I’m either very lucky or very unlucky, depending on how you look at it.
In 1992, I remember hunkering down in a Miami shelter as Hurricane Andrew slammed the state. It was scary for a six-year-old. I can still hear the howling sounds of the wind going through the doors of that gym, sounding like a freight train. I can still recall the sight of going back home and seeing huge trees completely uprooted and thrown to the side like twigs.
Now, 25 years later, only three months after I accepted a call to come back to Miami, the state is bracing for Andrew’s bigger and badder sister. I’m finding that hurricanes can still be scary for adults too.
Hurricane Irma is about to buzzsaw across the state from south to north over the weekend as a Category 5 and hopefully weaken as it travels north. What will happen is still uncertain because the models are still fluctuating. That hasn’t stopped people from discussing theodicy (answers to the question of, “Why does God permit evil?”) with complete strangers.
How so? Here’s the scenario:
I was grabbing a few last minute items at Costco this week and a lady behind me was waiting in line with her kids. She was telling her kids, and everyone around her, about karma and said that if you do bad things to people, “I’m pretty sure that your house is going to get blown away by the hurricane, because whatever you put out into the world will come back to you.”
Is that really the way it really works? Do good things happen to you because you do good to others and bad things happen because you did others wrong?
Did God send Hurricanes Irma and Harvey? I don’t see that.
Case in point, this week Puerto Rico narrowly missed a direct hit from Irma but Barbuda (an island I thought was a mispronounced Barbados or Bermuda) was about 80% destroyed and deemed uninhabitable. Did Puerto Rico find favor in God’s eyes but Barbuda do evil?
I’ve heard well-meaning calls from Christians encouraging others to faith in the face of the storm.
“We need to have faith in God’s strength and protection. God is more than able to change Irma’s course. We need to be still and know that he is God.”
Do I believe in all of these sayings? Most definitely! However, did I stick around Miami to see what happens? Nope.
I’m currently in Orlando with family as we await the storm over the weekend. Why did I bounce? Because of how I view God, Sin, and the powers of nature.
1. God is sovereign over all nature, yet even nature is infected by Sin.
The fall of humanity in Genesis 3 affected a lot more than just the relationship between people and God. It affected the entire planet. From that moment on, the Earth itself is said to be cursed and bound to Sin in some way. Biblical Sin is not just “bad things” that you do. It is an actual power that controls and affects humans, animals, plants, and possibly even the weather.
Storms happen. Jesus sometimes stops them like when he was asleep in the boat. Other times, the storm rages on and Paul and Silas get shipwrecked. Sometimes people die and sometimes only trees get blown away. This doesn’t mean that storms are manifestations of evil, it means that they are morally neutral byproducts of a curse that exists over creation.
This has big implications for how we should see disasters when they strike. Jesus tried to teach this to his disciples on one such occasion in Luke 13:1-5. Wikipedia had a great exposition of what happened:
“Apparently those making the report were looking for Jesus to offer some explanation of why bad things happen to good people—in this case even while they were worshiping. The “sin and calamity” issue involves a presumption that an extraordinary tragedy in some way must signify extraordinary guilt. It assumes that a victim must have done something terrible for God to allow something so tragic to happen to them.
Jesus responded to the question, answering that the calamities suffered by the victims of the falling of the tower of Siloam were not related to their relative sinfulness. He then diverted the focus onto the interrogators, wanting them to focus on their own souls.
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” [Lk 13:2-5]
His mention of the fall of the Tower of Siloam added a nuance to his prior point: accidents happen. Therefore, even in the absence of persecution, death can come unexpectedly to anyone, irrespective of how righteous or how sinful they are. He may have been emphasizing that the time granted by God for repentance is limited.
Keep this in mind: there is no clear correlation between disaster and faith.
2. God doesn’t always save his people from tragedies that could easily have been avoidable.
There’s a funny anecdotal story that has always stuck with me.
A guy was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”
The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”
So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”
To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”
To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
My friends who stayed in Miami aren’t acting presumptuously like this guy unless they took no action to prepare before the Hurricane hit. If they didn’t bother to board up their homes, stock some emergency supplies, or have some sort of action, then it’s not fair to blame God when tragedy strikes. That’s on you.
3. God works in many ways, yet humans are still ultimately responsible for their choices.
Some people in Miami decided to stay. Others decided to go. Choosing to evacuate is not a sign of a lack of faith in God any more than staying is a sign that you are more faithful.
It means that each of us took the actions that we felt were best for our own situations. Some members of Miami Temple are riding it out at home, others are as far away as Canada and beyond. Wherever you are, be safe and let’s keep each other in prayer.
Christians get into deep waters when we start giving reasons for why natural forces hit some places and avoid others. We are not spokespersons for the Almighty. The best we can do is be proactive in our preparations, intentional in our prayers for deliverance, and ready to assist the community after devastation.
Our God is bigger than the storms of life that we face. Yes, he can deliver us from the hand of Irma, but in case he decides not to dissolve this hurricane overnight, we will be there to face it and still praise Him. We will be there to help serve our community afterward and rebuild even stronger, just like Texas is doing after Harvey. Hurricane Irma is one example of a sick, sin-infested Earth crying out, like Romans 8:20-21 reminds us:
“Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.”
Does God send disaster as judgments? Yes.
However, on this side of eternity, it’s hard to tell which tragedies fall into that category. It’s not our job to diagnose this; it’s our job to be faithful. So, let’s remind our communities of the hurricane, tornado, and death-free future that awaits us! And in the meantime, assist those around us however we can. See you on the other side.