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“This storm is a monster. It’s big and it’s vicious.” This is how North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper described Hurricane Florence, the most devastating storm to threaten the Carolinas in decades.
The National Weather Service states, “This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast.” CNN is warning this morning, “Even for a major hurricane, Florence is a beast like no other.”
It’s not too late for God to intervene. If Jesus could heal the sick, raise the dead, and calm a storm, he could turn Florence back to sea or otherwise prevent this disaster.
We should be praying fervently for him to do so, remembering that “you do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2 NRSV). As Gabriel told Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
But what if God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want him to?
The worst thing we can do
If you had a child with cancer and your oncologist could cure her but chose not to, your outrage would obviously be justified. If God does not stop this hurricane from devastating cities along the Carolina coast, many will wonder why.
We could blame the Fall since our sin led to a broken world with hurricanes and other disasters (Romans 8:22). But God parted the Red Sea, stopped the flooded Jordan river, and calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee–all miracles that occurred in our fallen world.
We could blame the victims, remembering that God used natural disasters to judge the sins of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. But he sent Moses to warn them before the plagues began; I know of no prophetic warnings issued to those in North and South Carolina. Nor am I aware of any unique sinfulness that would make them a special target for divine judgment.
When disaster strikes, the worst thing we can do is to blame its victims. I had a dear friend in one of the churches I pastored who was dying of cancer. I asked her if some aspect of her experience was hardest. She replied, “It’s all the people who tell me if I’d repent I’d be healed.”
Three facts about God
We could wrongly blame the Fall or unjustly blame the victims. Or we could blame God just as we’d blame an oncologist who refuses to heal our child. What if he’s not as powerful or as loving as we thought him to be?
When C. S. Lewis’s wife died, he later wrote: “The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer'” (A Grief Observed).
Before we decide that we are wrong about God, let’s consider three related facts.
One: Our finite minds cannot comprehend God’s infinite wisdom.
If God is truly God, by definition my fallen and limited mind cannot understand him. If my four-year-old granddaughter tells me that she learned calculus at her preschool today, I’ll assume that either she or her teachers are mistaken. If I can comprehend God, either he’s not God or I am.
Two: We must be close enough to hear his voice.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). By contrast, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). It is difficult to hear God’s Spirit unless we are listening to God’s Spirit.
Three: God is more concerned with action than with speculation.
In Luke 10, a lawyer asked Jesus the speculative question, “Who is my neighbor?” Our Lord responded with the best-known story in literature, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It answers the lawyer’s question, not with a logical explanation but with a practical application: we prove to be a neighbor when we show mercy. Then Jesus said to the man, “You go, and do likewise” (v. 37).
When people face a crisis, they need logical explanations less than they need loving neighbors.
The bottom line
Tomorrow we’ll look together at practical responses to the hurricane. For today, let’s note that nothing about Hurricane Florence changes the character of God. By definition, his nature cannot change. He is the summum bonum, the highest good. And he must love us because he is love (1 John 4:8).
Here’s the bottom line: When crisis comes, I can turn from God at the very time I need him most. Or I can join him in redeeming tragedy for good. I can turn from speculation to action.
So can you.