We have all been watching with horror and awe as Hurricane Katrina and her aftereffects have been bombarding Louisiana, Mississippi, and other parts of the southern US. The devastation has been great - so great that it isn't even yet calculable. Lives have been lost. Property has been demolished. The economy has been sent on a rollercoaster. And this is just the beginning.
One question that comes to mind in situations like this is Where is God in the midst of all of this? There have been times that TV preachers like Pat Robertson have suggested that hurricanes are God's judgment on cities like New Orleans for its debauchery. I am not so sure. This week, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. suggested that the hurricane was God's judgment on Mississippi governor Haley Barbour for the environmental policy he suggested to the Bush administration a number of years ago. I am not so sure.
Rather than try to find God in this hurricane, I thought it would be interesting to try to find myself in it. And so, I turned to the pages of the Bible and another storm, referred to by Luke in Acts 27:14 as of "hurricane force." Acts 27-28 tells an amazing tale of Paul's journey to Rome. He recognized that it was not a good time to sail, but the centurion and captain wanted to anyway. Off they went, into the eye of a storm. They ended up being shipwrecked on the island of Malta where Paul was bitten by a snake, yet lived, winning the affection of the people there. He went on to perform miracles in their midst during his three months there before he and all the others who had been on his ship were able to borrow a boat to finish their journey to Rome. It's an amazing story, and I encourage you to read it.
As I did, here is the thing that stuck out to me - Paul's faith in the midst of the storm. His faith was at the same time quaintly childlike and rock solidly mature. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said that everyone would make it through, and he simply took God at his word. Paul did not wine and moan. He did not complain about his uncomfortable situation. He simply accepted and trusted the word of God to get him through. His faith was childlike.
And yet it was amazingly mature. He did not waiver. He did not fear. He did not panic. His faith afforded him an anchor that held when all the other anchors on the boat wouldn't. And, his faith in God allowed him to be a source of help and encouragement to others. Mature faith always looks for ways to serve others. Paul could have pouted in the corner because he had not been listened to at first, but he did not. He kept engaging and interacting with his captors and fellow victims. He was concerned about their physical and spiritual wellbeing, making sure that they ate and praying for them.
I have never lived through a hurricane or a shipwreck. I don't know how I would respond if I did. I hope I would have the kind of faith Paul had.
But I do live through other hurricanes, hurricanes that go by other names. Right now, my hurricane is named Century 21. Vanessa and I feel battered and beaten by the prospect of selling our home. This is not the time for fear, but for faith. Others I know are facing Hurricane Cancer, or Hurricane Depression, or Hurricane Debt, or Hurricane Pulpit Committee, or a host of others. These are times for faith in the face of the most frightful circumstances.
Times like these call for childlike faith. Our faith needs to remind us that God is with us always, that he is providentially calling us toward his kingdom and Christlikeness. Our faith needs to remind us that Jesus walked on the winds and the waves and that he provides the kind of peace that allows us to rest in the midst of the storms.
Times like these call for mature faith. Our faith needs to be solid and sure, not blown and tossed by every wind and wave, not panicky and skittish. Our faith needs to provide us with an unmoving platform from which we can reach out to help others, even while our own lives are falling apart - like Jesus healing the man whose ear was cut off even while he was being arrested.
Hurricane Katrina reminds all of us proud Americans that we are small and vulnerable. The other hurricanes in our live remind us of the same thing. May we, however, face them with a full-formed faith - a faith that is childlike in its acceptance of God's word and rock-solid in its maturity and commitment to hope and love. Because, the God that we have faith in is neither small nor vulnerable.