Reflecting on Hurricane Katrina

My boss returned yesterday from Shreveport, Louisiana, where he helped to organize relief operations in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. Like other experiences of extreme conditions, the aftermath of the hurricane has shown us humanity at its best and at its worst.

The latter is what we hear most about, sadly,1 but it need not be so. Let’s not be blinded to the fact that natural disasters also provide us with the dramatic opportunity to be the best we can be. My boss took that opportunity, and one of my co-workers is doing the same as a member of a first-response team. I’m proud of them both.

Disasters sometimes make us think of Job 1 (the biblical chapter, that is, not the Ford Motor Company’s advertised policy on quality), and how various people have treated the opening of the book. Many buy into Robert A. Heinlein’s proposal in Job: A Comedy of Justice, namely, that God is a sadist who fields Job as his entrant in a cosmic cockfight. But Heinlein missed the point (deliberately, I suppose). The Book of Job presents Satan as coming before God and saying, “Me? I’ve been enjoying free rein on Earth, my planet.”2 God responds, “It’s not all yours — Job is still there. And I have so much confidence in him that, whatever you may do, I know he will not break.” And Satan goes on to prove God right. Job goes through a tumult of emotion and introspection, but he does not defect. The planet is not lost.

I cannot say with Nietzsche that what does not kill me makes me stronger, but I can say that it proves that, to this extent, I can resist death and despair. And many who have lived through Katrina have made the same discovery.

You need not join the U. S. Army to “be all that you can be.” All you need to do is face up to life, to the world, and to the world’s Maker and Buyer — who knows what you’re capable of. It’s not easy; it never was. But when you’ve been through it, you’ll know what’s in you.

  1. Indeed, in view of yesterday’s anniversary of “9/11,” one would have thought that the days following Katrina were an excellent time for our lawmakers again to assemble on the steps of their respective capitol buildings and sing “God Bless America,” as they did four years ago — and to shape their subsequent actions accordingly. What most of them have done instead, along with other exploiters in business and the communications media, is to their shame. Not all the “looting,” it seems, has been confined to the New Orleans city limits. []
  2. Compare verse 7, “from going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it,” with Genesis 13:17, where God tells Abram, “Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” It’s an invitation for Abram to survey what is to become his property. Satan is using the same idea, and as we see in Luke 4:6, he still makes that claim. []
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