Hurricane Katrina's destruction was so great and far-reaching that many wonder if God is playing a hand in these events, either punishing the United States or removing His protection—or both.
"Although officials had long known disaster could happen, they took no action. They ignored warnings from environmentalists, engineers, and analysts. Somber reports foreshadowing the possible calamity were quietly filed away. In public, officials maintained that everything was fine—until disaster struck and it became obvious to all that everything was not fine, and might never be so again."
So begins an article by Greg Easterbrook in the Sept. 19 edition of The New Republic, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Continuing, Easterbrook writes: "New Orleans? I'm talking about Detroit." The article highlighted the ripple effect of Hurricane Katrina on the American car industry, with Detroit's Big Three suffering another major blow.
The article concludes: "It may take a surprisingly short time for the Gulf region to rebound. The lasting economic damage from Katrina may be felt most keenly by the U.S. auto industry. And, just like the officials who did nothing about the levees, Detroit was repeatedly warned."
It's been more than 30 years since the United States first experienced widespread fuel shortages. Long lines of cars sat outside stations waiting for gas. The price was high. Warnings were given about the need to switch to more fuel-efficient cars. But little was done, and America is even more dependent on cheap gasoline today than it was then.
Similarly, little was done to prepare for the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. Four years after 9/11 and the spending of billions of dollars on homeland security, Hurricane Katrina showed the world that America is no more prepared for coping with some kinds of disasters than it was in 2001. The fear of many is that this could embolden America's enemies to stage another crippling terrorist attack.
Meanwhile, America faces warnings of an increasing number of severe hurricanes in the near future.
What is happening?
The United States has experienced hurricanes before. Some in past decades were horrendous, with massive loss of life. The worst, which hit Galveston, Texas, in 1900, killed between 8,000 and 12,000 people.
But the frequency of such severe storms seems to be much greater. As James Lee Witt, a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), pointed out in the Financial Times: "The ten most costly catastrophes in US history occurred within the past 15 years. There is little doubt that more are on the way" ("America Can Prepare for What It Cannot Control," Sept. 12).
One fact seems clear after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita—the era of cheap gas is over! The impact that this will have on the world economy remains to be seen, but recession has often followed earlier energy price increases.
One reason for this is that people have less disposable income when they have to pay more to drive and to heat their homes. Another is that transporting goods costs more, so prices of everything increase.
A third factor is that petroleum products are used in the production of many items, which will all inevitably increase in price. Plastics, for example, are made from petroleum products. An increase in the cost of producing plastics will inevitably affect many supermarket prices. Many chemicals used by various industries also depend heavily on petroleum products.
Also affecting the price and availability of gas is a shortage of refining capacity in the United States, where no new refineries have been built in several decades.
A storm of trouble on many fronts
Cities affected by Katrina and Rita are expected to recover with massive aid from the federal government. But few realize the potential negative consequences of that very aid, estimated at some $200 billion for Katrina alone, roughly the same amount of money spent so far on the war in Iraq.
Neither Katrina nor Rita were budgeted for; both are being paid for by further overspending. Without either, the federal budget deficit was already going to be a record high. Now it will be even higher.
The United States increasingly depends on other nations to foot the bill through the purchase of U.S. treasury bonds. China, Japan and Germany remain the big three lenders—all, in the past, enemies of the United States (and current or potential rivals). It's certainly risky to borrow from others under such circumstances. These debts must also be paid back by future generations of Americans, with interest.
In the midst of a hurricane, the cost of fuel and availability of transportation are only two of the major concerns residents in the path of the hurricane face.
Their greatest and most immediate worries are for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The next concern is for their property, the homes in which they may have spent their entire lives. With Katrina the order to evacuate came too late for many, resulting in a higher loss of life than would otherwise be the case.
After the hurricane, there was confusion as to who was responsible for dealing with the mess. Federal and state governments are going to have to come together quickly to work out a more rapid disaster-response system. They may not have much time— terrorists were no doubt emboldened by the slow response to Hurricane Katrina and gridlock on freeways as Texas residents tried to evacuate in the face of Hurricane Rita.
One headline in a British newspaper was typical of international comment in the wake of Katrina—"Third World America!" The perception of the United States has been further tarnished by the aftermath of the hurricane.
Spiritual lessons from Katrina
The disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly affect it had on so many reminded me of a passage of scripture in Matthew 24. Asked by the disciples what would be the sign of His second coming "and of the end of the age" (verse 3), Jesus Christ compared that coming time to an event recorded in the book of Genesis.
"But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be," said Jesus. "For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (verses 38-39).
This is how it was for both the victims and the survivors of Katrina.
As with Hurricane Katrina, the people at the time of Noah were warned of impending disaster. They were given the opportunity to escape but didn't take the warnings seriously. Only Noah, his wife and their three sons and their wives survived the great flood that drowned the earth (Genesis 7:7).
There's a spiritual lesson here.
The Bible warns us of impending end-time events, including natural disasters, that are going to come on mankind between now and Christ's second coming.
"For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places," said Jesus (Matthew 24:7).
As these things have always taken place, the implication is that their numbers will increase as we near the end of this age. As the article by James Lee Witt showed, the severity of disasters impacting the United States has increased in recent years. Other areas of the world have suffered similarly —less than a year has passed since the Indian Ocean tsunami drowned hundreds of thousands of people, and the Oct. 8 Asian earthquake killed tens of thousands more.
Consequences of defying God
Natural disasters are often the consequence of man's breaking of the laws of God. The rejection of these laws leads to negative consequences.
The biblical book of Deuteronomy contains an interesting chapter which, whether we accept it or not, applies to the United States and other nations today. Along with a parallel passage in Leviticus, it's often called the "blessings-and-cursings chapter" because it shows clearly how a nation will be blessed for its obedience to God's laws but suffer negative consequences (curses) for disobedience.
The chapter, Deuteronomy 28, begins with the promise of greatness for a nation whose laws and behavior are based on the Ten Commandments. "Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth," it begins (verse 1).
". . . Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks," it continues (verses 3-4).
America's initial wealth, both in colonial times and after independence, was based on agriculture. Following the Louisiana Purchase two centuries ago, America's growing prosperity relied greatly on its waterways and the port of New Orleans. Rivers took the agricultural produce to the Mississippi River and then on down to New Orleans, from where it was exported to Europe.
This has continued to the present day. The closure of the port of New Orleans could impact many American farmers who rely on cheap transportation of their crops down the Mississippi River. It's hard to export crops you can't ship.
The same chapter of Deuteronomy warned of the economic consequences of turning away from God. "But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:
"Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks" (verses 15-18).
America's economy has been taking a battering in the first few years of the new century. The terrorist attack on New York's Twin Towers was a deliberate strike at America's financial heart. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have, in turn, hit one of America's most important port facilities and the heart of its oil and refining industries, both of which are essential to America's prosperity.
This underscores the importance of the nation returning to God who promises protection for obedience!
God wants us to change
God, speaking through the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, offers these words of reassurance: "'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked [those who commit sin], but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'" (Ezekiel 33:11).
In the New Testament, the apostle Peter wrote that God is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
However, Ezekiel 33 does give a warning to nations of the consequences of sin, of breaking God's laws. Ezekiel's warnings are directed specifically at the end-time descendants of Israel, of which America is a part.
The time will come, indeed perhaps has come, when God will remove His hand of protection from America because of its sins. As explained in our booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy , this is foretold in many prophecies of Scripture.
The message is clear that this nation must repent and turn back to God. It is also clear that those individuals who respond to God's call to repentance will receive His protection and help in time of need.
We should certainly be concerned for our physical safety and the security of our loved ones. But Katrina and Rita remind us that we cannot always rely on human government to take care of us and the needs of our families.
As 9/11 and the recent hurricanes show, disaster could strike us at any time. When that happens, it is important to know that there is a God in heaven who cares about us and to whom we can turn in time of need. We can look to Him for physical and material help when needed and can also enjoy the peace of mind that comes with the reassurance of eternal life for His faithful servants, no matter what may befall us. GN