“…and to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh….” (II Corinthians 12:7)
Hurricane Sandy is taking dead aim at the most populous region of the USA. This Monday morning’s news says the hurricane is one thousand miles across, that 50 million people are in its path, and the storm damage could amount to $80 billion (that’s with a B).
It may be safe to say there has never been a storm to hit this country like Sandy.
This may be the hurricane that erases Katrina from everyone’s memory.
God help us. Lord, help all who are in the path of this monster storm.
Sunday morning’s headline in The (Baton Rouge) Advocate read “Road to Mars Paved In New Orleans.” The story behind that somewhat awkward opening tells of a recent gathering of scientists and businesses at NASA’s Michoud plant just east of the city “to get an update about the progress of the Space Launch System,” the program by which we will explore asteroids and Mars.
Big stuff, right?
The first launch would come in 2017, with the first manned mission projected for 2021. Which, if you do the math, is not that far off. (It’s about the same as when JFK announced plans to “send a man to the moon in this decade,” and we pulled it off in 1968.)
We can go to the moon, probably travel to Mars, and do a thousand other things. But when a storm arises out of the Caribbean and comes our way, we are completely at its mercy. All we can do is evacuate (“Mayor Bloomberg has ordered the mandatory evacuation of 375,000 people,” they announced this morning) or try to ride it out and hope for the best.
Our family had company from Richmond, Virginia the last few days. Our guest was returning home Sunday afternoon, the last day planes were scheduled to fly into the affected area before the storm arrives. The plan called for a change of planes in Charlotte, NC. Our friend was concerned and we were all praying about her safety and wondering if she would make it home. Her text last night at 8:15 pm said the ride was bumpy but she was home.
Now, multiply that angst by thousands upon thousands, and that’s what is happening all over the country.
Air travel in this country is amazing in its efficiency, its safety, and its reliability. But when a storm blows in and Doppler Radar shows the winds to be acting strangely, air travel shuts down. And well it should.
We know so much; we know so little.
We are so powerful and smart; we are so ignorant and helpless.
“I know a man,” said the Apostle Paul, “who was caught up into Paradise. He heard things there that cannot be expressed, words a human is not permitted to repeat. Now, I could brag about that.” (Yes, and if Paul were around today, he could write a best-seller about that experience: “My Two Hours In Heaven!” and make all the talk shows. He could become a cottage industry on this vision alone.)
“And, because of the surpassing greatness of the revelation–of what I saw and heard and felt–for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me–to keep me from exalting myself.” (My paraphrase of portions of II Corinthians 12.)
Maybe that’s what Hurricane Sandy is all about–reminding us of our true situation, our vulnerability, our helplessness against the real forces that run this universe.
It’s so easy to pontificate in a situation like this.
Let’s not do that.
Let’s not hastily say “God sent this storm.” We in the Gulf South heard more of that than we ever want to hear again when Katrina cut a path through our world in 2005. Too many unthinking and spiritually smug commentators–many of whom no doubt are now in the crosshairs of Sandy–were all too ready to pronounce God’s judgment on everyone in our city for the sins of some.
And, likewise, let’s not presumptuously declare that God didn’t do this. After all, “our God is in the Heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
Whether God “sent” Katrina or not, He certainly made this world and set up the processes by which the weather operates. And He used the ’05 storm, as He does every disaster that blows through, when people look to Him in faith and repentance and surrender.
The Lord alone knows
God alone knows who is now turning to Him in desperation, praying the prayer of helplessness, who just a few days before was holding forth on atheism being the only choice for an enlightened people.
God alone knows who is repenting and praying who only recently was writing books and appearing on radio and television to debunk the primitive notion of a Deity running this world.
He alone knows who is now humbling himself as a child who days earlier was puffed up with pride and self-sufficiency because of man’s accomplishments and his/her own personal successes.
And, let us acknowledge also, that He just as surely knows those who are hardening their necks and furrowing their brows and refusing to call on Him even though He alone is their help and their hope of salvation.
He knows who is stockpiling liquor and drugs as their means of riding out the dangers and the destruction of the storm, followed by the days and weeks without power.
God sees who is intensifying his cruelty toward the very ones he should be loving and protecting, who is hardening his heart toward all that is noble and holy, and who is sinning away the day of grace.
“Help them, Father. Hear the cries of the children whose protectors have done nothing to safeguard them. Hear the sobs of the old people unable to evacuate and unseen by anyone who could get them to safety. And hear also, we pray, the prayers of those of us far removed from harm’s way who intercede for people we do not know and may never see, but who hurt for them and long for their safety.
“Bless those who are making the tough decisions as to who shall evacuate and what transportation shall cease and what supplies shall be placed where. And we pray for those in other cities who at this moment are assembling their crews and resources to head to the damaged areas with help and first aid and food as soon as they are able. Bless the first-responders, Father, and the Disaster Relief teams of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and our Southern Baptist Convention.”
We are such a hard-headed people, O Lord. Forgive us.
Some lessons we have to keep learning again and again, and this is one of them–
“We can’t even walk without You holding our hand.”
Hold our hand, O Lord.