10 David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”
11 Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer: 12 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’”
13 So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three[a]years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”
14 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”
15 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
2 Samuel 24:10-16 NIV
In insurance terms, storms, natural disasters are called “acts of God”. Was Hurricane Harvey indeed something that God brought about? I remember that after Katrina and Sandy there were Christian preachers who suggested that those storms had been punishment upon the wickedness of New Orleans and New York City respectively. Those of us who live in Houston, however, think of ourselves as better than those cities, a pride that has its good side, make no mistake. The hundreds of thousands of volunteer rescuers and helpers both during and after the storm have spoken from that pride even as they have worn their “Houston Strong” T-shirts in helping their neighbors. Is our city so much better than New Orleans or New York that God simply made a mistake, or maybe none of the three suffered divine punishment.
There are those who say that these storms and the devastation they caused are our own fault, the fault of city planners, of politicians, of engineers, of Americans, of humans in general.
We have changed the climate, we have failed to adequately plan or zone our cities, we have paved too much of the landscape, we have built too much too near the coast, we have not spent enough money on dykes and levees.
As a preacher, I often point out human sin and weakness, but it seems to me that far from being to blame for Harvey, we humans, and especially American humans, and even human politicians, bureaucrats, and city planners have proved ourselves instruments of mercy in this case. Consider that the 1900 Galveston Hurricane killed an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people. The death toll from Katrina was more than 1,800, from Sandy more than 200, and the number of residents who died in puny Hurricane Rita was more than 100 (mostly attempting to evacuate). Even with all of the destruction and misery, Harvey has caused the deaths of only about 50 people, twenty-five times less the number of people that died from flooding in Africa during the month of August. Indeed, the human response to this storm-Government, Churches, corporations, and non-profits is truly awesome. Check this website if you don’t believe me: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/08/28/hurricane-harvey-relief-efforts-how-help/ .
But I want to get back to my original question: who is responsible for Harvey? It seems to me that there are essentially five choices: 1. humans, 2. the devil, 3. fate (or luck, or nature), 4. God, or 5. some combination of the other four. I have noticed that the most popular contender recently seems to be blind fate. I think this is because we don’t really believe in the devil and we don’t want to blame either humans or God, both of whom we would like to believe are essentially good, and “would never do anything like that,.” I must admit that for me, since there is too much seemingly conscious perversity in the world for it to be otherwise and because the Bible clearly says that the devil is “the lord of this world;” indeed the Bible says that nature itself is in bondage awaiting for the kingdom of God to be revealed.
Consider the passage from 2 Samuel 24. King David had sinned in counting the fighting men, showing greater dependence on military might than on God. In response to this sin, God sent the prophet Gad to offer David a choice of punishment. Set aside for a moment the question of whether or not God punishes people in this way, or at least whether He still punishes people in this way after the coming of our Lord Jesus. What is most remarkable to me is the basis upon which David makes his choice. He says, “Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” If David has a choice in the source of a hurricane, he emphatically would prefer that the hurricane came from God, rather than from blind fate, human responsibility, or the Devil.
I believe that we need to rediscover the possibility of God’s discipline, not as something that happens to some other wicked and godless city, but as something which we Christians see as holding a promise for ourselves. If, in your faith and experience God is a loving and merciful God; and if you believe that all things come from His hand; then you will look to find mercy and grace even in a terrible natural disaster like Harvey. You will not simply endure such a disaster in the belief that you are a helpless victim of luck, human blunders, or the evil one, but will expect to emerge from such a disaster as a better person, a better city, a better country.
This is why, in the Bible, God never responds to the human questions concerning any disaster, whether natural or man-made, by saying “It’s not my fault.” God even takes responsibility for the depredations and cruelties of the truly deplorable Assyrians and Babylonians. God allows, even invites, us to blame Him, knowing that if we believe Him to be in control, we will indeed experience His presence in the midst of the storm, and along with His presence we will experience mercy, redemption, grace, and maybe even a measure of the peace that passes understanding. In this sense, “God, why did you allow this?” is the RIGHT question. It is not necessarily a question with an immediate answer, but it is a question that puts God in control of the circumstances of our lives, and when God is in control, He can speak to us from the midst of the storm.