In the Hindu Kush mountains, the earth shuddered. In Central America, its mud slid down the volcanic mountains, crushing everything in its path. Thousands are dead in Pakistan and 300,000 may be starving in Central America.
Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Alabama State Senator Hank Erwin, said: “New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast have always been known for gambling, sin and wickedness. It is the kind of behavior that ultimately brings the judgment of God.”
The conservative Christian website Restore America had this observation (as posted on Beliefnet): “Katrina was an act of God upon a sin-loving and rebellious nation, a warning to all who foolishly and arrogantly believe there is no God, and that if He did exist, ‘would not have done such a thing!’ It is also a serious call to repent, to turn away from our wicked ways, from the heart of a loving Father.”
Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, said, “New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion — it’s free of all of those things now. God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there — and now we’re going to start over again.”
And Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy, said, “There’s been Satanic worship in New Orleans. There’s been sexual perversion. God is going to use that storm to bring a revival. God has a plan. God has a purpose.”
Following this logic, one must assume that the earthquake among the Muslims and the floods and mudslides crushing the Christian campesinos must likewise be God’s judgments on them. I’m waiting for the evangelists to make sure these folks know that they are sinners in the hands of an angry God. Or is it only America that is deserving of God’s judgment? Are the fundamentalist finger-pointers part of some right-wing “blame America first” movement?
The tragedy of human tragedy is that it is, in the end, inexplicable. Bad things happen, not because God is angry at humanity, but because we live in an imperfect world. Humans search for explanations—sexual practices, religious beliefs, criminal behaviors, political choices—in order to make sense out of the senseless. Yet it stays senseless nonetheless.
The message of Jesus is that, in the midst of human suffering, in the pain and degradation of the Cross, lies the compassion of God. Being a Christian does not mean a life free from suffering, but a life suffering with those who likewise suffer. It means loving people whose pain threatens to swallow us up. It means bearing the hurt of the world in our own heart, and loving others through it all. It means touching lepers, comforting the mourning, holding the sick, feeding the starving, freeing the imprisoned. None of that is done to “convert” them to Christianity, but because compassion is the way of Jesus.
For Jesus came, not for America, but for all the world. He did not suffer for America only, but for Pakistanis, Guatemalans, and Sudanese as well. For when Muslims or Buddhists or Baptists suffer, Jesus suffers with them through us. It is our call to comfort them in their affliction, bring joy to their sorrow, and bind up their broken hearts. It is our call to the Cross.