‘Tis the season. Hurricane season, that is.
Whether you’re a Weather Channel checker, a coast dweller, or simply a concerned citizen, hurricane season has a way of repeatedly reminding us that the world is not as it should be.
As we track computer simulations and map out where our loved ones live, we’re invited more deeply into the Christian worldview and its distinctly living hope. Here are three things to remember about natural disasters.
1. They’re Unnatural
While we call them “natural” disasters, we must recognize that storms, wildfires, earthquakes, tidal waves, and all their chaotic kin are anything but natural. In the beginning of Genesis, we find a world in complete harmony. Peace permeated all of the created order: peace with God, peace between Adam and Eve, peace within, and peace with the newly minted world that was the Garden of Eden.
Waves stopped where they were told. Tectonic plates rested in their appointed places. Winds did the bidding of the One who walked gently in the garden with his human masterpieces (Gen. 1–2).
But we know what happened next. In the most unnatural of all disasters, mankind usurped the authority of God; the vice-regents of the created order sought to steal knowledge and power from Creator.
We’re still feeling the aftershocks of this ongoing decision, and we have pulled the earth into our mess. The apostle Paul, who found himself in several natural disasters at sea, understood the physical ramifications of our spiritual fall: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom. 8:22).
And, long before Paul, the weeping prophet Jeremiah lamented the earth’s shared portion in our punishment: “How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither? For the evil of those who dwell in it, the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, ‘He will not see our latter end’” (Jer. 12:4).
Jeremiah and Paul, along with every believer in Christ, proclaim that natural disasters are unnatural, and we grieve that the earth is groaning along with us.
2. They’re Temporary
The daily weather reports won’t forever predict destruction and chaos. Believers can rest in the hope that one day the shalom that reigned in the Garden of Eden will again reign in the new heavens and the new earth.
The kingdom of God that was consummated when Christ came to earth will be completed upon his second coming. As such, it’s right to long for the day when the winds always and utterly obey his voice, as they did when he was sailing on the earth with friends.
As the apostle John so beautifully depicts in Revelation 21, when Christ comes to make his dwelling place once more with man, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there by mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
What we call “natural disasters” are those former things that will pass away. One day, there will be no more naming hurricanes, no more firefighting, no more tornado drills. In the meanwhile, we live in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God: we have a living hope in Christ, but our hope is not yet seen (see Rom. 8:24–25).
3. They’re Unearthing
We know how unearthing natural disasters can be. They send us into the traffic of long evacuation routes, and they leave us adrift in a sea of insurance papers. While this unearthing upheaval is terribly uncomfortable, it’s an opportunity to place our hope in our lasting home.
The Jewish Christians whom the writer of Hebrews addressed were familiar with unearthing circumstances, but they were encouraged to use their pain as a pointer to the lasting city for which they were looking:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them afar and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland . . . . But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. (Heb. 11:13–14, 16)
Faced with a disaster of her own, the famous Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet made it clear that she was seeking a better country. After describing the burning of her home and belongings, she concludes her poem “Upon the Burning of Our House” with lasting hope:
There’s wealth enough, I need no more, / Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store. / The world no longer let me love, / My hope and treasure lies above.
This hurricane season, may we allow the unearthing of natural disasters to orient our lives around service to others in need and to point us to the coming—and unending—shalom of Christ.