In a natural disaster — such as the Haiti earthquake, the Indian Ocean tsunami or Hurricane Katrina — we as Christians know how to react.
We pray for the victims. We rush help to devastated communities. We depend on our omnipotent God to sort out the reasons why such tragedies occur.
But in the case of a manmade disaster, what should our response be?
As we write this, thousands of gallons of oil are spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, adding to the tens of millions of gallons already in the water after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion. BP has made repeated attempts to shut off the flow of oil and failed. Meanwhile, White House energy adviser Carol Browner has called the spill “probably the biggest environmental disaster we have ever faced in this country.”
The government authorized 17,500 National Guard troops to fight the oil spill, but only a fraction of that number has been deployed, according to reports. The governors of the Gulf states say there’s little point in paying soldiers to stand on beaches and wait for oil to wash up.
Across the nation, a lot of us feel the same sense of frustration. We recognize the enormity of the problem, but what can we do?
Certainly, we should pray for the families and friends of those who lost their lives as well as those who face loss of incomes and livelihoods. We should look for ways to help — be it giving money or donating our own physical labor and sweat to the inevitable clean-up effort.
Beyond prayer and charity, should Christians involve themselves in the bigger questions that this tragedy raises?
Christians have a place in ensuring that businesses and politicians handle their roles responsibly. Accountability is a biblical concept. But let us not waste all our time on political vitriol. Let us not succumb to the temptation to cast blame at the expense of extending compassion and understanding — even to those most responsible for this disaster.
In a recent report, Religion-Link, a product of the Religion Newswriters Association, raised questions “about the propriety of the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, America’s penchant for consumption over conservation … and even the purely theological issues of the emerging teaching on ‘creation care.’”
Have we helped bring this tragedy about, in one sense, with our unquenchable thirst for fuel? Are we as a nation caring properly for God’s creation? The Christian Chronicle
posed that question to church members in 2007 in the midst of the debate over global warming. Responses varied. Some denied that the problem exists. Others said that, regardless of the cause, the root of the problem is sin — the squandering of blessings God has provided in an effort to make our lives on this planet more comfortable.
Brett Christensen, minister for the South East Church of Christ in Melbourne, Australia, summed up the responses we received from several Christians.
“We are stewards of what God has given us, and we must be responsible stewards,” Christensen said. “Beyond that, we should avoid activities that distract attention from the most pressing issue — reconciliation with, and submission to, God.”