As I write this, Hurricane Irma, a massive Category 5 monster, is taking aim at the islands south of Florida. It could hit the Sunshine State – either coast – by this weekend.
The governor has already declared the entire state a disaster area.
Or Irma could veer toward the Gulf of Mexico and strike Mississippi or Alabama.
Nobody knows for sure. Meteorologists call the various possibilities “models.”
People wait. They prepare. They pray. Nobody can control what Irma will do. Where she will go. How hard she will hit.
Nothing underscores for humankind its utter impotence than an impending storm. We plan and orchestrate everything else. We prepare for storms the best we can but it is a reactive mode we’re all in.
The elements send us scrambling in fear and dread – gathering, filling, hoarding, hovering and fleeing.
When it comes to the weather, we’re out of control.
God alone rules the forces of nature. The order he made he commands. His omnipotence rises above our weakness. His sovereignty breaks in powerful display upon our frail dependence.
“In his hand are the depths of the earth,” writes the psalmist, “and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land” (Psalm 95:4-5, NIV).
Hurricane Harvey rained down devastation upon the Texas coast, reminding us again of how vulnerable we all can be in a matter of hours. We looked so small; God so big.
In the boat with his frightened disciples, engulfed in terrifying tumult, Jesus stood to stop the storm. “Peace, be still,” he ordered. The sea turned as calm as glass; the air as soft as a whippoorwill on a summer night.
The silence of peace.
It all happened instantly. God simply turned the dial on his universe.
Jesus looked at his disciples and smiled. “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Instead of being reassured, they grew even more fearful. Looking at each other in amazement, they said:
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”(Mark 4: 39-41, NIV).
Rich Mullins gave us the iconic praise:
“Our God is an awesome God! He reigns from heaven above.”
Harvey taught more than the awesome power of an awesome God.
It taught us, too, of the faith and resilience of its victims. In the face of incalculable loss and the threat of death itself, these men and women looked to God, the Maker and Ruler of it all, for strength, protection and guidance.
For all the Harveys of this world, the Psalmist offers timeless hope:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof” (Psalm 46: 1-3, KJV).
Jesus never promised that the winds and the rains would never beat against our house. He told us that if we built our house upon the rock, it would stand in the midst of the storm.
While many lost their homes in Harvey, many also clung to the Rock of Ages who would take them through the deep waters.
The God who created the world, the God who commanded the storms, is the same God who would protect them and their families. This was their prayer. This was their plea to a God who is not on only all – powerful, but all – loving.
Harvey united the nation. Most disasters do.
On a Sunday morning, our pastor invited the congregation to the front of the church to pray for all those affected by the storm. He read the proclamation by President Trump setting aside a National Day of Prayer for the victims.
Here was a reminder, in a deeply divided country, that while we may vote as many, we pray as one.
It shouldn’t take a national catastrophe to unite America. It shouldn’t require a tragedy to lead us back to God. But Harvey did and that was good.
Very bad events can also bring out the very best in people.
Thousands of their fellow citizens did something to help the suffering Texans. Our daughter Suzanne, who lives in Longview, Texas, challenged her husband Casey to shave off his very pronounced beard if she could raise at least $1,000 for the Harvey relief effort.
In less than twelve hours, they were headed for Houston, towing a trailer- full of goods.
Casey was clean-shaven.
They sent back some great pictures.
Suzanne’s mother and I were proud of them. More importantly, we knew the Apostle James would have been too. Nothing so endears people to the Christian faith as when they see it put into action.
The extraordinary compassion of others – their sacrifice and generosity in the face of overwhelming suffering and need – is a reminder of our shared humanity and the image of God stamped upon every human life.
How often the worst in nature brings out the best in man.
People helping people.
The God of Nature is the God of love. This is his world. He made it. He rules it. He works even the bad things together for good.
“He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.”