Thursday, August 31, 2017

Finding God in the Midst of a Natural Disaster


We have all been watching the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which came ashore last Friday evening, bringing devastation to parts of the Texas coast. The storm continued to hover over the region, moving along the coast toward the city of Houston and beyond. It is still with us as I write (from the safety of SE Michigan). I am praying for the folks caught in this disaster, some of whom have lost their lives, while thousands have lost their homes and businesses. I made a small contribution to the relief effort through Week of Compassion, the relief arm of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I invite you who are reading this to contribute in anyway you can. I trust Week of Compassion, and recommend it (you can contribute by clicking here, and once through click on the donate button). You can read a report from Week of Compassion, written on Monday here.  



I titled this "finding God in the midst of a natural disaster," because it is natural to ask the question: "Where is God?"  I chose this as a followup to my involvement in last week's Facebook Live "Conversations on Uncontrolling Love" event. I gave a video presentation focusing on a chapter I wrote for the book Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord.   My chapter is titled "What Use Is God?"  I gave this presentation at the same time that Harvey was gaining strength and heading toward the Texas coast. At the time I had no idea how devastating the storm would be. I didn't address it in my presentation. But, the questions raised by the conversation are related to the storm. It speaks to the question of how we understand God, and how God is involved. If, God is all powerful (omnipotent) and has all knowledge (omniscient), then if God has the power to prevent such an event, why doesn't God do so? Why does God allow such things to happen? This is a question we have been asking since the dawn of time, and doesn't go away. Tom Oord's understanding of God is that love comes before power, and that out of love God has created a world that includes both includes randomness, which God neither controls nor causes. Storms are random events. The Texas coast has experienced hurricanes before and will do so again, but this storm was of greater intensity than most. This is part of life on this planet. 


So where is God? Well, here is where I see God, based on assumptions that I've embraced as I've engaged with Tom Oord's vison of God's "Uncontrolling Love." God is present in the people who are responding in love to those in need. First responders, neighbors, houses of worship. The chapter that follows mine in the book Uncontrolling Love is written by John Culp, who is professor emeritus of philosophy at Azusa Pacific University, is titled "Natural Evil and Why Our Hope Is Secure." John's essay addresses the points we're discussing here. He writes: 
One of the implications of the priority of love, in understanding God, is God involving the creation in Gods' activity. Humans, and all creation, share in creating. Our activity can contribute to God's purposes. Our involvement in bringing about God's purposes may even surprise and please God. We too may be started by how God enables us to respond to situations threatening to overwhelm us. . . . God working with us to bring good out of evil is more loving that God guaranteeing our safety by direct actions without our action. Working with us demonstrates God values us, and our contributions, even though we frequently limit Gods' care for the World by choosing against God's love."  [Uncontrolling Love, p. 144].
This response may not please everyone, but it might be a good reminder of the possibility that God might be at work right now, in the midst of disaster, working through those who are acting in love toward others. I realize that for some, such events are signs that God does not exist. Others might see this as God's act of judgment. As for me, I seek to look for God in places that may surprise us all, and as John Culp suggests, might even surprise God. 

With that in mind, I again encourage you, my reader, to take a step of love, and make a contribution. There are many good ways of doing this. You can't go wrong with Week of Compassion,. which gave this report that expresses what I've been trying to share:
  The last few days have been grim and heartbreaking. At the same time, we have witnessed once again the incredible power of compassion, generosity, and love of one another. As area minister for the Coastal Plains Area wrote earlier today, "We know that such a catastrophic disaster will take a very long season of recovery, and being bathed in the love and care from brothers and sisters in Christ will be instrumental in our healing and reclaiming of the peace and wholeness we all desire."

To this I offer my amen!

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