Recently Hurricane Irma blew through Florida, devastating cities, towns, and communities across the state. The week before it was Hurricane Harvey wreaking havoc on Texas and Louisiana. Both storms created irreparable damage. Lives were lost. Homes and businesses destroyed. And people, from families with small children to aging seniors, are now forced to start over as they try to rebuild their lives.
Like many of you, I was glued to the TV watching interviews of one person after another who were affected by the storms. In several instances, the interviewees credited God for keeping them safe through the storm.
I understood their feelings, of course. They were simply trying to express their gratitude and relief in the midst of the devastation all around them, grateful that they had survived. In all likelihood, I’d probably say the same thing given similar circumstances. After all, I believe in my “heart of hearts” that God loves me and all of His children, and wants the best for all of us.
Still, as I try to remove emotion from the equation (which is almost impossible to do), I’ve very aware that those statements beg a variety of other questions — questions which are, for the most part, unanswerable. If God kept the interviewees safe during the storm, why didn’t he keep others safe as well? Did God choose who survived and who didn’t? Was someone spared because somehow they were better? Or more faithful? Or more deserving? Or did it all just happen and God really wasn’t involved at all?
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Furthermore, if God is all-loving and all-powerful, why didn’t he just stop the storms from ever coming in the first place? Is He active in our personal lives or not? And, if so, how and how much? If one person prays for rain his crops will grow and prays for no rain so his daughter’s wedding won’t be ruined, which prayer does God honor? One, both, neither? The list could go on.
As I said, there are no answers, or at least no easy ones, to any of these questions. I sure don’t know the answers, and I’m always wary of those who say they do. I’ve come to realize in my own faith journey that there will always be questions that I can’t answer. I think it’s a part of what faith is all about.
That said, here’s what I do know. It’s not God that determines whether or not I help someone in need or not — that’s all up to me. God has given us the capacity to love and care for one another, and to have compassion upon those who are hurting and in despair, but it’s our choice whether we do or not. Regardless of how active or inactive God is in controlling weather, arranging circumstances, or stopping tragedies, he has created each of us to make our own decisions about how we will live our lives. The choice to help others is not a God-thing, but rather a me-thing or a you-thing.
We all have the capacity to help, volunteer and donate. That decision isn’t on God, but rather on us. I hope you make the choice to do something, to make a difference. If not you and me, then who?
The Rev. Stephen J. King is pastor of Harvey Memorial Community Church, 300 Church Ave., Bradenton Beach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Services are at 9:30 a.m. Sundays. 941-779-1912.