Who is to Blame for the Tragedy in New Orleans?

The situation in the New Orleans area has been getting worse since Monday. At first there was minimal flooding, but then the levy broke and the city filled with water. As the conditions in the city have gone from bad to worse the people there have become more desperate. Today there are reports of armed gangs and violence that is hindering relief efforts. It’s sad that at a time when some people are working heroically to save life, others are taking advantage of the chaos to engage in violence and looting. It reminds us of the fallenness of the human race. We need to keep the people there in our prayers.

Reporters are already talking about who to blame for the slow emergency response, although I think that for now we should just focus on helping the victims. There will be plenty of time later to discuss policy changes or to restructure emergency agencies. But it does seem that the response is much slower than it should have been. It’s not like they didn’t know that the hurricane was coming.

When there is a disaster people usually look for someone to blame. It’s part of their effort to cope with the magnitude of the tragedy. They ask “How could this have happened?” and then “Whose fault is it?” Since they can’t blame anyone for the hurricane itself, they look for other places to focus their blame. We see the same sort of behavior any time there is any sort of tragedy. Usually it ends up with the passage of some sort of law, whether it does any good or not, because people want to feel that they have “solved the problem” so that “this sort of thing” won’t happen again.

But the problem is that we really can’t guarantee that “this sort of thing” will never happen again. We can never make our lives totally safe, although we often delude ourselves into thinking that it is possible. After we take all the reasonable and sensible precautions that we should, we must recognize that there are some things that are beyond our control. It creates an uncomfortable feeling, but we must accept it because it is true.

For a Christian, this is where our faith steps in. Things are never totally under our control, but they are under God’s control. The universe is not running amok, although at times it may look that way to us. Of course talking about God’s control immediately leads to the question “God, why did you let that happen?” (I don’t think that God directly causes the calamities in our lives, but He does allow them to occur.) There are a number of partial responses to this question, but in the end I don’t think that we have all the answers. It comes down to “Do you trust Him?” And in the midst of a crisis, trust in the Lord can be a very comforting thing.

Let’s keep the people affected by the hurricane in our prayers this week!

You might also want to read my article on Responding to the Tsunami Disaster from January 2005 or listen to my sermon on the Tsunami entitled “Why, God?” (online sermon no longer available)

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"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." -- C. S. Lewis