Today, I wish to meditate on the events our country has endured in the past ten days. Perhaps, like me, you have friends who lived through Hurricane Ian just over one week ago. According to a recent Washington Post article, Ian is the fifth worst storm to make landfall in US history. While it is too early to tell the final numbers, there are now more than 100 reported deaths and an estimated 60 billion dollars in damage in Florida.
When Ian landed last Wednesday at 3:05 PM at Cayo Costa, FL, it was a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 miles per hour. Twenty inches of rain or more fell on parts of Florida, knocking out power to more than 2.7 million residents. The storm surge in Naples and Fort Myers recorded the highest water levels in their history. Many off those who lost their lives actually drowned due to the high water. The truly bad news is that the hurricane season still has two months left with October generally considered the worst month for storms.
Recovery for some Florida residents will take years, while other Floridians will never recoup their losses. Thankfully our friends from Naples had minimal damage, although, the brother underwent open heart surgery less than a week before Ian hit and was prematurely hustled out of the hospital ahead of the storm. In addition to the devastation created by the hurricane, the Florida insurance market is facing a crisis with Floridians paying three times the national average for home owners insurance. Fears are that more insurance companies will fail due to the staggering claims.
The question that comes to mind for many Christians after an event like this is “Where is God in all this?” Did he cause the hurricane? Did he allow it? Was he surprised by it? Could he have prevented it? If he could have prevented it, why didn’t he? If he caused it, why did he? The hurricane wasn’t a catastrophic event for non-Christians only. Bible believers felt its devastating effects. There is an evangelical church on Sanibel Island that was decimated by the storm. Many Christians can understand why God brings misfortune on unbelievers, but why do Christians suffer too? Who is to blame for the catastrophes we face in Florida and elsewhere? Were Floridians worse sinners than South Carolinians because Ian hit harder in Fort Myers than in Charleston?
Some catastrophes are called acts of God – hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, famine, disease, heat waves, cold snaps. The tsunami of 2004, on Dec 26, hit the Indian Ocean and killed an estimated 227k people in 14 countries. It was the 3rd largest such event that ever recorded and the greatest natural disaster of the 21st century. Where was God in all of this?
Let’s consider some of the questions Christians might pose.
Is God in control of the universe? Well, if we believe that God is creator of heaven and earth (Gen 1), then we must believe that either he controls his creation or he is controlled by it. 18th century Deism taught that God made the world but, then like a clock maker, wound it up and let it run, just letting things happen. If this is our world, we would live in a truly frightful place. Things just would happen with nothing, or no one, in control. What does the Scripture say about the weather and God? Is he subject to nature or is he in control of it?
In Jeremiah 10 God addressed Israel at a time of national spiritual decay. The passage contrasts the impotence of the idols with the awesome power of God. In Jer. 10:1, God warns Israel to not learn the way of the nations or to be concerned about the signs of the heavens. In this chapter God declares that it is he who “made the earth, established the world, and stretched out the heavens (cf. Pss 65:6–8; 77:18; 89:11). This is followed by a fourfold description of God’s power over creation. He has power over the rain, the clouds, the lightning, and the wind.”[Craigie, Jeremiah 1–25 (Vol. 26, p. 160)]. This is certainly a starting point when considering something like the hurricane. This is God’s world, and he controls its operation. Make no mistake about that.
So why does God use acts of nature in the world according to the Scripture? What is the purpose or rather what is his purpose in all of this?
Sometimes, these events are a consequence of human sin and depravity; sin entered into the world and death came by sin (Rom. 5:12), all kinds of death. Sin brought consequences into the world that we must learn to live with.
But at times God causes the weather and uses weather events as judgment (Job 37:1–13). Perhaps the greatest biblical example of weather-related judgment is the flood of Genesis 6:9ff
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. (Gen 6:11-13, ESV)
God brought judgment down on the Egyptians when they refused to let God’s people go. Pharoah’s army was drowned in the Rea Sea for refusing to heed God’s command (Ex 14). Sometimes God brings judgment by withholding weather. In 1 Kgs 17, Elisha predicted no rain or dew until Israel repented. Indeed, weather can be used by God as an act of judgment.
Was Ian the judgment of God on sinful humanity? Frankly, there is just no way to know the answer, so speculation is dangerous. We are not prophets and cannot claim to speak for God with certainty. Realistically, if it was divine judgment, why was it so restrained? America has cursed God as a culture and rejected God’s decrees. I need not offer a list of the kinds of things God might be angry with us over. But we also know that God is extremely long-suffering. He wants us to turn to him in repentance and faith. Maybe the hurricane was simply a warning of coming wrath. The Bible speaks of an approaching day of wrath that will supersede the effects of Ian a thousand-fold. Are we prepared to face God? Will we listen if he speaks?
Moreover, the Bible speaks of certain events that may be signs of the coming of the Lord (Luke 21:11) such as earthquakes, famines, pestilences. Are hurricanes among these events? We are to be ready for his return? Events like this hurricane remind us to hold on to earthly things lightly. They are temporary and they will fade.
So just how should Christians respond to crises like this? What does God expect of us? First, we need to trust the Lord that his way is perfect. He has a plan and all global events fit into that plan, including the weather. Second, we need to bear witness for Christ in the crisis. Our trust in him may cause others to seek us out for reasons for our assurance. What a time to bear witness to the loving Son of God. Third, we need to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. The Scriptures repeatedly warn us to be ready. Are we? Have we placed our trust in him? Are we living for his glory? As we ponder our world, let us remember Is. 45:5–7
I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.