God's Gonna Trouble the Water

Katrina challenges the black church to recapture its prophetic anger and transform it into social action.

When the vicious winds and violent waters of Hurricane Katrina crashed into the Gulf States, black people's prayers flooded the earth. Indeed, faith has long provided black folk safe harbor in ugly storms and disasters, both natural and man-made.

When Africans were torn from their mother soil and forced into bondage in the New World, millions of lives were lost on the angry seas of the Middle Passage. Still, even as their brothers and sisters perished, their faith allowed many Africans to preserve life and limb and to symbolically book passage on the "Ol' Ship of Zion." When blacks were plunged beneath the harsh waves of chattel slavery, they sought refuge in the community of faith they carved amidst their brutal existence. When the civil-rights movement was drenched with the foul spray of white supremacy and Jim Crow, it took cover in sanctuaries across the land.

Black faith and spirituality offer believers at least three resources in the face of Hurricane Katrina. First, they provide moral and theological insight into "natural disaster." Many have claimed that this calamitous storm is "God's will," while others ask what "we" did wrong to deserve such a cataclysmic rebuke from nature, and hence, from God. Black religious faith, especially Christianity, discourages such a narrow interpretation of nature and God. The suffering that human beings endure is never God's will. The evil that is wrought by human beings, and the chaos unleashed by nature, express neither God's vision nor vengeance. God's will is for human beings to flourish and for us to live in harmony with each another and nature.


To be sure, our shortcomings poison human community. The vicious and sinful character of human beings constantly interrupts God's ideal of love as the basis of our relations with one another. And nature's unpredictable fury can with little notice crush or destroy human life. God intends none of this.

This does not mean, however, that our faith fails to help us to extract meaning from our misery, or to make sense of our suffering. Our faith can give us the comfort that God walks with us, and will not forsake us. That may seem like small solace in the face of our finitude, but the knowledge that God refuses to let us go ultimately calms the soul in distress. That is the only guarantee we have that the universe that has betrayed us at one turn through wind and water will stand behind us through the divine Word.

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Michael Eric Dyson
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