I've lived in Florida for almost 20 years, so I've encountered my fair share of hurricanes. Irma, of course, is more frightening than anything we've seen before---and it looks like it's aiming right for Tampa---so I'm much more concerned about this one than I have been in prior storms. I've never seen the bread or soup aisle completely empty before. My husband is prepared to potentially ride his jet ski in our streets to help people, and I'm trying to train my kids how to be contentedly bored in case we lose power or have to stay in a shelter for an extended period of time.
This morning I woke at 4 am with all kinds of irrational fearful thoughts: we're going to run out of beef jerky, the entire state of Florida's going to sink into the ocean, all the flooded alligators from the Alafia River are going to be terrorizing the town, etc. After over an hour of worrying in bed and Googling various hurricane-related things, I opened to Psalm 46, which should've been comforting, but it wasn't. I felt troubled by God's sovereignty. I would almost prefer that God wasn't in control, because then I would know that at least He didn't have anything to do with all this yuck. When I'm bracing for certain destruction, I don't get good feelings when the Bible tells me "The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever", "You rule the raging of the sea," and especially "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.."
When we desperately scan the news and social media and thus immerse ourselves in the perspective of people who don't find any meaning in suffering, the best truisms we're offered is "hope for the best." (Or you could join the 54,000 people who plan on shooting at the storm.) Our culture has no clue how to deal with pain and hardship, and they have yet to hear a satisfying answer from Christians about why God would allow it. So we just see natural disasters as flukes of nature, purposeless pain.
A couple days ago my son was praying for the storm and when he said, "God, I know you have a reason for this hurricane. You have a good reason for everything," I had to honestly admit that I haven't thought about that very much.
With eyes that only see what's in front of us, there is no purpose in all this suffering. No reason for what happened in Texas. No reason for the earthquake in Mexico or the wildfires in Montana. No reason for three powerful hurricanes whirling in the Atlantic all at the same time, the worst of which has devastated entire islands and now seems to be taking aim right at my city.
Nobody has been given the job of saying "These are reasons A, B, and C for why God let this specific circumstance happen." I cannot believe that some people have the gall to say "God is sending judgment on this city!" Jesus addressed this very topic when he said, "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.”
"Repent or perish" is, of course, the exact kind of biblical statement that makes us bristle. But, like the verse that says that God creates disaster, it is the Word of the living God. Whether we like it or not, God holds all power and non-passively runs the entire universe. He has an agenda as he does so. But it's only when we ignore what He is doing in the world and the universe and exalt our puny, limited selves over the everlasting and all-powerful God, when we judge His ways as "not good."
Another solution some might offer is that this superstorm one of God's warnings about the end times. Indeed, the news this week has used such dramatic language that it feels apocalyptic. But in Acts 1, Jesus said not to focus on figuring out the exact timing of when he will bring sin and death to its final end. Our hearts are to always be prepared, always eagerly expecting, always mobilized to love and good works.
So does the Bible give us any clue as to why God would allow---or even cause---catastrophes such as Hurricane Irma? I think Ephesians 1 gives us a really good answer, because it describes God's purpose for the entire universe: "to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." He is the source of all goodness---from justice and love to chocolate cake and tickle fights---and He is bringing these people He created to Himself. He had to become one of us, die in our place, and rise again so that these rebellious creatures could have a relationship with this perfect and holy God who can create storms such as Irma.
If you read Ezekiel, a difficult book for our culture (and me) because it is stock-full of God's judgment, you'll be able to count about 74 times when God says "Then they shall know that I am the LORD." Everything He did was so people would look beyond themselves and see Him.
Do you see the mercy in that? The God who made the universe---including a star 5 billion times larger than our sun---orchestrates history so that people who need Him can know Him. So that people who are lost will be found by Him.
It is kind for God to turn people toward Him. A destroyed house is a very small price to pay if it opens our eyes to a life and eternity of being secure in our Maker's love. May the Church not waste this opportunity to be His hands and feet so that all may know Him!
Our troubles are much greater than hurricanes, and they existed before Irma ever started swirling. So I pray that Florida, the Caribbean islands, and all who hear or think about the frailty of life will be like those caught in a storm in Psalm 107: "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress."
I'm grateful God can handle my wrestling. I'm grateful I can trust that He has kind and loving purpose even though I don't know everything that entails. And I'm grateful that, even if we lose everything in this hurricane, we still have everything. I know Him.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
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Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today