Most of the time our lives proceed with little disruption, except that there may be personal crises of one kind or another — a bad medical report, a job loss, a relationship break-down, a financial set-back, small personal losses (keys, etc), or an accident. These things happen in the ordinary course of everyones’ lives. It isn’t often that we have to deal with major meteorological events (like earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, and floods) that cause major disasters for large regions or populations. But it happens.
Last week an area close to home for many of us experienced a major disaster; the southern part of Alberta, Canada was deluged by up to 100 mm of rain in less than a two-day period. Added to the melting snow run-off the regions rivers just couldn’t contain all the water that came down their regular channels. Large communities in the region including a good portion of Calgary itself were hugely affected. Otherwise quiet and peaceful settlements along the rivers of this area were overwhelmed with water. Many, many homes including all of Calgary’s down-town became flooded to one degree or another. Thankfully, there were only a few deaths and injuries. But the physical damage to vehicles, basements , whole homes, furnishings, records and personal property is beyond belief — especially that all of it could happen so quickly. Few of us are without acquaintances, friends, or relatives who were affected. Disaster has either come directly to us, or very close to us. It’s personal.
What we are experiencing here however is nothing compared to what other parts of God’s great human family have gone through in the past or are going through. Even as we deal with our own disaster parts of India are in even greater trouble. It is reported that over 1000 people have died due to flooding in that region. So our losses are relatively small compared to this great loss of life. When disaster strikes close to home as it has in this instance we become more sensitive to similar effects in other parts of the world.
And perhaps that effect begins to give us some small indication of how we might interpret disasters as they occur in our own lives. One can’t go through a disaster as has occurred in southern Alberta without asking some big questions regarding the reason for such a happening. There are human explanations, namely that little care has been taken by authorities to ensure that such disasters can be avoided as much as possible. (For example, the news is reporting just now that a 2005 study that recommended ways to mitigate flooded in Calgary at a cost of $300 million was only made public last year.) Others point to the effect of global warming as an explanation of why these things happen as they do. But those oriented to the biblical record can’t help but conclude that there is a divine connection to these happenings. To the heart and mind of a follower of Jesus, nothing that happens in the world or in our personal lives is incidental to the fulfillment of God’s larger purposes.
On one hand it is evident that difficulties come to test the strength of our faith. Job is a great example of this, and James writes about the significance of trial in building a hardier faith. It is important to recognize that God doesn’t always send or allow suffering in the lives of people because He is seeking to bring judgment into their lives (See Luke 13:4). On the other hand, it certainly is evident in Scripture that God works through natural disasters to speak to people about their sins, about their need to listen, and about their need to seek His mercy.
Recently I have been devotionally reading the Minor Prophets. This morning it was Amos, chapter 4. In Amos 4:7-13, for example, He says (through Amos), I kept the rain from falling when you needed it the most, ruining all your crops. I sent rain on one town and withheld it from another… I struck your farms and vineyards with blight and mildew. Locust devoured all your fig and olive trees. But still you wouldn’t return to me, says the Lord. I sent plagues against you like the plagues I sent in Egypt long ago… For the Lord is the one who shaped the moutons, stirs up the winds, and reveals his every thought… The Lord God Almighty is his name.
When disaster strikes in a region as it has in this instance it seems fair to ask if God is seeking to get our attention. At the least, it should lead to serious reflection about the power of God who created the world and everything in it. It seems right in this time that we should ask ourselves what God may be seeking to say to us. Is it possible that we have been too independent of Him, too self-sufficient, too inclined to make some material goal more important than Him?
As we go about the business of clean-up and recovery, it is time to consider the compassion of our own hearts for those who are going through a difficult time. We need to pray for one another while we ask God to look into our own hearts to see what needs to be changed in our attitudes, our affections, and our aspirations.