“ ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ ” Matthew 25:44-45
From Texas, Florida, to South Asia floodwaters have ravaged homes and businesses. Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm with winds up to 130 miles per hour swept a shore on Friday, August 25th in Houston, and rapidly rising waters flooded neighborhoods and businesses districts across Houston. In 6 days, Harvey dumped 27 trillion gallons of rain on Texas and Louisiana and about 51 inches of rain in the Houston area, breaking the record from a tropical cyclone in the United States. Around 40,000 homes have been lost, and automotive damage is estimated between $2.7 and $4.9 billion. The estimated total loss is approximately $75 billion. Director of Insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, Robert Hunter said that only two of ten homeowners in Texas have flood insurance. The devastation to personal finances and neighborhoods will soar as the damage through out Houston is assessed. Now, Hurricane Irma battering Florida leaves an estimated six million people without power as of September 11, 2017. Then beginning in mid-August the most deadly floods across South Asia in 40 years leave 40 million struggling to rebuild their lives. According to UNICEF in India an estimated 31 million people have been affected. In Nepal about 1.5 million homes are no longer livable.
Millions are homeless after the past few weeks of deadly floodwaters. What is happening in our world? God might seem far from millions of people who are homeless due to these devastating floodwaters. Psalm 34:18 reminds us the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and Psalm 46:1 reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” God is sovereign over Creation; therefore, He can be trusted “though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam” (Psalm 46:2-3). Because of fallen creation earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and tsunamis occur. The Sovereign God was aware of the storms that have battered down on Texas, Florida, and Asia. We will never know this side of Heaven why God did not hold back the storms. Nor will we know the countless storms which He has calmed across the seas for centuries.
How might we respond to these tragedies? Our first response is to grieve with those who grieve and respond with love by giving and helping, not with judgment. Remember Jesus tells the Jewish religious leaders that those who died in the collapse of the tower of Siloam were not greater sinners than anyone else (Luke 13:2-5). An incorrect and common belief in the ancient world was that God judged sinful people by allowing calamity to fall upon them. Self-righteous people are quick to judge. Jesus reminds them that they must all repent, or they will face a far greater death, the final judgment.
If you find yourself in survival mode, overwhelmed with the burden of rebuilding your life after a devastating event, you might not know what to pray. You might even question God’s love for you by not sparing your house from yet another hurricane, or why your neighborhood flooded rather than the one a mile away. His love never changes based on circumstances which is so hard for humans to understand. He might seem far away in our suffering, and but He is not. His presence is felt in the hands and feet of first responders. Some might say, where were you in the storm? Jesus might respond, I sent a team on a boat to rescue your family and your neighbors to help you pull out drywall from your home and gave a friend an idea to raise money to help you rebuild. What about neighbors whom you did not know who invited your family to stay with them?” First responders carry the love of Jesus in great loss and suffering.
Natural disasters remind us that life is temporary and what really matters is: people not things. Nobody buries his or her broken plasma television, cars, collectables, or furniture. Just like war, natural disasters cause us to think about eternity- Is God real? What happens when I die? During wartime, people understand that they will not live forever.
Also, natural disasters remind us of the Final Judgment coming at Jesus’s return to the Earth.
“For as lighting that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.” (Matthew 24:27-30).
Lastly, natural disasters remind us to build our lives on solid ground. Just as we seek the most hurricane proof ground during a storm, may we seek the only solid spiritual ground built on the foundation of Jesus Christ before the Final Judgment. In the meantime, build your life on Jesus and help your neighbors far and near who are suffering. Be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world.