November - December 2017

By Don Walter
From his column A Minute with Don

minute-with-don-09-17_article.jpgDuring the second half of 2017, hurricanes devastated parts of the United States, an earthquake near Mexico City killed almost 400 and injured 6,000; almost 60 people were shot to death and hundreds more injured in a Las Vegas concert venue, and wildfires in Northern California took the lives of more than 30 and destroyed entire communities. Recovery for those affected by these events will be difficult. Such losses are never fully restored.

With the sadness and uncertainty that follow in the wake of such calamities there comes a time when we turn our thoughts and discussion to the Divine. In particular, we contemplate the question of God’s role or interest in what happens to us and others. As I’ve watched TV interviews, read personal accounts, and followed stories on social media in light of these recent events, I have discovered what I call a “Hurricane Theology.” Some of it is sound; much of it is not.

There are statements about how God, should He desire, could move all storms into a direction that would cause no harm. Some proclaim our nation’s disasters are an attempt by God to punish a locality or entire nation for moral infractions—for becoming “too secular,” or for “disrespecting authority.”

I’m not a theologian and not in any position to validate or refute such statements. God certainly has the right to do whatever He pleases. But when I hear such talk, my mind turns to a favorite scripture: “When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up—the flames will not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2 TLB).

Two specific terms in this passage stand out to me: when and through.

We can mitigate consequences, but we cannot keep bad things from affecting our lives.

“When” seems to be a reminder that we live in a world where bad things happen to everybody eventually. We can plan and prepare, be alert and diligent, but such does not guarantee bad things won’t happen. We can mitigate consequences, but we cannot keep bad things from affecting our lives.

Which brings me to the comfort of the second word. There is a subtle certainty about “through.” With this term, God reminds us that He doesn’t just promise to go into the storm with us, He promises us a throughway. He will be with us all the way to the other side of the storm—and then some.

I was reminded of the “throughness” of God’s promise as I sat in the Orlando airport just 48 hours before Hurricane Irma struck. As I watched the sky beyond the huge windows I saw a rainbow fade in and out of prominence. It lasted several minutes. I remembered from my early school days what causes rainbows. It is light passing through water droplets in the sky. Then I reflected on the ancient promise of God after He had been with Noah through the deep waters. God has always promised to go through every storm with His people. He is the God of presence, period.

While watching the Weather Channel just prior to Irma, I heard some really good theology. A gentleman named Walter was being interviewed about his plans to weather the storm. As he concluded he said, “God loves preparation.”

I thought about God’s instructions to Noah—to prepare. Then there are the directions to Abraham as he walked up the mountain to sacrifice his only son; the conversation with Joseph about lean years ahead; and the burning bush dialogue with Moses as God prepared him to lead a nation from bondage. The Old Testament prophets were all about a message of preparation, as was John the Baptist. Yes, Walter was right, God loves preparation.

I’ll digress at this point and do some occupational meddling. I’ve heard many times from well-meaning ministers that they don’t need to plan or prepare for retirement, illness, disability, or premature death, because “God will take care of me.” I listen and smile, but I always find the belief inconsistent with the plan of a God who emphasizes preparation.

I have no doubt God will take care of us when we are called to face hard times. But I also know He provides ahead of the difficulties. His journey with us through a challenging time often begins well before we encounter it.

Your life may be about to enter, in the middle of, or just emerging from a storm, but as the old song says, “Standing somewhere in the shadows you’ll find Jesus.” He is the God of presence through it all. If, however, you are enjoying days of relative calm and good health, relish them, and don’t neglect the opportunities God provides to prepare for the future.

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.

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