Well, here it is one day before Halloween and the ground is white with snow at my house. We can thank Hurricane Sandy for this freaky October weather. Even though the storm came ashore in southern New Jersey, its effects have reached us all the way down here in the mountains of western North Carolina. The hurricane combined with an early season winter storm and a cold air mass, and all that initiated a “northwest flow event” that spun snow down the spine of the Appalachian mountain range. Can you envision little trick-or-treaters slugging their way through the snow to get to your door? That’s odd imagery to be sure.
But please don’t think that I’m complaining. Despite the high winds, our power hasn’t gone off once. I’m beyond grateful for that! For that matter, other parts of our county are dealing with much heavier snow, as much as a foot or more in the highest elevations. What’s in my yard is nothing compared to what those folks are shoveling. And then, of course, there are the literally millions of people whose lives have been decimated by Sandy. The latest death toll number stands at 33. Over eight million people are without electricity. More than 12,000 flights have been cancelled. The New Jersey shoreline, including historic Atlantic City, is flooded. In New York City, the mass transit system has been brought to a standstill and a fire burned down fifty houses in a flooded section of Queens. In light of all these things, I don’t have any problems.
Waking up this morning and catching up on the aftereffects of Sandy got me to thinking about something that a friend of mine named Jerry Shaw wrote. Jerry lives in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida. I got to know him through our mutual friends Johnny and Marlene Ayers. He is retired and teaches a Sunday School class at the church that he and Johnny and Marlene attend. Following the highly active 2004 hurricane season, he wrote a study guide entitled “Seven Lessons We Need To Learn From Hurricanes” and sent me a copy of it. I’m sure he won’t mind if I share the highlights of it with you. So here goes.
Lesson #1: God alone is in control of the weather and He uses hurricanes to make Himself known. Psalm 135:6-7 says:
Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places. He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He brings the wind out of His treasuries.
Someone might ask, “But does God really use hurricanes to make Himself known?” Well, Jerry answers that by pointing out that Psalm 29 is all about the awesome might of the voice of the Lord. Those verses tell us that God’s voice is “over the waters” (v.3), is “powerful” (v.4), “breaks the cedars” (v.5), “divides the flames of fire” (v.7), “shakes the wilderness” (v.8), and “strips the forests bare” (v.9). Verse 10 seems especially relevant in times of hurricanes. It says:
“The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood, and the Lord sits as King forever.”
Lesson #2: We are not in control of the weather and sometimes that can bring events that we do not want and even consider bad. Still, though, God uses what we call “disasters” as: a means of punishment, as a means of perfecting maturity in people, as a means of making Himself known (see lesson #1), or as a means of teaching us to love each other, care for each other, and depend on each other.
I especially like that last thought that Jerry mentions, the one about God using natural disasters as a means of teaching us to love others and care for them. Frankly, the human race rarely shines brighter than when people help others in the wake of devastation. And I’m not just talking about massive relief organizations such as FEMA, the Red Cross, or the Baptist Men. I’m talking about an individual neighbor helping his neighbor. We see this kind of thing time after time in the aftermath of hurricanes.
We like that part of lesson #2, don’t we? It appeals to us and goes down easily. But what about the assertion that God sometimes uses natural disasters as a means of punishment? Oh, Jerry is spot on with that one too. As a text, he quotes Psalm 18:7-19. I won’t write out the entire passage, but the opening verse (verse 7) says:
Then the earth shook (think earthquake) and trembled; the foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because He was angry.
Lesson #3: The only real security in this world is in God.
Among other passages that Jerry cites under this lesson, Psalm 34:7-8 especially warms my heart. It says:
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
Lesson #4: Hurricanes and other natural disasters, as well as most any period of crisis that we experience, define our character.
Job is a classic example of a man whose godly character shown through in the wake of disastrous events. After a series of tragedies swept over him in a single day, costing him his wealth and the lives of his ten children, how did he respond? Job 1:20-22 says:
Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.
Admittedly, in Job’s case it wasn’t God who caused the devastating disasters that came his way. Unbeknownst to Job, God had turned his life over to Satan for a short while. But why had God done that? He’d done it as a way of proving to Satan that Job would stick with God no matter what tragedies befell him. And so we see that Job’s character really was defined through those horrific events. Even more than being defined through them, his character was revealed through them.
Lesson #5: Hurricanes and other natural disasters provide an unprecedented opportunity to “bear one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).”
Under this lesson, Jerry notes that bearing one another’s burdens is a part of the good works that we have been created to do. As Ephesians 2:10 says:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Lesson #6: Hurricanes teach us that the protection of life is more important than the protection of property and things.
The point here is that hurricanes force us to bring our lives back into proper perspective. What is of the highest value in this world? Surely it is the lives of people. In particular for us, it is the lives of our family, loved ones, and friends. You see, houses can flooded and ruined. Cars can be washed away. Clothes can be soaked and rendered unwearable. Big screen televisions and state of the art computers can be laid to waste. And, really, only a fool would try to save such things during a hurricane. Instead it is human life that comes front and center during such a time, and rightfully so. Concerning the incalculable value of human life, I’ll work in Matthew 10:29-31 here, where Jesus says:
Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Lesson #7: God can bring good even out of hurricanes.
As for the natural side of things, Jerry points out that environmentalists understand that hurricanes play an important role in the grand scheme of things. For example, these powerful storms cleanse the ocean reefs, prune the dead and weak wood from trees, charge the atmosphere with positive ions, and restock the fresh water aquifers.
As for the spiritual side of things, he points out that hurricanes can get us to seek God’s face, and that’s a very good thing. As God says in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
And then, of course, there is Romans 8:28, which says:
And we know that all things (including hurricanes) work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
So, in closing, let me say that I appreciate these good lessons that Jerry has shared concerning hurricanes. They are biblical and they are right. I wish that all the millions of people who have been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy could read them. I’m not saying that these lessons can magically fix everything that has been ruined, but at least they can help us to interpret all the devastation through the lens of scripture. Trust me, this latest hurricane didn’t form while God was away on vacation. Somehow, someway, He had His purposes for it and would like to use it in good, positive ways not only in regards to this country but also in regards to our personal lives. What remains to be seen is whether or not we will allow Him to do that.