The flood waters that are still receding in Texas continue to bear witness to one of the most devastating natural disasters in our nation’s history. The scope of such a life-altering event is difficult to take in.
How does one make sense of 30 trillion gallons of rainfall?
Some have tried to help us appreciate the depth of sorrow that the flooding rains have wrought. For example, analysts and scientists have told us that it would take over a week for the Mississippi river to flow directly into Houston, Texas to match the total amount of rainfall that has flooded the Houston region.
It’s still hard to grasp, isn’t it?
Also drowning in the flood waters is good theology--that is, the things we say about God. God has taken quite the beating in the public’s eye this last week. Pastors, atheists, ministers and politicians alike have all said any range of things about God’s role in the flooding rains. One particularly notable minister said that the flooding rains fell among people who God knew could handle the devastation. Others have suggested that the suffering is a direct result of disobedience—whether morally or because of a failure to address climate change, or town planning in flood prone areas. Regardless of the complexion of these statements and social media fodder, the overarching message is clear: God is somehow responsible for the flood.
Although it shouldn’t have to be said, these responses make cheap an almighty God. Even though it is human nature to try and make meaning of meaningless tragedies, we must be careful not to say things about God which dishonor Him and hurt others.
Luke 13 describes a scene with which we can identify. Jesus is asked to confirm or deny God’s role in the deaths of eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell. The question before Jesus was if they somehow deserved their fate or were being punished for their wickedness.
“No, I tell you,” Jesus reports.
What role does God play in the disasters we witness, live through and can assuredly anticipate in the future?
Many of us are familiar with Fred Roger’s statement about tragedy and suffering. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
As life, history and the record of God’s relationship with us in the Bible teach us, we live in a dark and cruel world. Horrendous and dreadful things happen with unsettling regularity at all times, all over the globe. Altogether, we have proclaimed God either the author of the pain and suffering we witness, or a victim like us. And yet, even though we know that suffering is an inescapable reality in our world, God has vowed not to destroy or condemn us wholesale, but is committed rather to save us through the gift of His Son, Jesus. The world and its inhabitants, as dark and cruel as can be imagined, are still worthy of God’s redemption. And just as it’s true that we can’t appreciate how much rain has fallen in Texas, how can we truly grasp the depth and breadth of God’s desire to save us?
Yes, I am disturbed by the suffering that I see in the pictures and hear about in people’s stories. But, I can also tell you that I see hope. Hope is evident in the creative, dynamic and majestic ways that people rushed to help those in need. Everyday individuals risked life and limb to rescue people they might not have ordinarily seen or valued in their day-to-day lives. People of different races and ethnicities searched side by side for flood victims who might be trapped inside their homes or cars. Men, women and children helped one another in grief and in despair because it was something that they could do to make things better.
As faithful followers of Jesus, we will forever wrestle with the meaning of our lives and the reality of suffering between the day of Christ’s resurrection and the Great Day of Our Lord’s Redemption. But one thing should be clear to us: God calls us to be a people who helps.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
This is what we do when people hurt. We help.
This is what we do when people are left for dead. We help.
This is what we do when people have no food, no water, no shelter. We help, we help, we help.
We do not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by bad theology, cynicism or despair. We cannot, for we don’t have time. We are commanded to help.
And help, we shall. Already, our church is asking how we can help. Already, many of our church members are planning a mission trip to help. Already, we are asking how we can be a part of God’s redemptive work to bring healing and wholeness, peace and love.
If anything, we followers of Jesus should be known for our willingness to help. It’s a good rule of thumb for most every problem and challenge our community and nation faces. Above all, whatever the presenting cause or issue, people of (good) faith should help.
For when we do, I believe, we’ll find ourselves alongside a God who is helping, too.