It seems like this week the topic about which a lot of news media attention has been given as been the East Coast hurricane, Dorian, which created havoc in the Bahamas and then moved up the eastern coastline of the United States. Some places that were expecting a lot of wind and rain got wind and rain, but not enough to destroy whole towns and cities with wind damage and flooding while others were not so fortunate. Hurricanes, like many other natural disasters, are nothing to fool around with. They are dangerous, cost lives and property damage, and tempt people to risk their lives unnecessarily by thinking nothing will happen to them and that they will be just fine.
I remember hurricanes coming through my hometown at various times in my childhood. The howling of the wind and the force of the rain frightened me because I could feel the gusts of wind pushing on the sides and roof of the house. We never lost a window or even very many shingles, but branches from the trees and the total loss of my favorite tree in the front yard, a lovely weeping willow that was like my kindred spirit, broke my heart, and it still hurts today, over 50 years later. I still remember that after the hurricane passed, there would suddenly be the sound of lots of frogs croaking in a temporary pond in a depression of the landscape at the end of my street. The pond didn’t last very long as it was only there until the water soaked into the ground. With that drying up, the frogs soon quieted down, but I remember hearing that amphibian choir in much the same way Noah might have greeted the rainbow. It was a reassurance.
Hurricanes are real physical dangers but I think they can also be internal ones. I think through my life and consider times when it felt like I was in my private and personal hurricane, being drenched by pounding water and blown about like leaves on a tree in a high wind.
Personal hurricanes have blown through my life figuratively and literally, each one making me feel battered and in some cases torn apart limb from limb. For me a lot of it dealt with the deaths of people I loved and lost, incidents of my life that I learned to regret, and sometimes I still feel the battering of the wind that comes from time to time only to fade for a while and then rises again with the next storm in my life.
I think about the times in the Bible where there are real and symbolic winds and rain concerning the relationship between God and the people of the Bible. Job certainly endured a lot of battering when God and the Shai-Tan, the adversary, had a small wager on whether Job would turn on God if all the blessings that Job had received would be taken away suddenly. Job’s crops and herds were decimated, all of his children died when a house fell on them, and then Job himself was left sitting on an ash pit, covered in boils, and with friends trying to console him by demanding that he confess what sins he had committed that would make God punish him with so many losses. Of course, Job was innocent of such charges, and eventually God restored not only Job’s life but everything that had been lost. I wonder what Job’s three friends thought of that.
I would truly hate to think that the God I know would punish anyone except me for my sins. I would hate to think that because of the sins of humanity, the Amazon would be burning, the animals would be caught in natural disasters and maimed or killed, and children who were so innocent and pure would be snatched away by a God who felt some parents needed to be punished and punished heavily. It just doesn’t make sense to me, and I really can’t reconcile myself to the fact that I used to believe that was the cause of disasters in the world. Yes, I learned that in church as a child, and I accepted it. After all, the people who were teaching me were adults, supposedly much wiser than I and who were my teachers and my guides.
Today I can’t do it. I think if a child is ill, it is due to circumstances, not God. If a child is murdered, it is because some person, for whatever reason, wanted to take that child’s life. Their children who die of diseases not because of their sins, but of causes beyond their control or even their knowledge. I think that people sometimes cause their own internal hurricanes, and choose to visit that disaster on innocent people solely for their own reasons. I don’t think God has anything to do with it; I’m pretty sure that’s how it goes. The people choose to do evil things, and none of those thoughts come from God.
I pray for all those who have been and are afflicted with the hurricanes of the past and the present, and even those who will suffer from them in the future. I pray for the people whose lives will be impacted by storms and tempests caused by the climate change that we refuse to acknowledge and try to correct. I pray for all victims of both natural and human-made circumstances. Most of all, I pray that those of us who reside in relative safety have the goodness of heart and the inspiration of God to help in any way we can to make it possible for people who have lost so much to rebuild their lives and those of their neighbors. I pray that we will learn that we have a God who loves us and who doesn’t punish us for the sins of others or punish the innocent for our sins.
We are God’s hands on earth, and if we think we can do nothing, remember the joke about the person who was stuck on a roof after a flood and who prayed for safety and rescue. After several opportunities, such as floating boards and other floating objects but which were rejected because person expected God to take care of him. There was even a man who came by in a motorboat offering help, but again the man on the roof rejected the offer. When God appeared in front of him, and God asked him why he had rejected all the offers of help that God had sent. The man was speechless. He didn’t see that God often uses other things and people to effect a rescue.
Think about it. Where has God sent help to us only to be rejected because we expected some miracle with a notice signed directly by God rather than a mere man in a boat?
Be the boater. Offer help, because that’s what God has in mind, whether or not it’s the kind of rescue someone else expects from God. Love your neighbor enough to help in times of trial. Don’t be a Job’s comforter; grab a boat, and start paddling.
Now where did I put my oars?
PS – God bless those who work to keep us informed of the current conditions surrounding such storms as Dorian, and the first responders and organizations who rush in where fools fear to tread, being God’s hands in time of tragedy.
Image: Hurricane Dorian leaves trail of destruction in the Bahamas. Photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, September 2, 2019. Found at https://en.wikinews.org.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is owned by Dominic, Gandhi, and Phoebe, who keep her busy and frequently highly amused.