Q: Are all natural disasters judgments or “wake up calls” from God? Was there such sin in the city of New Orleans that it caused the destruction and death to come upon itself? Situations like these make God look like a mean God Who does not care for people.
A: To answer your first question, we should keep in mind that nothing ever happens outside the will of God, but God does not have the same relationship to each event that occurs. Therefore, some things come because of His directive will, such as the Noahic Flood, and other things happen because of His permissive will, such as man falling into sin. It was the will of God for the hurricane to hit New Orleans, but we have no way of knowing at the present time whether it came out of His directive will or His permissive will. Certainly, God had a divine reason for allowing the events to occur, but He has not informed us what the divine reason is. Therefore, we have to accept it as a normal product of human sin. All disasters, large and small, are a result of Adam's fall and therefore, all disasters happen because of human sin. Not all natural disasters are necessarily divine judgments but are part of what humans have to live with due to living in a sinful world.
Although some people have pointed out the sinfulness of New Orleans, it should be remembered that while New Orleans certainly had a high level of sinfulness, it was no worse than San Francisco. Why was New Orleans hit and San Francisco spared? The only answer is that this is the way God has chosen to do things at the present time. It would be a mistake to try to go beyond that observation. Why does one city suffer more than another? The answer is: because God determines whom He punishes and when He punishes. He chose to destroy Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, but He spared Zoar, which was just as sinful as the other four cities. By the same token, He destroyed New Orleans but spared San Francisco. As to the reason why, we do not have the answer except that by the sovereignty of God, He will choose when He punishes whom He punishes. We simply have to continue teaching that as long as men remain in sin, there will be such disasters in different parts of the world in the various segments of human history.
As to how these things appear to make God look, we must keep all of God's attributes in balance. Because God is righteous, He must punish sin, and natural disasters are one of the ways He has done this throughout human history. The attribute of love shows that He provides a way out of the situation for man by providing eternal life for those who believe. But, if man rejects God's way of salvation, then he must pay the penalty for his own sin. The love of God must be balanced with the righteousness and justice of God. One must be careful not to focus on one attribute over another but keep them in balance.