In the ancient, undated book of Job, one suffering man seeks answers from the Almighty for some 39 chapters. In a running climax of disasters, the last of which takes all his children as a “great wind” destroyed the house they had gathered in, the prophet grieves, mourns, defends and, perhaps, despairs.
After Harvey, Irma and Jose, victims of such storms still do.
Our Faith asked some of our senior clerics to weigh in on the difficult topic of why there are such storms and how those who experience them can still see God as benign. Though each tradition varies on its view of the nature of “acts of God,” as such disasters are often termed.
“Not just rainstorms, but events in our lives, will throw us down, and we will either learn to pick ourselves up or we will drown,” preached Rabbi Stuart Federow in a storm sermon to a joint service of healing between his synagogue, Shaar Hashalom and Temple Beth Tikvah, both in Clear Lake.
“The Bible, of course, has the answer. It is found in the book of Ecclesiastes, which is my favorite book of the Bible. Ecclesiastes 9:11 says, ‘I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not always won by the fastest, the battle is not always won by the strongest, the wise and those of understanding and those with skill are not always the wealthiest; but time and chance happens to them all.’
Time and chance happens to us all, so God did not pick us to receive the flood in our homes and, just as much, God did not spare our houses either, because time and chance happens to us all, and since God did not do it to us, we can look to God for strength.
God no more picked us, or saved us, than the hurricane knew which house it would make flood and which house it would not, therefore we can look to God for strength to get back up again when we fall. Or when we get washed out.”
Dr. Ahmed E Ahmed, a professor emeritus at the University of Texas Medical Branch, has long been a spokesman for the Islamic faith locally. He takes a different tact on this thorny issue.
“You may hate something and it would be the best for you,” he said. “Indeed, we hate hurricanes we despise the damage they leave behind. We hate the disturbance it creates. But after all that is said and done we benefit from this harsh conditions.
We remember that we all are members of the same family.
We ascertain that our main concern during these calamities is human life.
We all compassionately work towards saving each other’s lives without materialistic objects, races, color, religious or financial standards.
We seek and find ways to help, save and support each other.
These calamities allow our faith to grow. Growing in faith only makes us grow in compassion, not in judgment. The heart filled with God is always softened, not hardened.”
The Rev. Mark Marmon of Hitchcock’s All Saints’ Episcopal Church had two feet worth of Harvey-supplied water in his own house, so he can identify with the concern of God’s goodness given storms.
“I was having a conversation with a friend who is a priest,” Marmon said. “He told me the story of St. Teresa d’Avila. She had a deathly fear of water but one day, while crossing a stream, lost her footing and was swept onto the flood. As she was going down possibly for the third time, she had a vision of God who said, ‘This, my child, is how I treat friends.” Teresa, who apparently didn’t take fear of the Lord too seriously, replied, “And that’s why you have so few of them.’
The anecdote may seem humorous to most, but strikes me as why some folks are not clear about God’s role in our lives. God tests all of us in different ways. We will make a better situation out of those difficulties that are presented to us. Does everyone come out on top? That is not for us to decide, but God’s will.”
Lastly, the Rev. Richard Rhoades, pastor of Galveston’s First Evangelical Lutheran Church, cautioned about trying to make God into a scapegoat.
“It is a simple reality that the rain fell on everyone — to attempt to blame God or to blame someone for all of this would be an attempt to find a scapegoat — perhaps we will blame the person we disagree with and just as likely the person we disagree with is blaming us,” he said. “Something bad has happened to our region. So, where is God in all of this? For those who were rescued from flood waters — the presence of God was seen in the faces of rescuers. For those who sought shelter — God’s presence was seen in the person offering food and water. For those who returned to their homes to find an utter mess — God’s presence was seen in the people who came, even strangers, who helped to muck out the mess and begin the demolition. In the midst of the suffering, God is present. As Psalm 46:1 proclaims, ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’
“We see the presence of God not meting out punishment and wrath, but rather meeting us in the midst of the suffering with comfort and hope. Perhaps Hurricane Harvey offers us an opportunity to recognize the presence of God in the midst of all of this ... and perhaps this recognition of where God is will open our hearts and minds to see where God is present even in our good days.”
Next week in Our Faith: A local author shares her experience and wisdom in a new book that is seeking readers and in the running for awards.