As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”
—John 9:1–5 (NASB)
I took a mini-sabbatical from writing in August. It was an eventful period. There were plenty of events in the news that begged for commentary: the riots in Charlottesville stemming from protests against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee; the ensuing debates in response to that event; the total eclipse of the sun; and finally, Hurricane Harvey and its devastating floods in Texas.
In keeping with the direction I sensed from the Holy Spirit, I did not write a post about any of these (although I did get myself drawn into a few Facebook debates in the aftermath of Charlottesville; maybe my next sabbatical should include restrictions on other social media!). Nevertheless, even though no new posts appeared on Darkened Glass Reflections in August, it set a record for most page views on this blog in a single month.
With those preliminary comments out of the way, I have a few thoughts about Christians’ response to the flood, and to natural disasters in general. Whenever disaster or tragedy strikes, the instinctive response for people of faith is to ask, “Where is God in all of this?” Unfortunately, many approach the question from the wrong angle. We may view the world through the eyes of justice and judgment instead of mercy and grace.
When Jesus and His disciples met a man born blind, the disciples assumed that his ailment was a punishment for somebody’s sins. Jesus’ response points out that they are looking at things the wrong way.
Likewise, whenever there is a natural disaster nowadays, many Christians try to figure out why God is so angry. Who is He punishing? The conclusions can border on absurdity. When a tornado devastated Joplin, MO, in 2011, members of Westboro Baptist Church planned to rally, thanking God for sending judgment on the city because of its acceptance of homosexuality. Having lived in southwestern Missouri for about 8 years, I can assure you this plot is too crazy even for The Twilight Zone. Did God get confused while trying to decide whether to smite San Francisco or Greenwich Village (a neighborhood in New York City with a reputation for welcoming alternative lifestyles) and simply decide to strike someplace about halfway between them?
Now, in the aftermath of Harvey, a few Christians and conservatives have wondered whether God was judging Houston for electing a lesbian mayor. Unfortunately, He was too late; that mayor is no longer in office. Besides, wouldn’t a Joplin-sized tornado have been sufficient? After all, God could have left Corpus Christi and other nearby communities alone if He just sent a twister; tornadoes tend to keep their devastation in a relatively compact area.
These are all the wrong questions. Had the blind man sinned? At some point, yes. So had his parents. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). But, Jesus said their sin was not the issue to consider here. For the disciples, the real question should be, “What is our response? How now shall we live?”
Likewise, when we see disaster now, let us avoid assuming we know what God is doing to the victims, and acknowledge how we should respond to the situation. Where can we see God in Hurricane Harvey?
- We see the image of God reflected every time concerned people follow the news to find out if the situation has improved at all.
- We see the heart of God revealed as people volunteer to assist in the rescue efforts.
- We see the love of God radiating as people freely donate money and resources since they live too far away to help otherwise.
I believe that this is just one manifestation of the image of God in mankind: For some reason, we can care so deeply, even painfully, for total strangers we will never meet when disaster hits them.
Do you want to see God in the midst of a tragedy? Show His love. Live as one who bears His image. Jesus did not encourage His disciples to ponder a theology of suffering when they met a blind man. Instead, He told them that we (not just Himself, but His disciples as well) must do the works of His Father. He did not answer questions about eschatology before His ascension; instead, He gave instructions for His disciples to go forth and be His witnesses. Stop pondering philosophical questions. Instead, do God’s work.
Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” He is still here: His body is His church. We are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). What will we do about that?
If you are looking for a way to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, you may consider donating to Samaritan’s Purse, a reputable Christian relief organization that is sending relief workers and resources.
This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.