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The latest on Dorian and the West Texas shooting: ‘By thy scars we know thy grace’

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The latest on Dorian and the West Texas shooting
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As I write this morning, Hurricane Dorian is now the second-strongest hurricane ever recorded. The massive Category 5 storm is nearing the eastern coast of the United States after leaving “catastrophic damage” with winds of 175 mph as it makes its way across the Bahamas.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm “will move dangerously close to the Florida east coast tonight through Wednesday evening.” But will it make landfall in the US? 

Where will Dorian go? 

Computer models now predict that the storm will skirt along Florida’s coast Tuesday and then move alongside Georgia late Tuesday and into Wednesday. But no one can be sure of its path.  A low-pressure system forming to its north could lead the storm in its direction. A sagging jet stream and a weakening high-pressure system to its northeast could steer the hurricane as well. 

Dorian could head out over the Atlantic, where the ocean’s cold waters would cause the storm to eventually dissipate. It could turn to the west and strike our east coast with historic severity. Or it could do something in between, lashing us with winds and rain but never making true landfall in the US. 

Hurricane Faith followed a somewhat similar path in 1966, churning westward toward the US and striking Bermuda but then turning northward and eventually weakening north of Scotland. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy forced closures from Florida through the Carolinas and states of emergency all along the eastern coast before finally making landfall in New Jersey. 

As many as 118 million people live on the East Coast of the United States. Any of them—or few of them—could plausibly be affected by this storm. 

Another shooting in a community I love 

The other major headline of the day is the shooting tragedy in West Texas. As of this morning, seven are known to have died and another twenty-two were injured. Police have identified the shooter, though, as is our policy, I will not name him to avoid giving him greater notoriety. 

As bad as it was, it could have been worse. Authorities say that if police had not intercepted the gunman outside an Odessa movie theater, there might have been “another event of mass violence.” 

I was privileged to live and pastor in Midland, Texas, from 1988 to 1994. Janet and I still have many close friends in the Permian Basin and are grieving with them as they deal with the shock of this tragedy. 

Rejecting God when we need him most 

When a hurricane threatens millions of people, we could be frustrated that meteorologists cannot predict its path. However, they are doing the best they can with the best science we have. 

When a man kills seven innocent civilians, we could be frustrated that police officers could not prevent the atrocity. However, they did the best they could in a horrific situation, risking their lives to save many others

When such tragedies strike, we could be frustrated that our omniscient, omnipotent God does not prevent them and choose to reject his help when we need it most. 

Or we could reframe the fact of suffering by including God in it. 

“The worship of a crucified man” 

Peter Wehner served in the administrations of President Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush and is currently Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC. Last April, he wrote a Good Friday column for the New York Times in which he made this statement: “From the perspective of Christianity, one can question why God allows suffering, but one cannot say God doesn’t understand it. He is not remote, indifferent, untouched or unscarred.” 

Wehner quotes Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge, who notes that before Good Friday, “No one in the history of human imagination had conceived of such a thing as the worship of a crucified man.” Even today, the world’s religions picture God, if they picture a personal god at all, as separate from our world and distant from our pain, a Zeus atop Mt. Olympus rather than a carpenter writhing on a cross. 

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

—Hebrews 4:16

In his suffering, Jesus entered our suffering. The New Testament says it this way: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). 

Here’s the result we can embrace: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16). 

“By thy scars we know thy grace” 

We most need meteorologists when hurricanes threaten us. We most need police officers when shooters are on the loose. We most need God when our broken world breaks again. 

Wehner’s perceptive meditation includes some lines from “Jesus of the Scars,” a poem by English minister Edward Shillito. Written in response to the suffering of soldiers returning from World War I, he testifies: “Lord Jesus, by thy scars we know thy grace.” 

Here’s how Shillito ends his poem: 

The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but thou alone. 

Will you trust him with yours?