An event as large and catastrophic as the hurricane which struck the Gulf Coast of the United States last week can only be understood in the context of the full teaching of Scripture. It is not enough to focus on one or two texts. On the contrary, we must look at the big picture and draw our conclusions only in light of the entire storyline of the Bible.
Genesis chapter one states: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters." [Genesis 1:1-2] From there, God creates the entire cosmos--light, the moon, the sun, stars, fish, birds, and animals--simply by speaking them all into existence. And at every point of creation, Scripture tells us that God declared His work to be "good." Throughout this entire sequential unfolding of creation, the divine verdict is consistently, "It is good." In fact, at the end of chapter one, "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good." [Genesis 1:31]
The big story thus begins with God bringing glory to Himself by creating an order, a cosmos, a universe, a planet, and everything on this planet is very good. The Lord looked at His own work and declared it good--not just better than it could have been, but very good, which is to say, perfect.
In Genesis chapter 2, the story continues with the creation and differentiation of man and woman, and the institution of marriage. So we read, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." [Genesis 2:24-25] At the end of chapter two then, the world is still a picture of perfection. One might wish that the story had ended there, with the world in perfect bliss and the man and woman in perfect innocence--naked and not ashamed before their Creator. Unfortunately, however, Genesis one and two are followed by Genesis three.
Genesis three tells the story of the Fall, a story that centers in the volitional, willful act of Adam and Eve to break the command of God, and to do that which the Lord had forbidden. Giving themselves to temptation, they rationalized their desires, justified their action in their own eyes, and ate the fruit that was forbidden them.
"Then the Lord God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?' And the woman said, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate it.'" [Genesis 3:13] No one escapes God's condemnation for this rebellion. In the next few verses, He curses them all--the serpent, the woman, and the man. Finally, and significantly, God pronounces a curse on all of creation: "Cursed is the ground because of you," he tells Adam. "In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your fact you will be bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." [Genesis 3:17b-19]
When humans sinned, not only did it affect Adam and Eve and their descendants, but the earth--the cosmos itself--was corrupted. After Genesis three, we must speak of humanity as being in a fallen state, but many of us forget that creation itself is fallen, too. The creation is cursed. If the Fall had never occurred, there would be no hurricanes, no tsunamis, no earthquakes, and no forest fires. There would be no droughts and no floods. Before the Fall, the Lord declared the world to be very good. It was, in other words, perfect. People did not have to plow and cultivate; the earth simply brought forth produce, giving up its fruit willingly.
But with sin came death, and with death came the curse, so that even the ground is cursed. Understanding this helps us to explain how we get from Genesis to the suffering of Job. It explains how we get to the Psalms where there are similar testimonies of pain and sorrow. To be sure, the world declares God's glory. The heavens are telling the glory of God, but they are also telling us another story--one of disorder and entropy, a testimony to the curse.
When humans age and die, therein is the curse. When the ground cracks because there is no rain, there is the curse. When a tornado drops from the sky and lightning strikes, when the floods rise and the hail falls, there is the curse. When hurricanes come, there is curse--and yet there is God as well, for God is in the curse. Of course we cannot know exactly how God is in the curse. We cannot say, "This is why there is drought here and flood there." Such precision is not given to us, not when the disaster is independent of human action.
Ultimately, we cannot say why God does what He does. We cannot explain why some are spared the ravages of Hurricane Katrina while others must bear her full force. Certainly, it is not because we are better than those who were stricken. Certainly, it is not because we prayed harder than they prayed, or that we did more good deeds than they did. No, it is simply because God was in the wind, as Elihu said to Job.
Thankfully, the story does not end in Genesis chapter 3. In Romans chapter 8, Paul reminds us that, "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves grown within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. [Romans 8:18-23].
We are waiting for redemption, and so is the planet. So is the cosmos. On that glorious day when all things are consummated, the earth itself will be redeemed along with God's people. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And He said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true." Then He said to me, "It is done, I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. [Revelation 21:1-6].
The great story of the Bible--creation, fall, and redemption--speaks directly to what we have seen over the last week, and it speaks directly to our powerlessness to have done anything to prevent this. In the final analysis, we must point to the fact that this hurricane, like every other natural disaster, is due to sin--not the sin of the Gulf Coast, not the sin of the people of New Orleans, but our sin. Our sin explains in part why the tsunami hit in the Indian Ocean basin. Our sin explains why a volcanic eruption destroyed Pompeii. Our sin helps to explain why Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake in the 18th century. Our sin helps to explain why Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
But thanks be to God that is not the end of the story! For God's purpose is to show His glory in the redemption and adoption of countless sons and daughters when they are revealed on that final day. Then He will create a new heaven and a new earth. Try as they might, human beings cannot reverse the curse that was brought on by their own sin. Only the Lord God can reverse the curse, and He does so in Jesus Christ our Lord. In the meantime, we must pray for those who are suffering. We must give generously. And eventually, we must go and give refuge. In all these actions, we will proclaim God's love to a fallen world--and His glory will be displayed.