Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina Reprise-- And Now for Something Completely Different

Well it was bound to happen. We now have the ultimate answer to the trivia question--- What do the fundamentalist Christian TV preacher and the head of Al Quaeda in Iraq have in common? Answer--- they both think that Hurricane Katrina is a judgment of God on American sin!

Yes, I kid you not, today Mssr. Al Zarqawi was on the news claiming that Hurricane Katrina was not only an act of God's judgment on American sin, a reprisal for the destruction we have wreaked on Afghanistan and Iraq, but in fact he claims that the hurricane is an answer to prayer--- namely the prayers of those who are part of Al Quaeda. When fundamentalist preachers and Al Quaeda operatives agree on something it is time to ask--- What's wrong with this picture?

Perhaps, we have forgotten entirely about the story of Abraham praying for Sodom and bargaining with God to spare the city (Gen. 18.16-33). Notice that in that story God spares Sodom if there are even ten righteous persons in the whole city. Abraham is persuasive in the story based on the rhetorical question "Will God sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" The answer to the question is no. God has better aim than that for one thing, and secondly the God of the Bible is compassionate over and over again even on recalitrant sinners (see e.g. Hosea 11.8-11--- thank goodness God is not like us in this regard). One can surely make the case that Biloxi, Gulport, New Orleans had more than ten righteous believers in them. Consideration of this sort of text should have eliminated some of the flippant rhetoric we have heard on Christian TV of late.

Or we could consider the brief story of Jesus' disciples asking whether they should call down fire from heaven on a village in Samaria that had not provided hospitality to the disciples (Lk. 9.54-55). Jesus' response is to rebuke the disciples for seeking judgment for those who reject them.

For the Christian person, the bottom line in this sort of discussion, however trite it may sound, is--- Would Jesus have suggested that the devastation that hit the gulf coast was a judgment of God? Or, would he perhaps have said of those cities what he says elsewhere about Sodom and Gomorrah, Korazin and Bethsaida--- that divine judgment of such places will not arrive until the Day of Judgment (Lk. 10.13-15). Judgment of that sort awaits the eschatological conclusion of history. Such texts ought at the very least to make us reticent to make snap judgments on why devastation fell on the Gulf Coast.


opinionated said...

Preach it, Brother1

lycaphim said...

That's exactly what I've been trying to tell my more fundie acquaintances who say God was trying to wreck the homosexuals' party...

Matt said...

many refer to God's use of assyria to judge Israel as a possible precedent for 9/11, and this line of thinking has also been extended to katrina, though oviously katrina was impersonal (i have even considered it myself).

but if we reject such a line of thinking, as dr. witherington suggests we should do, would a strong reason for doing so be that while israel was a divine nation, the elect people of God, the U.S.A. is no such thing (though many seem to think that it is)?

by this i guess i mean that there cannot be a one-to-one correlation between biblical Israel and modern America.

or, to put it in the terms of stanley hauerwas, when American Christians say "we," do they mean Christians or Americans or both? and if both, which takes precedence over the other? or are the two so conflated at this point that they are inseperable?

matt varnell

Ben Witherington said...

Some good responses here. What we can do to prevent bad Christian witnesses on TV is to not support them of course. Don't watch their programs, don't buy their tapes, and make clear to those who ask you that they do not represent most Christians in this country.

As for Assyria's judgment on Israel, Matt has answered his own question--- America is in no way parallel to Israel. Even the modern secular Zionistic Israeli government is not Biblical Israel, so why should we assume America is?

And while we are at it, the primary group that American Christians should be identifying with, are Christians worldwide, rather than Americans, though of course there is nothing wrong with being concerned about and helping out our fellow Americans. That indeed is a good witness.

FellowServant said...

While I agree that Katrina and 9/11 are not judgments of God in the sense of Sodom and Gomorrah, it disturbs me to see so many take such a flippant attitude towards sin's curse.

Even a very casual reading of God's Word instructs that God is not to be toyed with. How could anyone really believe that suffering has nothing to do with sin? Look around - do you see a Garden of Eden? This world is cursed because of sin and disobedience to God. There is a flood of consequences for sin.

Perhaps it would be best to just read my post at:

Bad people - with a capital B

Sharad Yadav said...

I don't think fellowservant was commenting on the aesthetic nature of the created world as much as he was pointing to the reason for which new creation is necessary - namely that the old one has gone wrong and groans for reclamation. That's not to say that nothing divine can be seen in our world any more than our depravity eclipses the image of God stamped upon our souls. Sin has broken God's creation, not obliterated it. I think its a point well taken, if I understand him correctly (though I agree with Dr. Ben's reticence to pronounce specific prophetic judgments with these sorts of catastrophes).

Suzanna said...

The talking heads of religion serve to get the conversation going. We always ask these questions, thinking that we are spared disaster because we deserve it, and given disaster because someone else deserves it. Jesus reminds us to ask ourselves the question "Am I turned to God?" (Luke 13:2-5)
He is coming to spare us from death that really counts. There is a consequence for sin. The sin of ignoring the poor leads to suffering of the poor. The sin of ignoring civil responsibilities lead to the suffering of those one serves. At this time in eschatology, it is not a matter of judgment, but of consequence. Christ invites us to be a solution, not a problem. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Brett Berger said...

I agree with you completely theologically; however, I spent last weekend at the Astrodome providing pastoral care to the survivors. There were more than a few taking comfort in the fact that God used this to purify their corrupt city. Many were grateful for the fact that it enabled them to get out of there. I just thought it was interesting.

Ben Witherington said...

Actually, Bab, your comment perfectly illustrates my point. God can work all things together for good, but this does not mean that all things in themselves or by themselves are good or are from God. God of course knew this hurricane was coming, and knew in advance what its effects would be. There is no problem with concluding God has used this catastrophe to work for the purification of a city which has more than its share of corruption.

Unknown said...

John 9:1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.
2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
3 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

Steven Ingino said...

Some questions for Dr. W.

1. Does America have to be exactly parallel to Israel for God to judge it? God judged other nations, such as Edom and Ninevah. To say that God will not judge America because it's not a theocracy/Israel is a non-sequitor.

2. How much more sinful does a place have to be to deserve God's judgment? I was born and raised in NY city, and went to college, majoring in religious studies at NYU before seminary. I saw the most disgusting sins everyday, in the dorm, on the streets, in the village, and through students and professors who were so anti-Christian, etc. Did the rampant sin in New Orleans bother God? I.e. occultism, witch-craft, prostitution, every 3rd store being a strip club and so forth? I'm not trying to be judgmental nor say it was God's judgment, only that He would be justified if He did.

3. The argument you make that judgment awaits the end time does not hold well with Scripture. Yes, Jesus says much about final judgment, but God certainly judged many peoples and nations (Sodom, Egypt, before the end times. If you're saying that since the coming of Christ that God will never judge until the final judgment, I think that would be difficult to prove. Most scholars believe the destruction of Israel in 70 A.D. was God's judgment for rejection of Messiah, which Jesus may allude to in Matt. 24-25. We see God's hand of judgment against Israel numerous times, and against other nations all throughout the Old Testament (not to mention the conquest). While we have no revelation after the closing of the NT canon to tell us if God judged other nations after Christ, I see no statement in Scripture that would have us to believe that God has stopped operating the way he did in the OT since the advent of Christ (I'm not talking about various continuity, discontinuity issues with Israel, the Church, covenant, etc., I mean God's general dealings in terms of judging sin, having the right to judge a nation other than Israel as He did with Edom and Tyre, etc.)
In essence, just because Jesus and Paul say there will be a final judgment, does that prove there will never be any discipline, judgment, etc. before then?
Your thoughts?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Steve: I don't say God never judges since the NT era, but I do say we have no infallible way to tell if he has done so. I would have expected a major judgment to fall on Germany after WWII for killing 6 million Jews, if I were just guessing how God would react to hideous sin, but in fact they nation got the Marshall plan from us, and recoved quite nicely. It even survived being divided into two halves. And while we are at it, do we really want to argue that 9/11 was the judgment of God on the NY sin you were referring to? Or would it be wiser to say it was the act of horrible terrorism which Jesus would never endorse? I vote for the latter. Whatever temporal judgments God may exercise short of the final judgments, the situations will always be ambiguous enough that we cannot be sure that is what is going on. There are no infallible prophets or interpreters in our day and age.

Matt said...

there may be no infallible prophets now, but then have there ever been? just b/c certain people in the history of the church and israel penned scripture, were they infallible all the time? in luke 5, luke seems to me to be making a judgment that God was at least heavily involved in the death of Ananias and Sapphira. being that acts is in our canon as Christians, we judge luke's judgment to have been correct.

a similar thing could be said about paul's words in 1 corinthians 11:29-32 - "For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world."

i know this raises questions about prophetic authority, but what would we do if a generally respected, current prophet of the church (if there are any of those) said that the Lord revealed to him/her that katrina was a specific judgment on new orleans by God? would we at least test the word? or would we rule it out even as a possibility a priori on other grounds?

just asking...

matt varnell

Steven Ingino said...

Dr. W.

I hear what you are saying regarding your comment:
And while we are at it, do we really want to argue that 9/11 was the judgment of God on the NY sin you were referring to? Or would it be wiser to say it was the act of horrible terrorism which Jesus would never endorse? I vote for the latter.

while you may be right....
we learn from Habbakuk that God may raise up/use evil, cruel nations or people to discipline other nations. Habbakuk couldn't believe that God would use the evil Babylonians (Chaldeans) to judge Israel, God's elect. In the same way, it is not out of the realm of possibility that God would use terrorists to judge America. It is hard to believe that God would use terrorists to discipline a nation which is certainly more "Christian" than the nations from which terorists come, but it is certainly possible... I'm not equating America with Isreal, nor am I saying that America is a Christian nation. However, there are many believers here compared to Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. The same could be said about God using Babylon in 586 or Assyria in 721/22 to judge Israel. In the Bible, God uses evil people to judge people who are sometimes less evil (i.e. Israel was idolatrous, etc. but none would claim that Babylon was more righteous than Israel or contained more believers). Just a thought...