That’s the CNN headline this morning, following a night of devastating storms and tornadoes that decimated regions of Alabama and four other states in the South (Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia). The official number of deaths has reached 194 as of the writing of this post, with more sure to come in the next few hours.
Now that the storms have passed and the light of day has revealed the destruction, the fear of last night’s events will slowly be replaced with feelings of dread, mourning, despair for those who have lost loved ones and possessions, feelings of gratitude and relief for those who escaped harm. As news crews move in to capitalize on the crisis, articles covering the event begin with eye-witness accounts and declarations of awe at nature’s power, leading off their stories with quotes like, “I don’t know how anyone survived”.
This spring has already brought with it the worst storm systems that I can remember in the last 10 years. As a resident of south-central Kentucky, I am accustomed to seasons filled with heavy thunderstorms and tornadoes that often seem to hit in the middle of the night when families are home in bed, unaware of the threat that looms large on the horizon. I’ve even been through a disputed tornado that hit my childhood hometown of Morehead, KY in the 90’s. Yet nothing I have witnessed compares to the devastation that we have seen this year across the globe, the result of earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, floods, and more. These are just the natural phenomena. We haven’t even mentioned the effects of war, genocide, the atrocities that humans have brought on ourselves this year. And the year has only just begun.
What, then, is our response to such turmoil and the fear that it inspires? How are Christians called to react in times of crisis? And perhaps more importantly, where is God in all of this? Does he even care about what is happening, and if so, why hasn’t he done something to end the destruction, the loss of life, the despair?
The Bible tells us in Genesis 1 and 2 that God created all things and saw them as good. All things worked together in harmony, and humans were created as stewards to govern and care for God’s creation. God gave humanity freedom to enjoy all of the good things that he created, with one exception. They were forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequence for doing so was death, experience both as physical death of the body and spiritual death through separation from God.
In an act of rebellion, Adam ate the fruit of the forbidden tree and sin entered the world. Adam, Eve, and all of their descendants (us) were subjected to physical decay resulting in death and became separated from loving union with God. As a consequence, the whole creation, which rested under the care of humanity, suffered a devastating blow. The harmony of life was broken.
God, who is holy and righteous and just, required satisfaction for the disobedience of Adam in the form of a blood sacrifice. God, who is loving, full of mercy and grace, provided that satisfaction through the obedience of his Son. The third person of the Trinity, God himself, became incarnate as a man, Jesus of Nazareth. He lived in sinless obedience to the will of the Father and suffered death on a cross to reconcile the world to God, through his blood sacrifice. Had this been the end of the story, death would still reign; but this is not the end of the story. On the third day, Jesus rose bodily from the grave, resurrected by the power of God. Death entered the world through Adam, but Jesus overcame death through the cross (Romans 5:12-21), reconciling lost humanity to God. The consequence of sin is death, but God’s gift through the sacrifice of Jesus is eternal life (Romans 6:23).
You see, God does care about the plight of the world. He cares so much, in fact, that he sent his own Son as a sacrifice to bring redemption to a world of humans who have rejected him and turned away from him. God may, and sometimes does, act supernaturally in the world for the sake of humanity. But he has already acted through the cross in such a way that he has won a decisive victory over sin and death. He was already at work before the first storm hit the earth, and his work is as efficacious (effective) today as it was then. Where is God in all of this? He is acting, as he has from before the foundation of the world, reconciling all creation to himself (1 Peter 1:20).
So then, why is everything in the world still so messed up?
While the penalty for sin has been paid by the blood of Jesus, the effects of sin remain in the world until his return. Creation still suffers for Adams sin and people still succumb to the temptations of sin, until they find freedom through belief in Jesus. The apostle Paul tells us that the whole creation groans as though in the pains of childbirth as it waits for humans to take their place as adopted children of God (Romans 8:22).
We live in the land-between, the time of already and not-yet. Jesus Christ has come and has reconciled humanity to God. Through faith in his sacrifice (a faith given by God through his grace), we will share in his resurrection. But that resurrection and the restoration of all creation is a future hope as we look forward, watching and waiting for Jesus’ return.
In the land-between there is temporal suffering. War, famine, natural and man-made disasters still occur. Fear is still present. But none of these things reign. Jesus Christ reigns! And as we await the return of the Lord of Hosts, we have an obligation to remember our place as the adopted heirs of God.
In the midst of turmoil, destruction, fear, and physical death, Christians have a responsibility to spread the love of God liberally among the hurting, devastated citizens of our world until they respond to the love and blood of Jesus, becoming citizens of Heaven.
When storms break through the peace and serenity of our lives, Christians are called to live in the peace of Christ; the peace that can come only from the knowledge that we are adopted children of God, beloved of the Father. This peace is not grounded in temporary things which are here one minute and gone the next. This peace is grounded in the hope of the resurrection, when Jesus returns to make all things new.
Remember the words of Paul from Romans 8:18-24:
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.24 For in this hope we were saved.
It is only when we live in the light of the Resurrection that we can overcome fear and despair in times of trial and spread the love of God to the world.
Are you ready? Do you have the hope and peace of Christ? Have you experienced calm in the storm of life?
Let us live as Resurrection people, the people of promise, the people of hope. Let us pray for those hurting after last night’s storms. Let us pray for peace in the world. Above all, let us pray for the peace of Christ as we act on his behalf in the midst of the storm.