Following disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it is only natural to start asking the question of God, "Why did this happen?"
Entire communities have been devastated beyond recognition. Families have lost their homes and livelihoods. Recovery will be long and difficult. Why did this happen?
In all humility, I openly confess that I do not have direct answers. But, the scriptures certainly give us a direction to look as we contemplate God's hand in the midst of suffering. Of course, there have been many multitudes of books written and sermons preached about this hard-to-understand subject. For the sake of brevity, I narrowed it down to three primary things to remember in our contemplation.
1) The earth is broken.
This may seem to be the "obvious," Sunday-school answer, but it is very easy to forget when in the shadow of suffering. In the ancient accounts of Genesis 3, after the fall of mankind into sinfulness, God includes "the ground" (vs. 17) in the curse that He invokes upon creation for its sin. This suggests that the earth is just as broken as we human beings are.
I am not saying that all natural disasters are a result of or a response to sin. However, I am saying that scripture suggests brokenness has something to do with it. Our world is out of balance, in desperate need of redemption. Romans 8:20-22 says, "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now." Maybe, upon Christ's return, there will no longer be terrible disasters like hurricanes and the like.
2) God is much greater in wisdom and love than we are.
In the prophecy of Isaiah, God tells us, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (55:8-9). Enough said?
We confess that we are finite beings. We do not know everything; in fact, we cannot know everything no matter how hard we try. Throughout biblical history, and arguably modern history, God has used catastrophe and suffering to accomplish beautiful redemptive purposes. He is a wise and loving Author who knows that every good story has a conflict. Of course God is able and willing to listen to our heartfelt questions when He is difficult to understand. But at the same time, we must ask ourselves, "who am I?" in humility. He knows what He is doing, and He can indeed use terrible circumstances for good (Romans 8:28).
3) Suffering cultivates loving action unlike anything else.
Suffering has been and always will be the one thing all human beings share in common -- it is the common denominator that we each experience throughout our lives. Though it is never pleasant, it almost always cultivates loving action in a lasting and meaningful way, leading to bolstered relationships for years to come. It says in Romans 5:3-4 that we should, "rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
During my recent trip to the Houston area to gather stories from families whom you have helped through IDES, I witnessed a deep love between community members that is rare to see in the every-day. Yes, families have lost everything. Yes, people are still displaced and hurting. Yes, recovery will be no small task. But in the midst of it all, people are loving each other in a beautiful way.
Neighbors have opened up their homes to displaced neighbors. Friends have sacrificed time and money for affected friends. Local churches and organizations from multiple different denominations and backgrounds are working cohesively and cooperatively in order to serve their own community in their time of need. It's beautiful, and it may not have happened like this without the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
Perhaps these thoughts are only mildly comforting to you as you contemplate the big "Why." We are offered mostly mystery when it comes to this. But, I pray that you are encouraged to lean into God rather than lean away from Him as you think and discuss. It is much too easy to lean away when we do not fully comprehend God's will, but we worship a God of grace. He will carry our burdens with us as we seek to know Him and share His love with others.
-written by Chase Cotten, Media Director at IDES