(As we look back on 2017 I'm posting the three blog posts which received the most views. If you missed these the first time around, hopefully you will enjoy these reposts! )
Within the past two weeks, Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, and Hurricane Irma swept over Florida. My wife and I have many friends and relatives in Florida, and so we have been glued to the news. Now that we have all had time to catch our collective breath and begin to assess the damage, there is much to learn. I see three reminders in the events of the past few weeks: we live in a fallen world, everyone knows this is not the way it ought to be, and our call is to be good stewards of this world. (I’m interrupting my leadership blog series to discuss these reminders this week.)
Reminder 1: We Live in a Fallen World
Everyone wants to make sense of these hurricanes. We turn to scientists in order to understand the natural phenomena that cause such events. But we all want to see “the bigger picture.” Unfortunately, many Christians offer a “bigger picture” that is both wrong and harmful: “God sent the hurricanes as a judgment on our land!” or “God sent the hurricanes to teach us humility again!” or “God sent the hurricanes because the End is near!” I don’t think that any of these are the correct “take aways” from these events.
In fact, Scripture gives a crystal clear answer: we live in a fallen world. Everything that God created and said is Good has been affected by the Fall and now is broken in some way. Weather is part of God’s good creation. When it “works,” it is a beautiful thing. Rain causes everything to grow. We have plenty of fresh drinking water. Our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans are filled and healthy. It is a way God created the world to provide good things to all people:
He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. (Matthew 5:45 from The Message).
Yet weather, like the rest of Creation, is fallen. It is not what it was created as—it is no longer fully good and healthy for us. It has been corrupted as a result of the Fall, and therefore sometimes is harmful, and even deadly, such as when hurricanes form.
This is compounded by other aspects of the Fall. For instance, we are all fallen, and so we tend to seek our own good over the good of others. If this means cutting corners in the design or construction of buildings to add a little more to our bottom line, we are inclined to do so. If this means over-building, or building in areas that put people at risk if severe weather strikes, we are inclined to so do.
These choices, and so many more, sometimes result in multiplying the harm caused by a hurricane. In these and so many other ways the reality of the fallen world compounds and leads away from human flourishing, rather than towards it, as God intended in Creation.
In the midst of this behavior of a fallen world we must first stop and notice that things are not as bad as they could be. Hurricanes could make landfall every week. Or they could all be Category 5 hurricanes. There are many ways God restrains evil from completely defacing and destroying all things. For this, we can be thankful.
We must also keep in mind that He will one day redeem and restore all things to the way they were meant to be before the Fall. We, along with all of creation, long for that day of full and final redemption of all things physical:
Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:20-23)
This day will come. One day, there will be “a new heaven and a new earth....There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelations 21:1, 4) That is the way it is supposed to be. Not like this.
Reminder 2: Everyone Knows This is Not How it Ought to Be
It only takes a few minutes listening to reporters before we hear moral commentary on the events transpiring in the hurricanes. “This is awful…This is horrible…This is catastrophic.” They know that the destruction of nature and the threat to life is an evil—it is a catastrophe. They know it is not the way things ought to be.
But why think this? Consider the implications of such statements from the point of view of a pure secularist/physicalist/atheist. If there is no God, and all that exists is physical reality, there are no “oughts” or “ought nots”—there just is whatever there is. Nothing is “good” or “awful,” “desirable” or “horrible,” “proper” or “catastrophic.” It just is. As C.S. Lewis said, if there is no straight line, there can be no such thing as a crooked line. And it is only by knowing there is a straight line that one can, by comparison, realize a line is crooked.
The fact is, everyone innately knows there is a way things ought to be, even if they say they are secularists/physicalists/atheists. God has placed “eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastics 3:11) and, as Romans 1 tells us, people must work to suppress this knowledge of God. Yet suppression is not always possible. It is like trying to keep an inflated beach ball underwater—it is impossible to do so! It is especially hard to keep this knowledge from bubbling up when observing extreme examples of the way things ought not be, such as hurricanes.
This is also seen in the desire of all to protect and preserve life, highlighted in times of crisis. On the biblical worldview, this is mandated, for all people are created in the image of God and are of infinite worth. However, our infinite value and worth does not follow from the secularist/physicalist/atheist worldview. If all life, including human life, evolved through purely natural causes, we are ultimately nothing more than very complex machines (see my post here for more on this view). This provides no grounding for a person’s intrinsic worth and value. Commentators are borrowing from the Christian worldview to make these moral judgments about the value of human life. They get this right but do so in spite of their worldview. In this is another proof of the old adage, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”
Furthermore, for the secularist/physicalist/atheist, survival of the fittest is the supreme good. It is how higher and higher life forms come to be, and how those less fit do not continue on. So on this worldview, the secularist/physicalist/atheist should welcome the flooding of parts of cities where those they deem to be less “fit” live, and do nothing to save them from this fate. On their worldview, this is the best course of action, for it leads to those who they deem "more fit" surviving and continuing to reproduce their favorable traits.
Of course, this idea is horrible, reprehensible, and evil. Everyone knows and will readily admit as much, even the most ardent secularist/physicalist/atheist. But doing so proves the point. When “push comes to shove” and life and death are on the line, they cannot live consistently with their worldview. They prove, by their words and actions, that they know the Truth of the biblical worldview—that all people are created with equal and infinite value, that death and destruction are not normal or natural, and therefore that everyone should be saved from death and harm it at all possible.
So no matter how much the secularist/physicalist/atheist ridicules the biblical worldview, it is obvious those are just his attempts to suppress the truth he already knows. It will always bubble back up to the surface in times like these.
Reminder 3: Our Call is to be Good Stewards of this World
Finally, hurricanes such as Harvey and Irma remind us of our duty as caretakers of God’s creation. In the early chapters of Genesis we are charged with cultivating that which God has made. We are to preserve it. We are to bring order, beauty and goodness out of it. (See my blog post here for more on this point.)
The fall made this much harder. The earth no longer produced fruit easily (Genesis 3:17-19). Things like hurricanes come to destroy beauty, order, goodness and life itself. Yet our charge remains.
We live out this calling both before and after hurricanes. Long before the hurricane approaches we seek to build houses in safe locations, on solid foundations, and with strong materials—meeting and even exceeding building codes. This is a way we follow Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). We develop cities with healthy infrastructures, so that when an effect of the Fall such as a hurricane is felt, we have prepared well for water run-off, for electrical outages, for emergency services, and so on. In all these ways we are faithful to God’s call to “seek the shalom” of those around us (Jeremiah 29:4-7), promoting human flourishing and the common good.
We also live this calling out after a hurricane. We should be the first to respond, either with our hands if we are nearby, or in other helpful ways if we are not physically present. I was encouraged to see a USA Today article that reported the “response to such disasters follows a distinct pattern, and that pattern consistently involves the disproportionate presence of people of faith.” (Here is a growing list of ECFA-approved aid agencies for Harvey and Irma relief.)
This is loving our neighbors and being good stewards. In all ways, as we respond we are fulfilling our calling to cultivate creation by promoting human flourishing and the common good, as well as seeking to restore the goodness of creation damaged by the effects of the Fall.
We have much to do: work, give, pray, rebuild. But let’s not forget these reminders, surfaced again by the coming of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Until next week, grace and peace.