The hurricane in Haiti was serious and deadly enough to shake up everyone’s world. It was powerful enough to raise up for many spiritual questions. And as with any episode of human vulnerability,
Did it tear a little at the fabric of your faith in a loving God who rules over wind and rain? So as we find hurricane’s passing over Florida once again it’s a good time to revisit what the Christian faith has said about the weather and the natural order.
1. God is the Creator. As we recite most week’s in The Apostles Creed: “I believe in God,…Creator of heaven and earth.” God is the Creator of the earth and the systems and natural order of the earth.
2. Admittedly there is much in creation we cannot explain, but faith affirms God created the earth with certain natural orders. God created the earth with great plates of land that interface and great bodies of water, where warm air can pass over the face of the water so that God created the earth in such a way that tropical storms and hurricanes can take place.
3. Not only tropical storms and earthquakes, but all the patterns of nature, rain, sun, drought, good soil, ……God created these to act impartially. Jesus himself said it in Matthews 5:45 “The rain falls on the evil and the good, the rain falls on the just and the unjust.” Christians as well as everyone else lives in the impartiality of the natural order. We get no special exemptions. Fire burns us, mosquitoes bite us, rain waters our crops, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Gulf sunsets look beautiful to us. There is a natural order in creation: storms and all. Imagine what it would be without wind. Can you design a better world? There appears a divine impartiality in the natural order.
4. Therefore the Christian life is not the search for special favors from God especially with regard to the natural order, but the Christian life involves the acceptance of weather and the natural order as one of the means by which God blesses creation, orders the world, and brings us to human maturity. Christians listen to both meteorologists and preachers. Christian faith accepts the order which God has given the world as the context for Christian life. But the New Testament teaches that piety is understanding the impartiality of nature as God’s gracious gift, and responding to it with faith, hope and love. Christian faith is not resignation, and it is more than consenting to powers that impinge upon our lives. It is coming to understand the natural order, which can be so destructive of human hopes, as somehow the expression of the sovereignty of the loving God we know through Jesus Christ. And at the same time Christian faith lives with the awareness that nature and history are open to the purposes and activity of God, which we cannot coerce, and which we must not presume.
Therefore when the authorities say “Evacuate!” or “Take shelter!” you had better pay attention. Because you teach Sunday School it doesn’t mean God will simply keep the hurricanes away from your house. Even with Jesus in the boat the weather blew a storm up on the sea of Galilee.
Without denying that God answers prayer in extraordinary and specific ways, it’s clear Christians live in the world God has created with all of its natural systems.
5. Faith points to hope in disaster. From the beginning Christians remembered that the Son of God himself was subjected to pain and suffering, tragedy and loss, such that he cried out, using the words of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” A faith whose founder was crucified cannot be construed to teach that God’s people will never suffer. God seldom suspends the laws of nature, just as God does not remove free will to keep evil people from doing evil things. In natural disasters Christian faith reminds us of the promises found throughout the scripture, exemplified by the confidence of the 23rd Psalmist that, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me!” Christian faith declares that neither evil, suffering, or even death will ever have the final word. Jesus’ resurrection proclaims that, in the words of Frederick Buechner, in this life “the worst thing is never the last thing.”
6. Faith responds to disaster with compassion. Just as in the face of disaster Christian faith offers hope, God calls us in the midst of trouble to seek justice and love kindness Jesus was also clear in what he expected of his disciples: that they feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger. Christians are called to become the hands and feet of God’s compassion through prayer, through their actions, and through their generosity, especially in the lives of the weak, the devastated, the broken, and the victims of natural disaster.
I prayed this prayer after the tornado, and share it now again as we enter another hurricane season.
“O God, how shall we pray when mayhem and destruction fly down from the sky? In our humanity we live in your creation with the power of storms and the seeming capriciousness of their path. With the disciples we cry out “Master, do you not care that we perish?” O God help those in the aftermath of the terrible storms, the traumatized, the grieving, the injured, the devastated. Reveal the power of your love to help and to heal in the midst of catastrophe. Speak your Word of hope and promise of resurrection in the face of death and loss. Holy Spirit, bring order from chaos, hold the broken together, give energy and strength, clarity and unity, to rescue and emergency workers, physicians and nurses, leaders and citizens. Have mercy on them O God who loves this world: children, families, friends and neighbors who often know such great pain and whose hearts and homes are subject to storms. For we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who stilled the storm, had compassion on the suffering, and rose from the dead. Amen.”