Today as a major Category 4 hurricane—Ian–is hitting the west coast of Florida, I’m reminded of the fact that it is very important to listen to the officials and their warnings to take all necessary precautions and stay inside and safe while the hurricane is going through Florida for the next 18-24 hours.
I lived in Central Florida and for a short time in South Florida for over 20 years, and during that time I experienced going through six hurricanes and several tropical storms. As I watch the latest updates on Hurricane Ian today, it brought back memories of some of those past hurricanes.
My very first hurricane experience goes back to August 24-25, 1992, when Hurricane Andrew, a tightly packed Category 5 hurricane, blew threw South Florida causing massive damage and destruction. I had arrived in South Florida at the end of June 1992 to start a one-year doctoral fellowship at a private university located there, and I arrived from the Midwest where I had lived all of my life. I had never experienced a storm on a scale remotely close to a hurricane although I had been through tornados and severe thunderstorms, and blizzards in the winter living in the Midwest.
The apartment where I stayed during Hurricane Andrew was rented by a new friend whom I met at the university where I had my doctoral fellowship. She was a new professor in my program, and she was as terrified as I was going through a hurricane for the first time, and she asked me to come over to her apartment so we could at least go through it together. I remember how eerie it was hearing the howling wind blowing outside for hours without ever letting up through the closed windows and glass patio door, and the snapping of trees in the middle of the night. We lost electricity at some point and in the worst of the storm we both huddled in her small windowless bathroom with a couple of candles for light which was the safest place to be. In the middle of the night during the height of the storm I fell asleep on the bathroom floor from sheer exhaustion as we both had been awake for at least the past 24 hours if not longer. She fell asleep in the empty bathtub. We were grateful to have each other’s company and to not have had to go through that experience alone.
As it turned out over those 20 years I lived in Florida, Hurricane Andrew was not only the first hurricane I experienced, but the worst of the six hurricanes I experienced. It’s been 30 years now since I lived through Hurricane Andrew, and despite going through several more hurricanes since that time, it is the hurricane I remember the most.
Any kind of natural disaster can leave us feeling helpless and out of control. And one question that comes to mind regarding natural disasters is why does God allow them to happen? GotQuestions.org provides us with the following answer:
Why does God allow earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, typhoons, cyclones, mudslides, wildfires, and other natural disasters? Tragedies cause many people to question God’s goodness. It is distressing that natural disasters are often termed “acts of God” while no “credit” is given to God for years, decades, or even centuries of peaceful weather. God created the whole universe and the laws of nature (Genesis 1:1). Most natural disasters are a result of these laws at work. Hurricanes, typhoons, and tornados are the results of divergent weather patterns colliding. Earthquakes are the result of the earth’s plate structure shifting. A tsunami is caused by an underwater earthquake.
The Bible proclaims that Jesus Christ holds all of nature together (Colossians 1:16-17). Could God prevent natural disasters? Absolutely! Does God sometimes influence the weather? Yes, as we see in Deuteronomy 11:17 and James 5:17. Numbers 16:30-34 shows us that God sometimes causes natural disasters as a judgment against sin. The book of Revelation describes many events which could definitely be described as natural disasters (Revelation chapters 6, 8, and 16). Is every natural disaster a punishment from God? Absolutely not.
In much the same way that God allows evil people to commit evil acts, God allows the earth to reflect the consequences sin has had on creation. Romans 8:19-21 tells us, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The fall of humanity into sin had effects on everything, including the world we inhabit. Everything in creation is subject to “frustration” and “decay.” Sin is the ultimate cause of natural disasters just as it is the cause of death, disease, and suffering.
We can understand why natural disasters occur. What we do not understand is why God allows them to occur. Why did God allow a tsunami to kill over 225,000 people in Asia? Why does God allow hurricanes to destroy the homes of thousands of people? For one thing, such events shake our confidence in this life and force us to think about eternity. Churches are usually filled after disasters as people realize how tenuous their lives really are and how life can be taken away in an instant. What we do know is this: God is good! Many amazing miracles occurred during the course of natural disasters that prevented even greater loss of life. Natural disasters cause millions of people to reevaluate their priorities in life. Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid is sent to help the people who are suffering. Christian ministries have the opportunity to help, minister, counsel, pray, and lead people to saving faith in Christ! God can, and does, bring great good out of terrible tragedies (Romans 8:28). (Quote source here.)
An article titled, “Hope in Hurricanes and Disasters,” by Rev. Michael Beck, senior pastor of Wildwood United Methodist Church, was published on September 22, 2017, at the same time Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida. He writes:
Last Sunday, with Hurricane Irma bearing down on the state of Florida, my wife, Jill Beck, and I gathered in the fellowship hall of Wildwood United Methodist Church, to “Facebook Live” a makeshift service to our people at Wildwood and Webster United Methodist Churches. Services were cancelled, as our primary concern was the safety of our congregations, and the outer bands of the storm were already buffeting our communities. Over 1,200 people tuned in to the feed that day and almost 200 posted comments, far more folks than either of our congregations gathered in our sanctuaries on most Sunday mornings.
The fear was tangible. People were looking for hope. Much of the state had been evacuated and news reporters relentlessly warned of the dangers of this massive category 4 storm. The significance of the moment was not lost on us. Our goal was to offer a word of comfort and hope in the face of the impending disaster. We realized as we walked the empty church campus that Sunday morning, in strange silence, that this was the first time in many year— potentially in the 130 plus years of the church’s history—that no songs of praise would be sung, prayers offered, or sermon preached. We refused to break that legacy, and began re-thinking what kind of worship needed to happen in that moment by harnessing the latest technology.
Oddly enough, I had just returned from Portland, Oregon, where fires raged up and down the west coast. Smoke blotted out the sun there, casting an eerie red apocalyptic glow over the area. The day before, a horrible earthquake ravaged Mexico. I flew back to Florida just in time to escape the fire, right into the oncoming flood. Weeks before: Charlottesville, violence, civil unrest, and massive political upheaval.
I couldn’t help but to ask myself during all this, are these the “signs” that Jesus spoke of? Is this the end of the world as we know it? That anxiety was further fueled by Social Media doomsday prophets, trumpeting proclamations that God had abandoned us in anger because human sin had come to an apex. Some of those statements were to the effect of “God is punishing us with multiple natural disasters.”
I struggle with this kind of world view in which God is deterministically micromanaging creation, using fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes to teach humanity a lesson. I was truly pressed in my faith to share my belief in an ultimately good and loving God, amid devastating natural disasters that claim human life.
While I don’t have a sufficient theological explanation for why there are natural disasters in this world, I can share how I have experienced God’s sustaining presence when in their midst, how God uses these destructive forces, and how, as the church, we are sometimes God’s answer to them. Although I don’t believe God causes suffering or natural disasters to “punish us,” they are undeniably pervading forces in our world. Throughout my ministry, I have been brought to the understanding that there are questions to which no answer will suffice, and we must live in the mystery…. (Quote source and the rest of his article are available here).
In this story, Jesus is in the boat asleep in the middle of the storm. He’s sleeping “on the cushion” meaning he’s not just dozing off, he’s sound asleep! Exhausted from his work among the crowds, the “do not disturb sign” is out. The disciples freak out and wake him up. Even in his sheer exhaustion, with no Starbucks for miles, Jesus then tells the storm to shush and it obeys him. When Jesus says, “peace be still” there is a “dead calm.” He then criticizes their lack faith, which makes me wonder what he expected them to do during a storm when the boat was sinking? Should they have stilled the storm themselves? Or was Jesus going to use this as a group water-walking 101 class?
Now we know that Jesus doesn’t calm every storm. In this case, I get the sense that just having him in the boat should have been enough. If only one of the disciples would have said “hey guys, we have the carpenter of the universe in the boat with us, seriously, everything is going to be okay.”
Can we have “peace” and “dead calm” even during a hurricane? I think we can, if we know Jesus is in the boat. Where is God amidst the storm? The short answer is “with us”. This passage shows us that God is not manipulating the wind, sending the tempest tossed sea to flood the boat, Jesus is in the boat with us. If Jesus is in our boat, the hurricane can do its worst, and we are going to be okay. (Quote source and the rest of his article are available here).
In one last article for this post titled, “4 Hopeful Prayers for Restoration from Natural Disasters,” by Hope Bolinger, Managing & Acquisitions Editor at End Game Press and the Founder of Generation Hope Books, published on March 4, 2020, which was just a few days before the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic began on March 11, 2020, she offers us the following:
It seems we cannot pass a day without hearing of a natural disaster destroying homes, taking lives, and devastating entire cities or lands. Being at the mercy of natural forces, we can often feel scared or distraught when facing natural disaster.
No matter what natural disasters we see on the news, how much our family or friends have been affected, or whether we’re weathering the phenomena of nature ourselves—we can turn to the Lord and pray for restoration and hope during these times of upheaval and anxiety.
For courage during disaster, or peace to withstand disasters to come, we can lift these four following prayers to heaven:
God does not forget us in the midst of great tragedy. Instead, he sits with us during the most difficult moments and helps us to rise again.
Whether you have a friend, a family member, or even have experienced a natural disaster yourself, turn to the Almighty who holds you in his arms and protects you underneath the shadow of his wings.
In the end, the earth will experience no natural disasters and God will make everything right. But for now, we rest in the comfort of knowing God still has a wonderful plan for our lives, and no natural disaster can even come close to matching the power of our powerful God. (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with Jesus’ words found in John 16:33 (NIV): In this world you will have trouble [trials and tribulations like hurricanes and natural disasters, too]…
But take heart . . .
I have overcome . . .
The world . . . .
YouTube Video: “Hope in Front of Me” by Danny Gokey: