Natural Disasters: Will We Ask the Crucial Questions?

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Will We Ask the Crucial Questions?

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I grew up in and around New Orleans. My mother and father were both New Orleanians, as were their parents and their parents before them.

I knew the city well. I spent many a day traversing its streets looking for my first job and then working my first jobs as a teenager out of high school before leaving for college.

I never returned to live there, only to visit. I still have pleasant memories of Canal Street when the streetcars were still there, before the Superdome and the International Trade Mart. I remember well the French Quarter, the first part of New Orleans to be built when the first ships came up the Mississippi. I do not have fond memories of Bourbon Street and all it came to be known for.

It is the neighborhoods that I miss more than anything else. Everyone knew each other, so kids playing in the streets were looked after by all the grownups. It was a safe place, a happy place.

It's hard to imagine a city so alive, so teeming, now so lifeless, so devastated, all in a matter of a few hours.

A city below sea level

New Orleans for the most part is below sea level, reclaimed from swampland. This is the most amazing thing about the place. Levees built around Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River, the system of canals through the city, and its pumping stations kept the water out.

My father would tell me that the pumping system in New Orleans was the eighth engineering wonder of the world (undoubtedly, the Dutch would contest that claim). I remember passing the huge Broad Street pumps, built at the turn of the last century, still on the job, still operating, until Katrina. They weren't designed for Katrina.

Americans are optimistic that the city will be rebuilt and come to life again, maybe better than before. The port of New Orleans is crucial to the U.S. economy, and it will require people living there to support this and other important enterprises.

The towns destroyed by the Indian Ocean tsunami last December are being rebuilt, the survivors have returned and life goes on. The nations of the world gave a lot of money and supplies to ensure a comeback in that part of Asia. Even so, the United States is now marshalling its financial resources to rebuild one of its major cities.

Is it different this time?

Is something unprecedented going on here? Maybe it's my sense of foreboding, but this storm was very big. This was the most costly natural disaster America has ever experienced, and it occurred only eight months after the Indian Ocean tsunami, one of the most deadly natural disasters the world has ever seen in terms of the loss of human life. That disaster was preceded a year earlier by an earthquake in Bam, Iran, that killed more than 30,000. Then, only weeks after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, another deadly earthquake battered southern Asia, killing tens of thousands more.

Some say that the earth has always experienced the same magnitude of storms and earthquakes. True or not, the effect is often worse now than it would have been 500 years ago because now so many more people will be affected. And isn't this how we should measure it—in terms of human life and suffering?

That's how the Bible measures it. When Jesus Christ spoke of "great tribulation" before His return to earth, "such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21 Matthew 24:21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
American King James Version×
), He meant people—real people who suffer loss, who lose loved ones, lose their homes and livelihoods and experience inconsolable grief.

Right now the tribulation in Africa is immense. The richest nations have recently agreed to help yet again. If the AIDS epidemic and the famines weren't enough, human beings have a way of making it worse with civil wars and genocide.

Can we erase poverty? The human spirit is certainly resilient and we can do great things for ourselves when our spirit and attitude is right. But why do we have the poverty, pestilence and violence in Africa in the first place? And can humanity really solve it? These are the big questions.

Something much bigger is going on here, bigger than everyone imagines. Is it the beginning of the disintegration of our civilization, when we experience a series of superdisasters and events with which we will not be able to cope?

Will we run out of resources?

Let's look at the bigger picture. America emerged from 9/11 just over four years ago and moved quickly into a full-scale war on terror. After the initial military offensives in Afghanistan and Iraq, America is now funding costly nation-building projects as well as sending some of its finest people there with a mission whose outcome is far from assured.

The United States, along with many other nations, poured billions into the nations devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami and has also made a huge commitment in the hope of eradicating poverty and AIDS in Africa.

Yet a 21st-century city within America itself, the wealthiest nation on earth, is now rendered temporarily uninhabitable—with much of the population having nothing to return to. And we hear estimates of a decade for rebuilding.

At this rate, how many more disaster-relief efforts can the United States fund? How many distressed countries can America save?

Let me say what a lot of people are thinking, but most don't want to say out loud, especially after Rita stormed ashore a few weeks after Katrina. What about the next one? Will we have the resources to save, sustain and rebuild? One suspects that sometime, somewhere, a time will come when Americans won't have the ability to cope with any more major disasters.

At some point, not everyone who needs assistance can be helped. Homes won't be rebuilt, lives won't be restored, disease won't be arrested and the food won't arrive. A chaotic period of unprecedented world troubles will come, just as Jesus foretold in His last major prophecy before His crucifixion (Matthew 24:21-22 Matthew 24:21-22 [21] For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. [22] And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.
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Something has to change!

So is this it? Reporters, trying to tap into the feelings of survivors of Katrina, were told more than once that what happened to them is described in the Bible. They told the reporters unashamedly that we live in the end time and more trouble is yet to come. How do they know this?

Anyone who has a cursory knowledge of the Bible knows that a time is coming that will mark the end of our civilization as we know it. Jesus listed the signs of the end of the age that would lead to an unprecedented time of world troubles the Bible calls the Great Tribulation. The events of that time will culminate in the glorious return of Christ to reign over the Kingdom of God on earth, which He spoke about so often.

Is this what we are staring at? The beginning of the death throes of the end of this age and the commencement of a new age that will replace the kingdoms of this world?

The good news is that when we come to the place where we can't rescue ourselves anymore, there is a mightier Hand than ours that will intervene! That's when the greatest project of rebuilding the world will begin to happen. That's really good news!

Are we now entering that uneasy, chaotic period of transition between this age of man and a future utopian time when Jesus Christ will reign on earth?

If there are no additional catastrophes this year, the American football, hockey and basketball seasons will go on. The latest movies will come out each weekend and Americans will continue to be entertained. Our lifestyles around the world will continue without missing a beat—many of which fall very short of the biblical standards God has set for the inhabitants of the earth.

We will hold our moments of silence for the victims of Katrina, just as we did for the victims of 9/11. We will donate some money, pay higher fuel prices and sacrifice just a little. The brave men and women of America, Britain and other countries will continue to put their lives on the line to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. Leaders of nations will meet, the United Nations will talk, but will anything really change?

That's the idea!

Something has to change—something fundamental, massive and permanent!

Is there a purpose?

Is God beginning to withhold His protective hand? Our attention is on us, our plans, our purposes. Human beings have a vision of the way we think things ought to be. It's all about us. But is Someone trying to get our attention?

God is the God of the whole universe—what about Him? He made everything. He put us here on this good green earth. Does He have a purpose for us that we have ignored all these millennia? Is it now time for God to make Himself known to mankind and produce the results He wants?

The apostle Paul sums up the essence of what God is accomplishing here on earth, step by step: "He has made known to us his secret purpose, in accordance with the plan which he determined beforehand in Christ, to be put into effect when the time was ripe; namely, that the universe, everything in heaven and earth, must be brought into unity in Christ. In Christ indeed we have been given our share in this heritage, as was decreed in his design whose purpose is everywhere at work" (Ephesians 1:9-11 Ephesians 1:9-11 [9] Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself: [10] That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: [11] In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will:
American King James Version×
, Revised English Bible, emphasis added throughout).

Once again, within a period of eight months, we find ourselves explaining more natural disasters of apocalyptic proportions in light of our belief in a loving and caring Creator God. Were these just random acts of the forces of nature out of control? Or could they be expressions of God's patience with His wayward creatures wearing thin?

Or are these only early steps in a series of such events as a part of a grand scheme to accomplish a great purpose? It's important to understand this concept because if you can see a pattern according to the way it is described in the Bible, then you'll begin to really grasp not only your future, but also the future of all of mankind.

In the vernacular, let's cut to the chase. Either God exists or He doesn't. Either He is a personal God who cares about His creation, or He isn't. We don't have a lot of alternatives. Right now, we're talking about our lives and the lives of millions of people and the future of the world. Personally, I have to come to a conclusion about such matters and I believe you have to also. We can't let too many more disasters of this magnitude go by without arriving at some kind of conclusion about the plan and purpose of life itself. Why are we here on earth in the first place?

Either God has a great purpose and He is working everything out to accomplish that purpose, or He is capricious, uncaring, uninvolved, maybe even emotional and humanlike in His dealings with us. Or, as some reason, maybe He doesn't exist at all. Our choices are limited because awesome future events aren't going to allow us to indefinitely assign recurring superdisasters to randomness and natural causes.

Let's look at it this way. If God is now forcing humanity to consider its ways, beliefs and practices, what will He have to do to really get our attention? After all, why should human beings change their ways if they still have everything they need?

As long as we can fund emergency aid, as long as we can rebuild the devastation, feed the hungry out of our stores of food, and otherwise solve our problems—why should we consider the fact that God might have something to say about the spiritual state of the human race?

We need to be rescued

Have you considered that Hurricane Katrina is only one tragic event in a series of increasingly greater events that should inevitably lead us to ask the single most important question that most people have avoided until now?

Namely, if such horrific events should continue, which one will tell us once and for all that we can't solve our problems, that we can't rescue our people when they are in trouble no matter how well prepared we are? Which event is going to tell us that we really don't have the answers we once thought we had, that we're not even close?

Let's face yet another hard fact. God's creation—humanity as a whole—has never really taken Him seriously when He has spoken. And we still won't pay attention as long as we have a job, our health, food on the table, a roof over our heads and our entertainment to distract us.

Humanly speaking—from our point of view—as long as we have everything we need, why should we look any further? Why should human beings humble themselves before God if everything is going okay? Maybe that's why things aren't going okay!

Here is the good news: We are going to be rescued from ourselves. The step-by-step events leading to this end are already in motion and have been for some time. God is revealing Himself in the way He chooses so as to finally get our attention.

The good news is the same as it was nearly 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ first announced the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15 Mark 1:14-15 [14] Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, [15] And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.
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). The people of that day needed a change too, but God had determined that it wasn't yet the time to establish the rule of His Kingdom over the whole earth. Rather, it was His time then to send His Son to the earth so our sins could be forgiven (Galatians 4:4-5 Galatians 4:4-5 [4] But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, [5] To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
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). "So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation" (Hebrews 9:28 Hebrews 9:28So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and to them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin to salvation.
American King James Version×

That was His message then, and it continues to be the message of The Good News magazine now. Jesus Christ told His disciples that He would return just as many severe world troubles reach their peak and threaten all human life on earth—and then He would usher in His benevolent rule over the entire world.

Humanity will desperately need Him to come and rescue us. He promises to do just that. And after He does, mankind will at last be willing to listen to Him. GN