Today’s post is adapted by one I wrote several years ago following the earthquake in Haiti.
Probably one of the most challenging questions that we all struggle with is Where is God in the midst of disaster. Houston and growing circle of towns in Texas and Louisiana are under water with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh more than 41 million people are affected and 1,200 people have died in the monsoonal floods inundating South Asia and in British Columbia wildfires still rage, devastating lives, communities and forests.
The overwhelming images of devastation and suffering that we see bring us to despair. Relief workers struggle relentlessly to handle the unimaginable onslaught. Deprived of sleep, subsisting on an inadequate diet, confronted by unimaginable horrors, some quickly break down and many both workers and victims will require trauma counseling and professional help. We like those more closely involved are overwhelmed by our inability to respond.
Our faith is rocked by disasters like these and, of course, there are no easy answers. How do we believe in a loving God while grieving with so many of my brothers and sisters who have lost loved ones and livelihoods? Yet we know God is not absent.
In A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit talks about the extraordinary communities that arise in the midst of disaster. Calamity doesn’t bring out the worst in us, she contends, it brings out the best. Resourcefulness, generosity and joy arise to shine brightly in the midst of all kinds of horrifying situations. The joy in disaster comes, when it comes, from an affection that is not private and personal but civic. The love of strangers for each other, of a citizen for his or her city, of belonging to a greater whole, of doing the work that matters.
That’s it, I thought as I contemplated this current wave of disasters and my own questioning of God’s presence. Strangers have become neighbors. Across barriers of class and race and religion people are showing they care. The outpouring of financial support for flood victims in Texas has been phenomenal. Volunteers from Australia, New Zealand and the US are fighting fires in British Columbia, and volunteers from around the world are helping provide aid in Asia.
It always amazes me when people half a world away drop everything to come and risk there lives for someone they don’t know and will probably never see again. It is like the parable of the Good Samaritan being lived out in our midst. Heroic rescues, sacrificial acts, generous giving, this is the image of God welling up from within us and shining light in the darkness. This is our loving caring God reaching out compassionately through the helping hands and aching hearts of all of us who are created in God’s image. Why these disasters happened, we do not know but God is there, grieving, loving and caring in and through us.
Disaster blots out the sun but allows the light that is within each of us to shine to its full potential… not alone but together with the many other lights that surround us. In the process it gives us direction – a clear path towards the kind of interdependent, caring life that God intends for all of us.
I think that in the midst of disasters like this God calls all of us to be Good Samaritans, to give what we can and do what is possible to help. So as you watch the images of these disasters that continue to light up our screens don’t allow them to overwhelm you. Prayerfully consider how you can be God’s compassionate hands reaching out to help.