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The role of culture | The environment | Political fallout | Helping the victims | The face of Katrina | First person

What answers does faith have in times of crisis?

By Christie Cozad Neuger
Professor of

When we experience tragedy or disaster, one of our primary challenges is to make sense of the senseless and, as religious people, ask where is God in this. The more extensive or devastating the crisis, the more we need to understand how God is involved in a meaningful and, ultimately, hope-filled way.

This has certainly been one of the tasks of recovery from the hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This search for ultimate meaning links us with those suffering from other crises like the recent earthquake in Kashmir and the mud slides in Guatemala.

There are lots of ways that religious traditions have tried to answer the question Where is God in tragedy or suffering? Some suggest it cannot be understood because it is a mystery. Some say God suffers with us and works with us to redeem human suffering through the power of presence and care. Some suggest it is a test of our faithfulness. Some, in their need to distance themselves from the victims, suggest it is a form of God’s punishment.

Religious people also find more practical ways to make meaning and this has been particularly evident in the responses to Katrina survivors. Religious communities and organizations were among the first responders to flood victims and have continued to reach out to people and communities in need. They opened their homes, traveled to flooded communities and shopped for clothing. They packed up children’s school supplies, funded medical equipment, built new houses and provided spiritual support, counseling and physical care.

Reaching out to one another, recognizing our common humanity and our religious commitments to care for one another in times of need are central ways of making meaning out of crisis and making God’s love visible through concerned action.

People also find ways to make meaning by stepping back and asking: What is being revealed about our human condition and what does God ask of us in terms of justice and love? In the case of Katrina, we as a nation were exposed anew to the extraordinary and ongoing power of racism and classism in our society. As is so often the case, it was the poorest of our nation who bore the brunt of Katrina’s impact. And much of that poverty was clearly linked with this nation’s long and continuing history of racial injustice.

We are given the opportunity, in a moment like this, to take a hard look at the systemic realities of racial and class oppression, to see it very concretely revealed, and to renew our commitments to take a stand against it.

Our faith traditions, as individuals and as a nation, demand no less than this.

Comment at tcumagazine@tcu.edu.