“We went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.”- Psalm 66:12
The videos, livestreams, social media posts, and photos pouring out of Texas and specifically Houston in the wake of unprecedented modern-day flooding from Hurricane Harvey continues evoking sorrow, compassion, sacrifice, and introspection. Many find it difficult to imagine the impact of 9 trillion tons of water falling on a relatively small area of geography in a short period of time, and the havoc it wrecks on the lives of those in its path.
Disasters like Harvey create crises. And they also create questions. “How could this have happened?” “Why didn’t people evacuate?” “Why weren’t we better prepared?” These and hundreds of additional questions will be asked in the coming months as politics and emotion creep into secular government oversight. The usual dance will play out, blame will be assessed, and Caesar’s due will be rendered.
A more interesting question from many is “How could a loving God allow this to happen? How should we respond as Christians?”
How Should Christians Respond?
Scripture often provides us comfort in times of crisis. One excerpt I’ve returned to during moments of uncertainty is Psalm 66. Written as a song of praise, this Psalm illustrates the man’s dependence on the omnipotence and omniscience of God during trouble times. Throughout Psalm 66, the psalmist offers counsel on how those who “fear God” should respond to crises.
Reflecting on the aftermath of Harvey, here are a few thoughts on how a specific passage from scripture can guide our response as Believers.
First – Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty: “Come and see the works of God” (Psalm 66:5)
Disasters, like unexpected illnesses, the loss of a child, or tragic accidents, naturally raise questions about the nature of God. Recall the experience of Job, tested for months on end by God. He was tempted to question yet never surrendered his belief in God’s sovereign power.
Sadly, many of us face disaster with a skeptic’s response, ignoring the greater Truth that God, in Job’s words, “destroys both the guiltless and the wicked” (Job 9:22). For instance, atheists assume life is random and meaningless, nothing more than selfish genes multiplying and reproducing. Natural disasters are, well, just nature. Sad but meaningless.
The philosopher might argue God cannot be all good and all powerful. He would deny that God “does not turn away our prayers” (Psalm 66:20) and is not susceptible to the temptations of evil (James 1:13).
Not all grief is a consequence of sin
Modern legalists, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day would say all human misery is a consequence of our sin. While moral failures can and often do lead to suffering, not all grief is a consequence of sin. Natural disasters can strike the just and the unjust alike, mush as Jesus said God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good” (Matthew 5:45).
Liberalists provide answers falling into a handful of flawed categories. Some blame God, assigning evil intent to God. Others, like Christian Scientists, claim the physical world is merely an illusion and argue God is not at work at all in the world. Still others, like Open Theists, belittle God’s power and omniscience by claiming He could never envision a future and so cannot know the effects of natural disasters. This belief is directly contradicted by Paul in Ephesians 1:3-4 where he tells us “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who … chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.”
On the other hand, Christians trust God’s infinite the wisdom and sovereignty without assigning Him blame. “I cried out to Him with my mouth” the psalmist writes in Psalm 66:17.
During times of tragedy or natural disaster, Believers must access God’s very throne for guidance: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The writer of Psalm 66 cried to God, his words a plea of urgent desperation. Faithfully, God listened: “But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19).
Who should we pray for?
Who should we pray for? Social media popularizes generic slogans such as “Pray for (fill in the blank).” Believers are called to pray more deeply and specifically. Pray for those personally suffering, who have lost lives or livelihoods. Pray for those fearful they have nowhere to turn. Pray for those questioning why God would let this happen. Pray for those risking their own lives to save the imperiled. Pray for those who give of their time and resources to help.
Second – Trust God: “Who keeps us in life” – Psalm 66:9
Crisis tempts us to doubt. Believers find faith in God’s guiding hand even in the midst of trials. Consider what scripture tells us: “Every good thing is from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17). God’s hand doesn’t waver.
God also comforts us through our disbelief. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” Jesus tells us in John 14:1. Our faith allows us to survive the trials of uncertainty, even in times of uncertainty.
And God’s love never leaves us, as Paul writes in Romans 8:38-39: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God.”
Asking “why God?” in times of tragedy leads us down a path of endless questioning. God sometimes intervenes in natural disasters, and sometimes He doesn’t. Some are healed while others are not. This one is spared while that one is not. We don’t know God’s ways, as He tells us through the words of the prophet Isaiah: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (Isaiah 55:8).
Ultimately, God’s sovereignty does not mean causality. While God certainly can choose to cause an earthquake or send a flood to accomplish His greater purpose, it is folly to assume God is the “architect” of tragic or evil actions. He rules over all things to conformity them to His will. As Paul writes: “God causes all things to work together for good … to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Simply put, our best and most faithful response to hurricanes, disasters, or tragedies is to lift our prayers in trust of God’s wisdom even as we lift our hands to love and help each other.