Hurricane Idalia strengthened into a powerful Category 4 storm early this morning and is expected to make landfall soon on the Big Bend region of Florida’s Gulf Coast. A local sheriff’s office warned, “There is great potential for death and catastrophic destruction.” The National Weather Service predicts the storm will “likely be an unprecedented event” for the area, noting that no major hurricanes have struck this region in recorded history and adding, “When you try to compare this storm to others, DON’T. No one has seen this.”
In the face of disaster, it is human nature to turn instinctively to God.
In Oscar Thompson’s classic book on evangelism, he identifies seven “concentric circles of concern” in order: self / family / relatives / friends / neighbors and associates / acquaintances / those unknown to us. I suspect the intensity of our intercession for those in the path of the hurricane aligns with these circles. We do the same when shootings, wildfires, or other tragedies occur.
Here’s the larger question: In the face of suffering, why pray to God at all?
Why do we turn to God?
Atheists often point to innocent suffering as a prime reason for their rejection of God’s existence. If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, how can he allow hurricanes and other disasters?
While this is a subject for another day (see my website paper and books such as Wrestling With God), I’d like to point their question in a related direction: Since suffering is such a universal experience, why is faith in God such a universal response? Why haven’t we learned what atheism (very much a minority position in America and the world) claims to know?
An evolutionary answer could be that calling on God in the face of suffering is a survival move akin to seeking a club with which to defend ourselves against a predator. But why turn to a Person we cannot see, one whose existence (nor nonexistence) we cannot prove?
Sigmund Freud claimed in his book Totem and Taboo that “God is nothing other than an exalted father.” From many years of pastoral experience, I agree that many people relate to their heavenly Father in the context of their relationship with their earthly father. But how does Freud know that God is “nothing” but an exalted father?
And I would add this: What if the impulse of turning to our Father for help in the face of suffering is part of his design for us?
Why should we turn to Christ?
The Bible states, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Commenting on this text, St. Ambrose (AD 339–397) said of Jesus: “He is the only one who will redeem man, surpassing kinsfolk in duty, because he sheds his own blood for strangers, whereas a brother cannot do this for a brother.” He was right: I could not legally be executed in my brother’s place, no matter how much I might want to do so.
Ambrose then asked, “But why is only this man the redeemer? Because no one can equal him in goodness, insofar as he lays down his life for his own servants; no one can equal him in innocence, for all are under the yoke of sin, all lie under Adam’s fall. Alone he is chosen as redeemer since he cannot be affected by the ancient sin.”
St. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) added: “Countless men sought to eradicate the very name of the Crucified, but that name flourished and grew even mightier. Its enemies lost out and perished; the living who waged a war on a dead man proved helpless.”
The hymnwriter John Kent called Jesus
God of God, ere time began,
Light of Light, to earth descending,
Man, revealing God to man.
As St. Irenaeus noted: he became one of us that we might be one with him.
Why must we turn to Christ?
One last question: Why must we have faith in Christ to experience fully his help in facing the storms of life? If he loves us unconditionally, why doesn’t he meet our needs whether we trust them to him or not?
James explained that “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3-4). Oswald Chambers commented on this text: “Faith must be tested, because it can be turned into a personal possession only through conflict.... The test will either prove that your faith is right, or it will kill it.” As a result, he encouraged us to “believe steadfastly on him and all you come against will develop your faith.”
Billy Graham added: “Trials will either make you turn away from God, or they will drive you toward him. When we choose the latter, James says, our faith will grow stronger—and we will be better equipped to meet the next challenge that comes our way.”
Scripture records that in a time of warfare “the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 13:18). We are assured that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Consequently, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” (Psalm 118:8), for “blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20).
I am therefore praying fervently today for my family members and everyone else in the path of Hurricane Idalia, asking God to be their “refuge” from the storm and their “strength” in facing it. I am asking him to redeem this unfolding tragedy for his glory and their good. I am asking him to empower churches and others who will care for those affected by the storm. And I am thanking him for the God-given impulse to turn to him, accepting his invitation to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8).
Will you join me?
NOTE: Please act now to request your copy of our latest book, Biblical Insight to Tough Questions Vol. 12 or to request the full 12-volume set. Every book tackles ten tough questions with biblical insight we pray leads you into a deeper relationship with God and a greater willingness to engage the culture with his truth.
Publication date: August 30, 2023
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The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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