Tropical Storm Hilary: What disasters reveal about our moral foundations

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August 21, 2023 -

Vehicles cross over a flood control basin that has almost reached the street, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, in Palm Desert, Calif. Forecasters said Tropical Storm Hilary was the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years, bringing the potential for flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds and power outages. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Vehicles cross over a flood control basin that has almost reached the street, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, in Palm Desert, Calif. Forecasters said Tropical Storm Hilary was the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years, bringing the potential for flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds and power outages. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Vehicles cross over a flood control basin that has almost reached the street, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, in Palm Desert, Calif. Forecasters said Tropical Storm Hilary was the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years, bringing the potential for flash floods, mudslides, isolated tornadoes, high winds and power outages. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Tropical Storm Hilary made landfall over Mexico’s Baja California peninsula shortly before noon yesterday, bringing winds and heavy rain that triggered mudslides and flooding. Thousands of people across Southern California have lost power; the National Weather Service is warning that “dangerous to locally catastrophic flooding impacts are expected” in the region.

On the same day a tropical storm hit the state for the first time in eighty-four years, a magnitude-5.1 earthquake struck eighty miles northwest of Los Angeles. There were at least a dozen aftershocks of magnitude-3.0 or greater.

I am praying this morning for all those affected by Tropical Storm Hilary’s calamities and challenges, asking God to be their strength and to mobilize his people to respond biblically and redemptively. But there is a cultural and spiritual principle at work in these disasters we should discuss as well.

Earthquakes do not create fault lines

As I reflect on today’s news, a construction project I walk past each morning comes to mind.

The house is in its early stages, with wood forms being placed for the concrete foundation that will soon be poured. Before long, the house will hide the work that is now visible. But if (or when) a major storm strikes our area, it will reveal the strength of the unseen foundation.

This is the way of nature: earthquakes do not create fault lines—they reveal them. Strong winds do not create the root systems of trees—they reveal their depth and strength.

The same is true of humans. Temptations do not create character—they reveal it. Otherwise, every time every person is tempted by deceit, sexual immorality, or greed, we would lie, lust, and steal.

Scripture diagnoses our condition: “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15, my emphasis).

Why our moral edifice is crumbling

What is true of Americans is true of America. Our founding declaration states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

When we stand on life, we oppose abortion and euthanasia. When we stand on liberty, we oppose human trafficking and prostitution, slavery, and unfair incarceration. When we stand on the pursuit of happiness, we oppose systemic poverty, discrimination, and racism.

It is because our post-truth culture is abandoning these foundational principles that our moral edifice is crumbling amid the culture wars lashing our nation.

Now take this a step further. For Christians, our foundation is clear: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30–31). Jesus then said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). In other words, they are the foundation for everything else in God’s word and will.

Disasters and temptations reveal our spiritual foundation, showing whether we love God holistically, intimately, rationally, and practically and our neighbor unconditionally. Jesus was clear: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, my emphasis).

“An ill day for the church and the world”

If you and I stand on the authority of God’s word, choosing to love our Lord and our neighbor at all costs, we will experience the “separation of church and state” in a very personal way: “Friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4).

According to Jesus, we can know whether we are standing on the rock of God’s word or the sand of secular culture when the storms come: the house on the rock “did not fall,” but the house on the sand “fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:25, 27).

Charles Spurgeon warned: “A general laxity threatens to deprive the Lord’s peculiar people of those sacred singularities which separate them from sinners.” Then, referring to the global immorality that provoked the Flood (Genesis 6:1–7), he added: “It will be an ill day for the church and the world when the proposed amalgamation shall be complete, and the sons of God and the daughters of men shall be as one: then shall another deluge of wrath be ushered in.”

By contrast, standing on the foundation of biblical truth and morality, whatever the temporal cost, is best for our souls today and forever. According to Spurgeon, “Separated from the world, and denying ourselves all ungodliness and fleshly lusts, we are nevertheless not in prison, nor restricted within narrow bounds; nay, we walk at liberty, because we keep his precepts.”

David made the same point: “All the paths of the Lᴏʀᴅ are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10). The psalmist agreed: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lᴏʀᴅ his God” (Psalm 146:5).

How “blessed” will you be today?

NOTE: Because God’s word is so foundational to our lives and service, my wife launched our Foundations brand some years ago. It is filled with Bible studies, videos, and blogs to equip you in your faith along with Wisdom Matters, an end-of-the-day devotional based on biblical truth. I encourage you to utilize these resources today.

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