Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Hurricane Theology"

What storms can teach us

One hurricane worse than ever, one that was less than expected, and two more out at sea: the Atlantic hurricane season of 2017 is monumental in its devastating potential. Those who preach global warming climate change say, “Aha! We told you so” and insist that such record-breaking storms are proof that humanity has destroyed the planet’s ecosystem. Others cite all sorts of data to “prove” that nothing has changed. I haven’t heard too much chatter from those who would identify God’s judgments unfolding in the storms, although there may be some out there (I did, however, receive an email about the potential prophetic significance of the recent solar eclipse, and the message was, “the end is coming.” I think I already knew that).
Why do seasons and storms like this come along and disrupt life so dramatically? After Hurricane Harvey’s “once in a thousand years” rainfall in Houston, and Irma’s 180+ m.p.h. winds in the Caribbean and Florida Kesy leave one in awe of such storms. Those with an axe to grind will point to these kinds of occurrences and challenge us, “How can you believe in a god who would do this?”
Should we read specific divine retribution into this? You might think that God is mad at the USA, except that the Caribbean got pounded harder by Irma. God’s specific judgments on nations, if this was one, can be pinpointed better than that. In fact, the storm has caused the postponement of Awana Lifeline’s sponsored event with leaders of law enforcement and prisons from various Caribbean nations. The path of Hurricane Irma impacted lots of believers in God, and the headquarters of Wycliffe Bible Translators, Pioneers, Ethnos 360 (the former New Tribes Mission), and CRU (the former Campus Crusade)—all in Orlando. Various believers, churches, and ministries suffered damage and will be inundated with needs to be met. Certainly God could spare those doing such good work from such potential danger!
We who sat in relative safety struggled to deal with watching thousands of families trying to recover from the deluge in Texas, and the tens of thousands fleeing from south Florida. I watched with both dread and fascination as pictures from NASA show this new, massive storm on its way to bring destruction to so many. And I wonder, “who deserves this?”
The answer to such a question is multi-faceted, but can be found where God speaks about all things we need for life—the Bible. Here are a few threads we can pull together.
As part of the human race that lives in daily rebellion toward the holy and just Creator of all things, we must affirm that we all deserve this and much worse for our rebellion. God is under no obligation to keep his creation tame enough for us to enjoy—his only limitation being his own word not to flood the entire earth again (the rainbow tells us that). Given the history of God’s people’s suffering right along with the rest of humanity in a kind of reversal of common grace (God causes his hurricanes to sweep away the just and the unjust), we know that such tribulations are to be expected—it is our ability to look beyond them that must be different. We see the chaos of today, but we know that this is not how it was created to be (Genesis 1-2), nor is it the way it will be when Christ comes to rule the earth, and it is certainly not the way it will be in the time of new heavens and earth (Revelation 21-22).
The storms and terrors of this world are real, powerful reminders of the consequences of Adam’s traitorous surrender of his righteous authority in this world to Satan, and in his role as prince of this world, destruction is the devil’s business—even when done under God’s ultimate sovereignty (see God’s control of calamity in Isaiah 45:7). We should see this as a sobering warning of what’s worse and is coming to those who do not repent. That is what Jesus said about some people who suffered the disaster of having a tower collapse on them—no one should assume that such things make anyone a “worse” sinner than anyone else. The warning is much more specific—worse things await those who do not repent of their sin (Luke 13:3-5). A storm may rise that sweeps away everything you own, and may drown your neighbors, but as frightening as that is, hell will be much, much worse. We should look at the terrors of the storm and thank God that such events can preach repentance, if we will hear.
But cataclysmic storms can also reveal the power of our God. It was from the whirlwind that God spoke to Job—as if his words were not already powerful enough! And it was his power over the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee that caused Jesus’ disciples to redirect their fear from the storm to their Savior—“who then is this, that he commands the winds and the water and they obey him? (Luke 8:24-25)” The creator of the storm has made them yet another revelation of his power and thus a source of praise and awe.
Finally, these storms should (and did) ignite our compassion toward all those in danger. I think about God’s rebuke of Jonah when the prophet was mourning over a dead plant, but upset with God’s heart of concern for the population of Nineveh, a city in danger of judgment. On a more positive note, the arrival of a famine that Agabus had prophesied led the church in Antioch to sacrificial compassion toward the affected church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:28-30). There will be many continuing needs to be met in Texas and now the Caribbean, Florida, and perhaps other places. Such moments provide an opportunity for the grace of God to shine through his people.
Let’s be praying for those facing very difficult days ahead, and let’s pray that God gives all of us—his people—the hearts and opportunities to help. And let’s be sure to be thankful that the God who created this storm showed mercy on many and caused it to turn westward into the Gulf of Mexico and thus spared many who were in its original path.