I had planned to lead today’s Daily Article with good news in the news. There has been so much unrest and chaos in recent headlines that it seemed appropriate to find something uplifting to report.
Then Hurricane Michael strengthened into the strongest hurricane ever to strike the Florida Panhandle. It was nearly a Category 5 storm when it slammed into the coastline, with hurricane impacts as it continued into Georgia. As measured by barometric pressure, it is the third-strongest storm ever to strike the United States. The National Weather Service has called it “a catastrophic and unprecedented event.”
And so, once again we find ourselves struggling to find God at work in our fallen world. We know the facts: This world is broken because of sin (Romans 8:22), not because of any failure on God’s part. There were no hurricanes in the Garden of Eden. One day our Lord will make a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1).
But why does he allow such devastation in our present world? It would be different if Jesus had not calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee or performed other physical miracles. Then we would be forced to live with the fact that our planet is simply broken and will not be fixed until its Creator returns.
However, our Lord retains sovereign control over his creation, so that not even a sparrow “will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29). All he could ever do, he can still do.
Why, then, are the people in Florida and the Southeast facing this disaster? Why are you facing your storms and suffering today?
Why did Jesus raise so few?
Max Lucado makes this surprising observation: “Jesus healed hundreds, fed thousands, but so far as we know He only raised three: the daughter of Jairus, the boy near Nain, and Lazarus. Why so few?”
Lucado offers these possibilities: “Could it be because He knew He’d be doing them no favors? Could it be because He couldn’t get any volunteers? Could it be that once someone is there, the last place they want to return to is here?”
Then he quotes Isaiah 57: “The good men perish; the godly die before their time and no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to realize that God is taking them away from the evil days ahead. For the godly who die will rest in peace” (vv. 1-2, TLB).
Lucado is right: Death for a Christian is life. John heard a voice in heaven proclaiming, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). Isaiah prophesied of a day when “your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” (Isaiah 26:19).
So, we can know that Christians who die, whether from hurricanes or any other cause, are “blessed.” They step instantly from this fallen world into God’s perfect paradise. It certainly seems plausible that few would volunteer to be raised from the dead by Jesus since they’d actually be returning from paradise to a world of death.
The “crown of righteousness”
But how does this fact help us with other suffering caused by Hurricane Michael? The grief felt by believers who are separated from their loved ones through death? The physical and emotional trauma experienced by so many? The economic devastation that this storm will bring?
It seems unfair to extend Lucado’s logic to them. We know that the reward in heaven received by the faithful far outweighs the suffering they must endure to go there. But can we make the same promise to those who are losing their homes, facing years of financial recovery, and enduring the shock and grief of losing those they love?
The whole tenor of Scripture indicates that God compensates for the present suffering of his people with a better future. Jesus assured those who are persecuted for his sake that “great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12 NIV). The stories of Joseph and Daniel encourage us to trust today’s pain to God in expectation of his favor tomorrow.
Does this mean that Christians who suffer in this life will always be rewarded in this life? Not at all. We need only remember the torments Paul suffered (2 Corinthians 11:23-29) and his end in a Roman prison (2 Timothy 4:6) to know that it’s not so.
But what God does not repay in this life, he repays and more in the next: “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day” (v. 8).
This is no prosperity gospel, no audacious promise that God intends to make us healthy and wealthy in this world. But it is an assurance that our Father feels our sufferings and redeems them for greater good, in this life or in the next.
My brother in Florida
My brother lives in Tampa Bay, Florida, which has been under a state of emergency since Michael’s approach. While his home is not in the direct path of the storm, he is close enough to make this hurricane personal for me.
His circumstances remind me that the Bible offers little speculation as to the reasons for natural disasters but abundant calls to respond to tragedy with practical compassion.
I believe God would explain our suffering more fully if we were better able to understand his answers. You can’t teach trigonometry to a first grader. How much more so with God’s ways that are infinitely higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9)?
But we can do what he calls us to do: We can pray for those who suffer (James 5:14). We can intercede for pastors and others who are ministering in this crisis, asking God to give them divine wisdom and direction.
And we can look for ways to answer our prayers with our service (cf. Matthew 9:38-10:1). Oswald Chambers reminds us: “God will never reveal more truth about Himself until you have obeyed what you know already.”
As you deal with your storms today, are you waiting on God to act, or is he actually waiting on you?