Thanking God for Hurricanes
OCTOBER 4, 2023
I’m writing this in August, looking out my study window at home and watching the wind and rain from the outer bands of Hurricane Idalia.
It just reached landfall at Florida’s Big Bend, where the Panhandle curves into the Peninsula. The reports of massive devastation are just coming in.
The wind is quickly dying down here, there hasn’t been any power loss, the trees are still standing, and there is very little debris. According to the meteorologists, the sun will shine through my window, and everything will return to normal in a few hours.
I just prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and praised God for his goodness.
However, my mind keeps returning to another August, in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida. During that hurricane, I wasn’t sitting in my study . . . I didn’t have one. Andrew had blown it, along with much of our house, away. At that time, Andrew was the costliest and most damaging hurricane ever to hit the United States, and it is still one of the top five most powerful hurricanes our country has ever experienced.
That morning after Andrew finally passed, we and our Christian neighbors met in the street in front of the rubble of our destroyed homes. (Even our atheist neighbor joined us and said that he had prayed all night.) Our communal prayer was a mix of tears, relief, and thanksgiving. We had lost everything, and we knew our lives would never be the same . . . but we were alive. Just hours before, we were not sure we would make it. Believe it or not, there was joy, too, the joy of relief. Winston Churchill once said, “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”
I was thinking about Andrew this morning and the prayers of praise and thanksgiving then as opposed to the prayer of praise and thanksgiving I prayed this morning. The situations were quite different. This morning, everything was fine, but after Andrew, nothing was fine. The devastation, pain, and loss created by Hurricane Andrew would, like a big rock thrown into a pond, ripple through our lives for years to come, even today.
In both cases, God was sovereign and good and the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do you remember what Job’s wife told him after they lost everything? She told Job that he should just curse God and die. (If ever there was a justification for divorce—maybe murder—that was it.) But more important is what Job said to her in response (Job 2:10), “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” That was wise, understandable, and true.
But when Paul wrote (in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17, Philippians 4:4-7, Ephesians 5:19-20, etc.) that we should praise and thank God for and in all circumstances, that sounds crazy. Praising God is no problem when good things happen in our lives (e.g., missing a hurricane), but when bad things happen (e.g., losing everything in a hurricane), we often blame Satan. Biblically and technically speaking, that is the equivalent of “having one’s cake and eating it, too.” If God is responsible for what we think is good, he is also responsible for what we think is bad. That’s what the Bible teaches about God’s sovereignty. The Bible also teaches that the sovereign God we worship is good all the time, and his actions reflect that goodness.
I don’t know about you, but that bothers me. “Cussing and spitting” are appropriate when the dark comes, and laughing and dancing are appropriate in the light. When we react to the good and the bad that way, God will, of course, still love and forgive us, but we miss a powerful weapon against the dark.
I remember when my late friend, Sam Rowen (perhaps the most brilliant cross-cultural commentator in the country), asked me to pray for his dying son. I prayed (along with many others), and his son got well. Sam called me so excited over his son’s recovery. He said, “Steve, we worship a good God.” Then there was a long pause. “Delete that. If my son had died, we still worship a good God who is good all the time.”
The phrase “it is what it is” is kind of comforting. It’s a statement accepting reality with a weird sense of comfort. It’s a recognition that bad things happen to everybody and that nobody can live as an outsider of the human race. There ought to be more of “it is what it is” in our culture of silly perfectionism, shallowness, and the expectation of safe places and special treatment. Life is sometimes harsh, and safe places are hard to come by. It would be good if we recognized that reality.
For Christians, much more is to be said, which is the good news. Not only can we say, “It is what it is,” believers can add truth to the statement, causing it to stand up and sing “The Hallelujah Chorus.” Because God is sovereign and good, we can add that it’s how it’s supposed to be . . . even if we don’t like it, we don’t feel good about it, it doesn’t make sense, or it’s not what we would have chosen. That’s a statement of faith and trust with great power. It’s not just acceptance. It’s an affirmation that all things really do work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28).
There was a major storm when John Wesley came as a missionary to Georgia. As Wesley cowered on his knees, crying out to God for mercy, he noticed a group of Moravians holding hands and singing hymns. When the storm dissipated, Wesley went to them, asking how they could respond that way. Their simple explanation was, “We believe in God.”
As you know, flying isn’t my favorite thing. I’m better now but have yet to put all my weight on a plane. Years ago, I was on a flight, sitting next to a major airline pilot. I asked him a lot of questions. The pilot said what I’ve heard a million times (and I’ve always thought was dumb), “The most dangerous part of your trip was the drive to the airport.” What? The survival rate of a car accident is way higher than that of a falling airplane!
(I love what the flight attendant said to Muhammad Ali when he refused to wear a seat belt. He said, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” Smiling, she replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane.”)
At any rate, there was a loud noise while I sat next to that pilot. When I asked the pilot what it was, he said, “I don’t know. I’ve never heard that noise before.” He laughed and said, “Just kidding,” then explained the noise and why I shouldn’t be bothered by it.
God never says that he’s never heard a noise before. God is the creator of the noise and everything else, and there is never any perspiration on his upper lip. As Pete Alwinson always says, “God is large and in charge!”
Romans 11:33-36 is one of my favorite passages, one that I often read when I’m depressed, afraid, lonely, and worried:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
One other thing. Not only is God large and in charge, but he likes you a lot. God also ordained the laughter of your children, the party you enjoyed, the love of your friends and family, and the blessings that are abundant. As James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
Of course, I’m not advocating being passive in a fallen world. I’m just reminding us of the reality behind everything we experience.
An old bus company advertisement had a tagline of “. . . and leave the driving to us.” That is what God says. God knows the road, drives with perfection, and always arrives at the right destination on time. Most of the time, you’ll enjoy the journey. When you don’t, rest and let him drive.
He asked me to remind you.