Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Acts of God vs. Sins of Humanity

Si Johnston (sijohnston.blogs.com) just posted his thoughts on the common Christian response to recent natural disasters. He asks great questions - check it out. It reminded me of this article - published in the New York Times shortly after Katrina.

So I do not anger the copyright gods - it is not reprinted in its entirety - if you want a copy let me know and I can email it to you.

Beliefs; The scarcely heard question is how God could have allowed the catastrophe to occur. By PETER STEINFELS (NYT) September 10, 2005

How could God have allowed this to happen? Four years ago, after 9/11, many people were asking that question. They were asking it again after the Indian Ocean tsunami last December. They are not asking it after Hurricane Katrina.
No, take that back. Many individuals, driven from homes, separated from family members and bereft of means of support, are surely anguishing over that question, as Job did on his dung heap. But as a question tormenting the public conscience rather than private individuals, it is scarcely heard. ...

That reflex did show itself, of course, in the cases of the Twin Towers attack and the tsunami. Could the attack have been foreseen, the terrorists stopped, the buildings made more heat resistant and the rescuers warned?
Could the shore dwellers imperiled by the tsunami from Indonesia to Sri Lanka have been alerted?
Such questions were thrashed through, some at great length and in great detail. But they never eclipsed the question of God's presence or absence in these events, as has occurred after Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans.
As Adam B. Kushner, who hails from New Orleans, writes in the latest issue of The New Republic, his hometown ''met its demise by an act of man, not an act of God.'' The man-made dimensions of this catastrophe have wholly overshadowed the natural ones.
Those dimensions have been thoroughly catalogued, from the very building and expansion of a water-girdled city well below sea level to the longstanding complacency about the consequent potential for disaster; from the sluggish and clumsy response of government authorities to the immediate crisis to the stark economic disparities and want of material resources, so largely aligned with racial differences, that have deepened the suffering incumbent on widespread dislocations. ...

All the rescue and relief efforts have been immensely complicated by the breakdown of manmade networks -- of electricity, transportation, drinkable water, sewage disposal, food and medicine distribution, telephone service and gasoline supplies.
How can God be implicated when these elaborately contrived human systems prove fragile? ...

For believers, humanity, with all its faults and contrivances, is no less God's creation than hurricanes and ocean surges and the law that water seeks its own level.
So one might logically step back from asking how God could allow the brimming, turbulent Lake Pontchartrain to break the levees to asking how God could allow self-interested or shortsighted politicians to put off reinforcing the levees or allow enterprising engineers and developers to decrease the capacity of the environment to buffer storms.
How could God allow the negligence, racism, indifference or hard-heartedness that long gnawed at the social fabric of New Orleans -- or the blindness or incompetence of officials who should have understood the brewing human storm, as well the meteorological one?
That such questions about divine providence have been so little pressed in this way testifies to a tremendous modern -- and American -- belief in human freedom and responsibility. On the Gulf Coast, humans fell short, not God; humans and human institutions should be called to account, not God. ...

Outstanding American religious thinkers have seen a strong link between this chipper avoidance of the tragic and what they consider an overweening confidence in the power of American technology, energy and organization to solve every sort of problem. Would they find it a stretch to suggest a further link between what has worried them and the national impulse to skate quickly over all the wrenching questions that natural and human evils raise about God and the universe?
There may be no final, fully satisfactory answers to questions like how God could allow 9/11 or the tsunami to happen or, in Katrina's case, allow officialdom and decades of neglect to allow it to happen. Is asking these questions a waste of time, therefore, and diversion of intellect?
For Congressional committees, yes. But for others, delving into such mysteries might at least lead to a more profound understanding of the human condition and the untidiness of reality generally.

1 comment:

Suzanna said...

"The untidiness of reality" for the follower of Christ makes his humanity an awesome wonder.
I love Madeliene L'Engle too.
Love your Blog...will be back for more visits. Thanks.