As I am writing this three days before its expected landfall, Hurricane Florence, an enormous Category 4 storm, is churning its way across the Atlantic. The bullseye seems to be the outer banks of North Carolina, but forecasters are warning of catastrophic flooding all across northern Virginia as Florence heads inland. Some thoughts ahead of the storm:
1. Why does God allow hurricanes (or other natural phenomena) to wreak havoc on humanity? First, I’m not aware of any passage that deals with that question directly. Perhaps the closest is Gn 3:17-19 which indicates the ground would be cursed because of Adam’s sin. We might extrapolate that other natural occurrences harmful to man also arose making our environment unfriendly and sometimes even lethal (also cf. Rom 8:19-22).
What Scripture does say is that God uses (and sometimes causes) natural phenomena like droughts, famines, hail, locusts, epidemics, etc. to punish sinful men with a view to bringing them to their spiritual senses (Hag 1:9-11; 2:15-17; 1 Kgs 17:1ff; Dt 28:15-29; etc.).
While it is natural for humans to search for cause and effect, the problem is that God doesn’t label each disaster with specific intent. When random things occur, our need to process them is frustrated by a “why” that is not apparent (cf. Jn 9:1-2). Years ago when an F-5 tornado barreled through Alabama, the Dixon’s former house had minor damage. Other fellow Christians three houses down had major damage that was not fixable. The house next to theirs was completely obliterated. The damage to the homes of several Christians in that area ranged from slight to total destruction. Why the difference? As Jesus said to the disciples, not all misfortune is directly related to moral standing (Jn 9:3). Sometimes, things just happen.
2. Godly people will not ask, “Why me?” but “Why not me?” Some may have an unrealistic expectation that they live in God’s protective bubble and that nothing will happen to them. Then cancer strikes; a child dies; an accident tragically changes the course of life. These things happen to everyone – the believer, skeptic, atheist and the hedonist. Should we expect to be exempt from life’s tragedies? Does not Scripture amply document the suffering and hardship of God’s faithful people in all ages who did not deserve what had befallen them (Heb 11:35-38)?
3. We periodically need to have our reality shaken to help us focus on what really matters. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but it is because we are forgetful, distracted, materialistic, frivolous and easily lose sight of non-sensory (spiritual) reality. We also think we are in control (Jas 4:13-17). God’s awesome and overwhelming forces of nature are an occasional reminder that this is a delusion. Here we are three days away from a terrible storm impact and all we can do about it is pray, evacuate and buy water and generators. Florence is going to have her way, and no human power can stand in the way of a hurricane. What God may do about Florence, however, is entirely up to Him.
4. Disasters are times of opportunity. Jesus answered the disciples’ question: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (Jn 9:3). Tragedies and misfortunes are times for God’s people to show unconditional love to the lost, brotherly love to our spiritual family (Gal 6:10; Mt 5:13-16; 2 Cor 9:6-15) and confidence in God to all (2 Cor 1:8-11; 2 Tim 4:17-18; Ph 4:10-13). The world has largely expelled God from their thinking. Thus when disaster comes they have no real help but insurance, government handouts and charity. Some will be further hardened by catastrophe, but others may “see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
It is my hope and prayer that God’s people at Centreville and our fellow Virginians will weather Florence with minimal damage. But if not, may we be servants of God and each other and give of ourselves and our things so that God may be glorified.