This blog was originally posted on Lifeteen.com.
Most of you have heard about the devastation Hurricane Matthew has caused (and is continuing to cause) this past fall. You’ve watched on the news as weathermen tell us how dangerous the storm is and who should be worried. Maybe, if you’re like me, you have family and friends in places such as Haiti and Florida whose lives have been forever impacted.
The day the storm hit my Florida hometown, I was 700 miles away, enjoying a sunny afternoon in Atlanta. We were getting text updates from friends in Haiti about the damage they’d seen, and I watched as my old neighborhood was on the national news, a full river of flowing water running over the streets I once drove down.
I continued to look back and forth between the TV, which was showing all of this destruction, and the window, through which I could see nothing but blue skies. It was an unsettling feeling and left me with a question you’ve probably asked a time or two: Why does God allow this to happen?
This is a really good and important question. You should not feel like a bad Christian if you ask this question. As I’ve dug deeper to get some clarity on this topic, I keep finding that my questions outnumber my answers. The world is a bit hectic right now, especially with the Presidential race… I can’t seem to wrap my head around all of the crazy stuff going on. But a lot of these things are caused by people, and people can be crazy. I get that. I’ve made peace with that.
But a natural force of violent wind and rain moving towards helpless communities, not caring who stands in it’s path or what it leaves in it’s wake? A swirling storm claiming homes, memories, and lives? I have trouble wrapping my head around that.
The reason I struggle with it is that I’ve come to believe God is all-good and all-loving. He is always working for our good (Romans 8:28). I’ve come to believe that there’s nothing going on in our lives that God isn’t planning to work into a blessing or planning to bring good out of. I believe in a God who is all-powerful, who stretched out His hand and demanded that the wind around Him and the waves beneath Him cease, and they obeyed (Matthew 8:23-27).
Why, then, isn’t He doing that same thing now? Doesn’t He know how many people will be killed by a storm like this? Doesn’t He see how many homes will be crushed? I know He can do something about it – doesn’t He care?
I do believe He knows. I do believe He sees. I do believe He cares. I do not understand His ways.
This leads to more questions. If I believe that God could stop the storm, it would also make sense to say that He is letting it happen. In other words, God is in charge. If He could stop something, but chooses not to, then He’s allowing it to take place. This can cause confusion, and sadness, and even anger in me.
It leads me to ask, “Why doesn’t God step in and help us?” It’s easy to feel like God put us on Earth and then abandoned us. And then I’m reminded of the opening song from the Mass I attended on Sunday, Come Thou Fount, which says
“Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God. He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood. Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.”
I have been struggling to put anything into or get anything out of Mass lately, but this song brought me to tears. See, the whole reason I go to church or even have a church to go to is because God didn’t abandon us. He stepped in and helped us – further, rescued us – in the most important way ever, on the cross. And I believe He still steps in and helps us in more ways than we know. Just not always in the ways we’d like. He does call us to be His hands and feet though, to reach out and help those who are suffering, or even just to mourn alongside them.
Then I ask, “Why do natural disasters even exist?” Well, we need rain for crops to grow, we use wind for energy, and those things are part of nature. Nature is mostly good, but sometimes it escalates naturally and gets dangerous. I believe God can and does intervene, but for God to repeatedly stop that from ever happening would be to ignore or prevent natural law from taking place. So, as hard as it is to grasp, I have to believe that when he doesn’t step in and stop a storm, He is still with us, and still planning to bring good things out of it.
This is easier to say from a couch on a sunny day than on a mountainside in a hurricane. But there are times, brothers and sisters, where you and I have to trust that God is writing a much bigger story than you or I can see. The pages of this book stretch across the universe, and we only get to see bits and pieces. Like in any story worth reading, there are moments of joy and moments of suffering. I don’t know why bad things happen, but I believe that even though God doesn’t cause evil, He permits it. And I know if God permits something, He plans to bring a greater good out of it. All that you and I can do is trust.
The more people I talk to about this, the more I’ve been moved to read the book of Job in the Old Testament. In the very first verse, we learn that Job was a righteous man who served God and “avoided evil” (Job 1:1). Later, all of his possessions, his livestock, and even his 10 children are taken from him, killed by evil and natural disasters. Even though his wife told him to turn from God and curse Him, and his friends could only weep at the sight of his suffering, his response was, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Can you even imagine?
First of all, if you grew up around Church, you’ve probably sung that line a thousand times. I don’t think, in all of the thousand times I’ve sung that refrain, I’ve ever had as much sincerity in my words as Job did in that one instance. The field that he once looked out at to see how his family, servants, and livestock were doing was now the field where they all were buried, but he refused to turn from God. I’m sure he was devastated beyond belief, and I’m sure he missed his children more than anything else.
But because of his faith in a God who sees and knows and loves us, Job chose to remain trusting that God was working to bring a greater good out of everything that happened to him, both the good and the bad. He knew that God, the divine Author, was writing the story working for our good. He didn’t have to understand the small piece of one page he was looking at, because he knew the Author.
I’m far from understanding this, but I pray for that kind of faith.