G. K. Chesterton wrote one of the most remarkable books I have ever read titled Orthodoxy.
In it he says that the Christian faith uniquely reconciles the varying aspects of human character and behavior. For example, we see the dark side of life, and we hate the sin—but we love the world, and so we love the sinner. Chesterton says this is why he believes that the Christian doctrine exactly fits the human condition.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina revealed this truth, as well: that man is a sinner, desperately depraved, but always capable of goodness and greatness. The television coverage of what took place in New Orleans exposed us to the depth of human evil–and also to the heights of human compassion.
What about the rioting and chaos in the streets? Most Americans were horrified to see this–and most people I talked to were surprised. Well, the Christian ought not to be surprised. This is precisely what the Bible teaches us: that without the restraint of God or God's appointed agents—that is, government, as Romans 13 makes clear—we will slide quickly into chaos. John Calvin understood this, which is why he considered the magistrate in government one of the highest offices in society.
I have a very high view of government. As a conservative, I favor limited government, but never confuse limited government with powerless government. I believe that delegated to governing authorities is God's responsibility to wield the sword and preserve order.
And why does order matter so much? Without it, because of human depravity, we will sink into the kind of chaos we saw on television. Remember that it was St. Augustine who wrote the great doctrine of Tranquilitis Ordinus–that is, peace follows order.
Having said that, in the wake of Katrina, we also saw human goodness at its best. Watching the news, I was transfixed seeing Coast Guardsmen risk their lives, descending on cables with baskets to lift people off the housetops. Thousands were saved. We saw planes carrying the sick out of hospitals, flying them to other cities. We saw towns across the country opening their arms to them, welcoming the dirty, exhausted masses coming out of New Orleans.
So, in watching this, we saw altruism at its best. Altruism is the one characteristic of human behavior that destroys a key element of Darwin's theory of evolution: that is, natural selection. According to natural selection, we would allow a disaster to weed out the unfit, the weak, and the poor—anyone who could not contribute to society. But Americans, because of our Christian heritage—a heritage that remains strong no matter how secular the nation becomes–do not behave this way. We carry our wounded off the field of battle. We risk our lives to rescue strangers. We offer food and shelter to the stranger's child–even to prisoners. And when we do, Darwin is disproved.
In the aftermath of one of the worst disasters in American history, we ought to remind our neighbors that only the Christian worldview explains the otherwise bewildering events we have watched on television: We saw the depravity–exactly what happens when governing restraints are withdrawn. And we saw human compassion at its glorious best.