On August 25, 2017, the world stood still for those in Southeast Texas. After an August of news media turmoil, we were not unified in watching riots grow on television and we were not watching an eclipse. We were watching an increasingly dangerous hurricane—the first of several in the coming weeks, it turns out—prepare for landfall. We watched the eye to determine who would be hit by the winds and the swirling colors on the weather maps to determine where and when outside remnants of the hurricane would hit the entire southeast portion of the state.
And then those of us in Houston and the surrounding counties watched as the rain started falling, as phone alarms warned us of the latest tornado warning, as colors were added to the Weather Channel map because they had never recorded such a high volume of rain, as the local news added flood warning after flood warning to bayous, rivers, and creeks. If we were lucky (like my family), we helplessly watched the news as waters rose and neighborhoods were evacuated, praying that our street or neighborhood wouldn’t be next on the list.
If we hadn’t been so lucky, like my neighbors down the street in three separate directions, we would have had to finally leave our homes to the mercy of merciless flood waters.
At the end of the week following Harvey, as I drove my children to our friends’ church for some much-needed recreational time, we finally saw some of the devastation that will cripple our area on the far north side of Houston for months to come. We saw crumbled privacy walls and yards covered with waterlogged furniture and debris from houses, apartment buildings, and businesses that had held everywhere from one to six feet of water at the height of local flooding. It was their first glimpse of the destruction that had kept their parents glued to the television for nearly three days straight.
Then my six-year-old asked, “Mommy, why didn’t Jesus stop the flooding?”
Why didn’t the God who I believe walked on water and calmed the wind and the waves and brought people back to life stop the largest known rainfall in continental U.S. history? Why were so many people, including my church’s senior pastor, forced out of their homes and left to sort through the rubble left by Category 3 hurricane-force winds, the tornadoes Harvey spawned, the buckets of water that fell out of the sky, and the gushing waters that rose from previously dry river and creek beds?
When life is good, many of my fellow Christians and I find it easy to believe in a good and gracious God. We find it easy to sing His praises when we have secure jobs, our families are healthy, we have food on the table, and all of our needs and immediate wants are being met. But when a spouse cheats, when careers are turned upside down, when a loved one discovers an incurable disease, many of us question the goodness of a God who is supposed to be loving, a God who desires the very best for His creation. Often when previously faithful Christians walk away from the faith, they do so because after weeks, months, or years of struggling and nothing getting better and no end in sight, they feel they cannot believe in a good God who has their best interest at heart.
Sometimes Christians will say, “God won’t give you more than you can’t handle.” This is ridiculous. Let’s be honest, there are times when the difficulties really are more than we can handle on our own. What God is really saying is, “I will sustain you. Lean on me.” He doesn’t dole out tests to the faithful and punishments to the wicked on a whim. But our world is imperfect, and that means we’re going to suffer the effects of the decisions of others (and ourselves), as well as the impact of nature gone rogue.
So where was God when Harvey hit? He was with the first responders who hunkered down while residents down the Gulf coast fled from a hurricane that blew over their homes and businesses. He was with the people who helped their neighbors crawl out from tornado-ravaged houses. He was with the ordinary citizens who partnered with first responders to take their boats and trucks out to rescue fellow citizens who witnessed flood waters rising faster than they ever had before, covering the streets, then yards, then tile and carpeted floors of houses that never seen standing water before. He was with the thousands upon thousands of volunteers who opened up shelters in houses of worship, schools, and convention centers. He was with the survivors who brought supplies and donated money to help those who weren’t dry.
It has been said over and over again, but suddenly race, creed, gender, and economic status didn’t matter. People did.
I saw God using Harvey to break down the walls that divide us, and remind us of a truth we have long forgotten: we need to care for each other. The pain, hurts, fears, and divisions that were there before Harvey knocked down our doors are still there. But over the past couple weeks, those of us affected by Harvey have hit the pause button, forced to work toward a common goal.
Believing that God works for our good, even at the worst of times, doesn’t make the pain go away, but it gives the pain a purpose. As I learned over the last month, being in the eye of the storm doesn’t mean it will be over quickly, but when we hold on, the sun will eventually break through.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on God and tragedy from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.