Hurricane Ian is headed for the southwest coast of Florida and is likely to make landfall this afternoon or evening as a major Category 4 storm. Hurricane conditions are already impacting Florida’s Gulf Coast this morning, with major flooding reported in Key West. The National Hurricane Center is warning of storm surges with “life-threatening inundation.” More than 2.5 million people have been advised to flee as the storm advances on the state.
The hurricane is currently predicted to come ashore south of Tampa Bay and cut across the state directly for Orlando. Central Florida could expect fifteen to twenty inches of rainfall, with localized rainfall of up to twenty-four inches. For comparison: the most rainfall Orlando has ever experienced over a three-day period has been 13.75 inches.
“It’s going to be historic,” according to one National Weather Service meteorologist.
Three questions I’m asking myself
As I respond this morning, I’m not sure what I can say that you don’t already know.
As a cultural apologist, I could ask why God allows natural disasters. However, as I have written in the past, sin led to a fallen world and the disasters and diseases we face as a consequence (Romans 8:22). There were no hurricanes in the garden of Eden.
I could ask why God sometimes intervenes with such disasters, as when Jesus calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee, but not at other times. However, this is a question we need to answer practically rather than speculatively. When Peter asked about John’s future after the resurrection, Jesus responded, “What is that to you? As for you, follow me” (John 21:22 HCSB). We’ll say more about practical responses to the hurricane in a moment.
So, here are three questions I am asking myself today.
First, why have I focused in this article on Hurricane Ian more than on Hurricane Fiona? The latter devastated Puerto Rico and swept away homes in eastern Canada, but I have not made it my primary subject today.
Second, why have I written about Florida but not Cuba, where Ian brought terrible devastation yesterday as a Category 3 hurricane? The storm caused floods, knocked down trees, ripped off roofs, and damaged hospitals. I’m sure we’ll learn more in the coming days about the hurricane’s horrific effects on the island.
Third, why am I writing an article that is more theoretical than personal? I have focused on theological principles and reported facts, not on personal stories or reflections.
The answer to all three questions is obvious: I live in the United States, but I don’t live in Florida. The same is true for most of you.
If faith is a “crutch for cripples”
However, here’s what you may not know: I have family members and good friends who live in Florida. And I love the people of Cuba—I’ve traveled ten times to the island and pray every day for the pastors and churches with whom our ministry partners there.
As a result, while Fiona was disastrous for people I don’t know personally, Ian is devastating for many I do. Consequently, I am much more engaged in the disaster currently unfolding.
Here’s my point: God cares about those devastated by Fiona even more personally than I care about those affected by Ian. There are no speculative issues in our world with him.
Despite what the Deists thought, God is not a clockmaker who made the world and now watches dispassionately as it runs down. Despite what Freud thought, God is not a speculative projection of our “father” image but a real Father who loves each of us so much he sent his Son to die so we could live eternally.
As a result, those who follow Christ as Lord are his “body” continuing his earthly ministry in our day (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christianity is not the “opiate of the people,” as Marx claimed, but the only hope of a broken and chaotic world. If faith is a “crutch for cripples,” we are all cripples.
Act into feeling
If the devastation caused by Hurricanes Fiona and Ian is not personally grievous for us, it should be.
We are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). According to Jesus, a neighbor is someone in need whom you can help (Luke 10:37). And you can help every person affected by these tragedies through your intercession and support for ministries serving them.
Such compassion begins by praying for compassion. It begins by asking God to break our hearts for what breaks his heart. It begins by asking his Spirit for his first “fruit”—agape, unconditional servant love in action (Galatians 5:22).
Then we act in the belief that God is answering our prayer. We do not wait until we feel compassion—we act in compassion. We take practical steps to demonstrate God’s love in our service. As counselors say, we act into feelings, and often the feelings follow.
Whether we feel compassion for those we serve or not, they will feel our compassion in our service. And our service to those in need will serve our Savior and Lord (Matthew 25:40). St. Vincent de Paul (1581–1660) reminded us that those in need “are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor” and who “went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself.”
Booker T. Washington on happiness
To serve hurricane victims in Canada, you can support the Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse as they serve those in crisis. To help those in Puerto Rico, you can partner with evangelical ministries at work on the island.
To help those in Cuba, I highly recommend our ministry partner there, Proclaim Cuba, and encourage you to support their work here. To serve those in Florida, I recommend (as always) the ministry of Texas Baptist Men as well as Convoy of Hope and the American Red Cross.
As you pray for these hurricane victims and those who are serving them, also ask the Lord to open your eyes and heart to those in need you can serve closer to your home.
Booker T. Washington observed, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”
How happy will you be today?