This image started doing the social media rounds on Friday/Saturday just after Hurricane Matthew had blown mostly by. It is fairly obvious in the graphic just what the thoughts of the artist were when he/she drew it – that Hurricane Matthew had been predicted to be devastating for East Central Florida, and that God had decided to spare us by causing the storm to “wobble” at just the right time.
Of course this is a very understandable position to take in response to what had been happening in the build up to the storm, and the night when the storm finally came. A frenzy of fear had been whipped up among the masses. We were ready for a major attack from this storm. Even before Matthew came close to us we were predicting massive damages to and losses of property, and even the potential loss of life. For this not to happen just because a storm wobbled at just the right moment could only have been an act of God, orchestrated to protect the good people of Florida.
There was a time when I would have got right behind this thinking. There was a time when i would have got up in front of my church the next day and said: “Surely God was with us in this storm and moved to protect us, His beloved, from the devastation that could have been brought upon us!!! Praise be to God!”
Now please keep reading while I tease that out a little. I still got up in church yesterday and said something along the lines of the first half of that sentence. God was with us in the storm – before it, during it, and after it – to bring peace and stillness to the moments when panic and fear could so easily have been allowed to win within me. I just have a problem with getting up in church and saying the words in the second half of that sentence above.
What is that problem?
At the time of writing, and according to the BBC, it is estimated that more than 900 people have been killed and over 60,000 people are displaced as a result of Hurricane Matthew. Haiti is an island nation which has continually been battered and bruised by the might of nature’s strong arm. Haiti always seems to get the short straw when it comes to the impact of weather. This fact in and of itself is one that seems unfair, but when it is matched with the fact that Haiti is by no means a developed or wealthy country then things come even more into perspective – this country does not have the means to immediately bounce back like we do here in the USA.
Do you see where my concern is with the first image in this post? Like I said above – it is an understandable conclusion to arrive at when it seems that a miracle has taken place to your own benefit. But isn’t it a bit of a theological slap in the face to the people of Haiti? Isn’t saying that God protected the people of Florida from the full force of Matthew the same as saying that God did not protect the people of Haiti from the full force of Matthew?
That’s where I have a problem with the image.
I was talking with my wife yesterday about this and she referenced a book by Jen Hatmaker called ‘For The Love.’ Haymaker made the point that i am trying to make a lot more eloquently than I ever could. She said:
“It has taken me forty years to assess the difference between the gospel and the American Evangelical version of the gospel. Those were one and the same for ages – no take-backs, no prisoners, no holds barred. I filtered the kingdom through my upper middle class, white, advantaged, denominational lens, and by golly, I found a way to make most of it fit!…
But then God changed my life, and everything got weird. I discovered the rest of the world! And other cultures! And different Christian traditions! And people who were way, way different from me! And poverty! Then the system in which God operated according to my rules started disintegrating. I started hearing my gospel narrative through the ears of the Other, and a while giant bunch of it didn’t even make sense. Some values and perspectives and promises I attributed to God’s own heart only worked in my context, and I’m no theologian, but surely that’s problematic.
There’s a biblical benchmark I now use…Here it is: ‘If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian Mom in Haiti, it isn’t true.’
If a sermon promises health and wealth to the faithful, it isn’t true, because that theology makes God an absolute monster who only blesses rich westerners and despises Christians in Africa, India, China, South America, Russia, rural Appalachia, inner-city America and everywhere else a sincere believer remains poor. If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian Mom in Haiti, it isn’t true…”
A God that chose to protect me and mine over and above the people of Haiti is definitely a pretty monstrous God. Some people will malign me for making that statement – but that does not make it any less true. If we are all created in the image and likeness of God; if we are all loved by God with an everlasting ,and unbreakable, and unconditional love, which nothing can separate us from; if we were all in the heart and mind of God as Jesus hung, arms outstretched on the cross – then we cannot say that God protected one group of people over and above another without making God into a vindictive monster.
A God that would wreak such desolation on the poorest people of the earth, and then move God’s hand to protect some of the richest absolutely makes that type of God a monster.
But God is not a monster. Of that I remain quite convinced.
God was with us in the build up to the storm. God was in the hearts of the people who helped their neighbors put up storm shutters on their windows and homes. God was in the hearts and actions of the people who took each other in to their own homes so that as many people as possible could get safe shelter. God was in the hearts of the first responders and line men who have been working around the clock to make sure that people were and are as safe as possible and have power as soon as possible after power has been lost. God is in the neighborhoods where people help one another out in the aftermath of the storm. God was in the heart of Roberto, my friend, who came to church of his own accord and cleaned up the entire front of our property on Saturday so that it would look right for Sunday morning worship. God was in the heart of Kerry who stopped by the church tonight to fix a fence that had been take down in the storm. God is in the hearts of my friends who are already organizing supply drop off points so that people can make donations to the people of Haiti. The list and the stories could go on and on and on. I have no doubt that God was with us and remains with us to bring peace, minister love and offer hope to a community that has been visited by the edges of a quite frightening storm.
So is there an explanation for what happened? Honestly? I can’t give you one. I am not a meteorologist and my scientific ability is all but none existent. I do know this about the weather though – it can be haphazard and nefarious. Whatever it is that actually happened on Thursday night, we in east central Florida did not get what we were expecting and for that I am grateful. I do not think we were protected. I think we got lucky and i think that we remain blessed with the ongoing presence of Almighty God in our lives who brings peace to those who are troubled; who brings light in the darkness; who brings hope where their is utter despair.
My choice in the aftermath is not to simply celebrate a supposed moment of protection of me and mine by the divine. Rather, my choice is to look out and see where the divine is now sending me – one who is relatively rich and able – to be God’s hand and feet and heart for those who have been broken by Hurricane Matthew.
Watch this space.