Hurricane Michael

October 15, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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It’s been a busy hurricane season.  This time, it was Hurricane Michael that slammed into the Florida Panhandle with Gulf-churned sustained winds of 155 miles per hour – the strongest storm ever to hit the region and the third most intense storm to make landfall in the United States.  The storm moved fast – some 13 miles per hour – but that kind of wind does not have to be around long to do serious damage.  So far, the death count stands at 16.  Tens of thousands are still without power.  Mexico Beach, where the storm made landfall, is devastated.  And now begins the long, slow process of cleaning up and rebuilding.

Last week, I was delighted when a cold front moved through San Antonio – not only because it brought us clear blue skies and lower temperatures, but because I recently had new grass installed in my yard and the rain meant my sprinklers could take a break and my water bill could take a dive.  Rain is good – except when there’s too much.  Then we call rain a flood.  Sun is also good – except when there’s too much.  Then we call sun a drought.

A hurricane is the poster child for “too much.”  With a hurricane comes not a cooling breeze, but a battering gale.  With a hurricane comes not a needed shower to quench a parched land, but a torrential downpour to deluge an already saturated ground.  With a hurricane comes not a peaceful wave on a picturesque beach, but, in the case of Hurricane Michael, an eight-foot storm surge that floods neighborhoods and guts homes.

The book of Jonah famously tells the story of a reluctant prophet who does not want to carry out his God-assigned preaching mission to a town called Nineveh, which is, in Jonah’s day, the capital of the Assyrian Empire.  Jonah cannot stand the city of Nineveh because it represents, in Jonah’s view, all that is wicked and vile – violence, decadence, and religious irreverence.  So, Jonah seeks to scuttle his preaching obligation by hopping a ship heading in the opposite direction of this miscreant metropolis.  But God is having none of it.  A storm comes upon the ship in which Jonah is stowing away.  The sailors, who quickly realize that this storm is bigger than they can handle, each cry out “to his own god” (Jonah 1:5).  But the sailors’ gods sit silent.  It isn’t until Jonah calls upon his God, and surrenders his stubborn will to his God by allowing Him to transport him to Nineveh via a titanic tuna, that the sea is finally calmed.

Storms like Michael and like Jonah’s are reminders of just how little power we have over the wind and the waves.  In an article for The Atlantic, Sam Kemp recounts a time when a Nobel Prize winning chemist, Irving Langmuir, led a 1947 experiment to slow a hurricane:

On October 13, 1947, a mild hurricane named King sliced through Miami and began drifting northeast, out into the Atlantic Ocean. Because King seemed to be dying anyway, Cirrus officials decided to seed it the next day. A B-17 puttered out to meet it and scattered 180 pounds of dry-ice pellets into the eyewall. Everyone sat back and waited for the eye to widen and for King to collapse. Instead, the storm grew stronger, fiercer. To everyone’s horror, it then pivoted – taking an impossible 135-degree turn – and began racing into Savannah, Georgia, causing $3 million in damage ($32 million today) and killing one person.

Though, at the time, people blamed Langmuir for making the storm worse, in reality, he didn’t make the storm do anything at all.  The storm was simply beyond even a Nobel laureate’s control.

The Psalmist reminds us that it is the Lord alone who can still “the storm to a whisper” and hush “the waves of the sea” (Psalm 107:29).  Yes, storms may be out of our control.  But they are not out of God’s.  And although we may not understand why God does not always still storms before they collide with coastlines, we do know that God Himself willingly goes through them.  Jesus, after all, claims to be another Jonah: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).  Jonah’s stormy salvation finds its counterpart in Jesus’ tempestuous tomb.  Jesus went through the storm of sin – and conquered it.  And if He can go through a storm that fierce, I’m sure He hasn’t left – and He won’t leave – anyone alone in the aftermath of Michael.

Today, then, Jesus lovingly stands with the people of Florida.  He knows how they feel.  Perhaps we should stand with them too.

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