In the aftermath and ongoing churn of Hurricane Ian, the images out of Florida are breathtaking – flooded streets and towns, piles of crumpled boats and roofless houses, and cars floating here and there, to describe only a small slice of the storm’s ongoing damage.
As of this writing, fatalities haven’t been reported yet – but there’s been speculation the loss of life may very well be high. There’s news of ongoing rescues throughout the state.
If it seems hurricanes are worse than ever before, that false perception is likely attributable to twenty-four hour news coverage and the explosion of coastal communities. For perspective, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 killed more than 8,000 people.
Reconciling devastating natural disasters like hurricanes with an all-powerful and all-loving God is an age-old dilemma for many, especially Christians. Why would He allow such things to happen?
The late Dr. Billy Graham was often asked to explain this seeming contradiction.
“Many people want to protect God from the clear teaching of the Bible, which shows He is involved in natural disasters,” Graham would say. “It is not that God causes them, but the very fact that He could prevent them shows that we need to face squarely the fact that natural disasters happen within God’s providence.”
Tying the trying times of today to well-known events in biblical days, Graham proffered:
“During the time of the plagues in Egypt, clearly God sent those plagues. Then you have the time of Noah; the flood obviously was sent by God. It says regarding Jonah, God hurled a storm into the sea. We must see God in natural disasters. The question, of course, is why does He allow them and what is there to be learned.”
It seems clear that God uses all things to serve very specific purposes. There are times when we can see those reasons – but then there are plenty more times when we cannot.
To be sure, this fallen world is full of sin, death and devastation. We’re often lulled into a sense of thinking we’re in control of our own destiny. Just plan your work and work your plan, the self-development gurus tell us. “If you can believe it, you can achieve it” becomes the mantra. But then an illness comes, or a storm wipes out our home and our savings.
Hurricanes like Ian remind us how frail and fragile we all are – especially when compared to the mighty forces far outside our control. Many of today’s environmentalists, however well-meaning, buy into the falsehood that men and women can control weather. They pour billions of dollars into studies and projects under the guise of wresting control of the wind, the waves and the water. It’s a fool’s errand.
As believers, we can take comfort in knowing that God can bring good out of suffering. In His economy, nothing is lost.
It was the Scottish evangelist Oswald Chambers who once said, “When God gets us alone through suffering, heartbreak, temptation, disappointment, sickness, or by thwarted friendship – when He gets us absolutely alone, and we are totally speechless, unable to ask even one question, then He begins to teach us.”
Addressing those impacted by the storm, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly wrote Thursday, “You may be feeling overwhelmed by the impact of Hurricane Ian on your life and throughout your state. We want to help. In addition to praying for you, we have compiled resources for you on a special website. I pray God brings you healing, peace and comfort during this difficult time.”
As we await more word about those impacted along the Eastern Seaboard, let’s also continue to pray for God’s mercy and protection on those impacted – and for those tasked with rescuing and restoring the area.
Photo from Samaritan’s Purse.