Hurricane Sandy and The Great Mystery
Why do people have to suffer? Why do we have to die? These are among the many great existential questions. These are mysteries that trouble us.
Yes there is suffering and death in the world. Most of it, though, is the result of human decisions and actions, human greed, selfishness, or more than anything else, fear. It is the product of human fallibility and the willingness to sin.
Over the last few days we have seen another form of suffering roll over the Eastern Seaboard of our country. The devastating force of nature that is Hurricane Sandy came thundering ashore on Monday evening. Its immense power extends into the Great Lakes areas and into Canada, even up to the Arctic Circle. Lives have been lost, or been drastically changed by something over which we human beings have no control. This storm is not “the will of God.” The phrase, “an act of God” is a product of a false theology. It implies a petulant, manipulative God. It is this kind of theology that gives religion a bad name. The will of God is that we respond to the suffering that has resulted from this natural disaster with communal care, generosity and hope.
Sandy simply reminds us of the fact that there are things that happen, that come sweeping over us, unasked for, that are beyond our control. Most of the time we just go about our normal lives, busying ourselves with the usual demands of making a living. We go to work, we worry about paying our bills, taking care of our family’s basic needs, going to the grocery store, attending our children’s sports events, doing what we have come to accept as the normal routines of life, believing that we are in control of our own lives and destinies.
Nature, as Sandy has shown us again, is larger than all of our science, all of our human technological genius. There are “storms” of many other kinds than those of Nature that we will all face as well. We will all encounter the winds and tumult of other inescapable, irresistible forces, that will be out of our control in our lifetimes. For example, we may, like so many have already, lose our jobs, or experience the failure of a relationship through death, or someone’s selfish choices, or we may hear the doctor tell us that we have a fatal disease of some kind. These “storms” will be unavoidable too. And they are not God’s will either.
Of course, we can prepare ourselves to some degree to survive even great storms like Hurricane Sandy. We can batten down the hatches, board up our homes, we can evacuate to safer areas, we can even buy insurance. But we must also prepare our hearts, our minds, and our souls, for the inevitable “storms” of life and death, by living our lives in holiness, in serving God through our love and care for others, not just our own families, but for all those who are suffering from the “storms,” natural or psychological, in their own lives.
Sandy reminds us of how small we really are, no matter how advanced our technologies or our science. She is a phenomenon and force of Nature over which we have no control. What we do have control over is our response to it.
There will, sadly, be those who will take advantage of the suffering of others. They will come up with ways to loot, or to defraud those who have lost so much already. Others will rise up from the ruins, come together in a deepened sense of community. They will embrace each other in the immediacy of their suffering and they will work side by side to recover together. There will be those far distant from the immediate effects of this terrible storm, who will donate their time, their energies, and their treasure, to support those who are effected directly by the storm. Most will pray for those who are suffering.
Sandy’s force, massive as it is, passes over eventually, and then we are left to the efforts of recovery. But there will come a day to all of us, when each and every one of us will meet the inevitable, irresistible “storm” of our own deaths, a storm for which we ought to be preparing as well. We will not be able to avoid it, but we can prepare for it.
As Christians we know that faith, if it is righteous and true, will save us. We know that our faith is a gift to us from God, but that we also have a responsibility to deepen it, to live out of it, to share it with all of God’s children, without exception. I say that again, without exception. We are called to love as Jesus loved. This is the way that we prepare for that inevitable reality that awaits all of us ‘out there’ in the future.
For Christians, that inevitable “storm” we know as death, is seen from a different perspective. If we have prepared ourselves properly, in the light of our precious faith, death is no “storm.” Rather, for a Christian, death is nothing more than a doorway, a passage into the promised joy of eternity.
If it is healthy and proper to respect and prepare for the forces of Nature that will always be beyond our human control, it is all that much more healthy and proper to respect Nature’s God. As Christians we know that we are not abandoned. We know that God is closest to us in our suffering. We know this because of the Incarnation of Jesus, because of his life, death and resurrection. We know that our lives here are finite, but that God has made us for eternity. We know that God calls us to live out the finite limits of our own lives in faith and hope, in love and mercy, in generosity and hospitality, giving thanks for it all by serving all of his children.
Sandy has swept over millions with her force and fury. God’s will for us in her aftermath is that we rise up in common concern for those directly effected. God wills that we come together as a nation to help in the rebuilding of the infrastructures and the human lives of all those hurt by her passing. This is our Christian duty. Let us do it with joy.
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Dan Doyle is a retired professor of English and Humanities. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology. To read more of Dan’s work, click here.