Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

God's Wrath and New Orleans

New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin made two relatively controversial statements concerning God's will and New Orleans Monday. The first suggested that the reasons for Hurricane Katrina's devastation were the U.S. war in Iraq and the failure of black America in resolving her own problems.

Just as is the case when any man tries to divinate God's meaning in natural phenomenon, Nagin seems to suffer from an unhealthy overconfidence in his ability to spot the failings of both America and the black community. When Pat Robertson claims to know why Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke, most of the world cringes in disbelief and disgust. And so, also should the world condemn Nagin's recent pronouncement. The reason for this condemnation, however, might not be the same reason for which many in today's society initially cringed.

It is little debated anymore that the modern West has lost its faith in the supernatural. It should also come as little surprise, then, that modern man is often-times unwilling to admit the role an omniscient God must play in the world. By admitting that all which happens here on earth is done with forethought by God, many people fear that we are attempting to write man out of the calculation or rather that we are writing man's knowledge and insight and potential out of the calculation. There is nothing inherently contrary to human knowledge and potential to be found in the fact that God acts upon and through his creation (by creation I of course am including man himself). If we as human beings act for our own purposes, or understand through our own observations some minor truths concerning how God interacts within the world, or attempt to lay blame for disasters at the feet of the politicians and leaders who we feel have wronged us, we are none the less bound by our very nature to be moved by God. We also will be no less just or unjust because of our actions or pronouncements. For so long as we act for our own selfish purposes, we act unjustly, no matter whether our acts coincide with God's plan (which they most necessarily always do).

All that being said I proffer the idea that to announce that a thing occurred because of God is not wrong, nor should it ever be condemned out of hand. To take upon oneself the unwarranted authority of condemning others or even yourself by claiming with any certainty a causal link between a natural or man-made occurrence and God's greater will is wrong and always contemptible. For some things man is incapable of passing binding judgment and the work of the Lord is always one.

A better example of commenting on the Lord's interaction with mankind is found in Lincoln's 2nd inaugural:

. . . One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

In the speech Lincoln made clear that he viewed slavery as an evil worthy of punishment (most would say that today this is a judgment beyond dispute, though at the time some argued with such a characterization), but such was Lincoln's humility that he never expressly states that God would even see slavery as always evil. He further suggested that perhaps the great suffering the Civil War placed upon America was justly deserved for the perceived sin Lincoln believed slavery to be. But one must pay great attention to the presence of an overriding humility and ambiguity with which the subject is approached. Lincoln never states that surely this Civil War was sent by God for this reason, only that slavery might be one possible of many explanations for God's actions. Also, he submits himself totally to the will of God and ventures a guess that if war be the debt due for having allowed slavery for so long, and if God feels the debt still unpaid then more war must be expected and experienced obediently.

Ray Nagin's speech, however, deserves the cringes and condemnation likely to follow because in it, all ambiguity is missing. The lack of uncertainty on Nagin's part is underlined by the fact that the two perceived evils he identifies lack the certainty of being truly evil, which the scourge of slavery, in contrast, has earned and maintained.

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