happen.
As for God's involvement in “sending” storms and earthquakes and plagues to punish us I must admit to having a problem with the concept. That God is able to do such things is beyond question but that the Lord chooses to do it strikes me as inconsistent with his post-Easter relationship with his creation. Could this all be part of a larger plan? Sure. But it dawned on me several years ago that God's plans are probably way beyond my pitiful understanding. I'm willing to assume that the God who calls me “beloved” has a plan that is beneficial to creation in the long run. Personally I fall somewhere between believing in a God that micromanages every part of my (and everyone's) life and a God that got the world spinning then walked away.
So where's does that leave the questions from the beginning of my column? The honest answers are: I don't believe God “sent” Katrina, and I don't know why or how he chooses to let these things happen. I simply know that bad things do happen both on the large scale and the small. The more important question for us as a people of faith is how do we react to them? Our reaction to the “bad things” that happen tell us a lot about how deeply our faith has etched itself in to our lives. I believe that God is very interested in how we react to what happens in our lives.
God's challenge to us has less to do with being caught in the great disasters of our time than it does with being caught in the little ones. How will we react when we see suffering, when we are confronted with injustice, when we are surrounded by selfishness. When we open our eyes we discover that bad things happen every day to people all around us. Whether it's the victim of the school bully, a frightened child, a confused adult or someone just having bad things happen to them (a car breakdown, an emotional upset, the loss of someone or something important to them) I believe God watches us. It's not so much that God creates tests for us as that he knows that tests abound.
I wrote earlier this year on my blog about watching a young man struggle through the slush and snow of late winter with a long line of grocery carts. That's his job, to return those carts from the parking lot to the store. It dawned on me that I had never really looked at folks like these. He wasn't getting rich working at the grocery store and this job had to be pretty awful that day. And I could make his life a little easier or a little more miserable. Not a lot, just a little. It would be easier for me because I didn't want to be out in that weather either. My faith had etched itself deeply enough into my life that the easy answer wasn't going work anymore.
That large disasters like the hurricane bring out the best in us is fine. I believe we need to keep our eyes open every day. We need to remember the passage where Jesus talks about serving him when we help the hungry and the naked that surround us. Our society pushes us into every more self involved behaviors. We isolate ourselves from our daily life and those in them. In doing so we miss our chances to be agents for positive change in the world. We either ignore or simply insulate ourselves so that we do not see the bad things. How could we have made the day easier for someone with just a word, or a smile?
We ask why does God let bad things happen. How often do we choose to behave in a way that makes God ask us the same question? I can't stop the storms, large or small. Of course that's not my job.