The awesome power of nature should make us tremble. The photographs of Hurricane Sandy’s recent visit to the United States remind us of that power: rivers running through city streets, homes destroyed, buildings torn apart, and beaches moved about.
I firmly believe that there are only two ways to see a hurricane, just as there are only two ways to see the sun or a flower or a puppy dog: these are either manifestations of the power and wisdom of God, or they are nothing but products of random natural forces. Yes, those are our only options; if we don’t accept the idea of an almighty God, then the world is just a series of totally random, meaningless, chaotic, unpredictable events.
Scientific thought, especially physics, once thought that the universe was a stable and predictable system. The fact that we can make accurate predictions about physical events gives the illusion that the physical world was a completely predictable system. It was thought that the collisions of atoms were as simple as billiard balls, and that it was only a matter of time before we were able to gather enough data about the atmosphere to predict the weather months in advance. We weren’t just planning to predict the weather; we were hoping to control it, by brute technological force.
Quantum mechanics has gradually undercut that hypothesis through the uncertainty principle, meaning that the particles that make up matter are not perfectly predictable by human beings. Either they 1) do behave in perfectly organized ways, but in ways that we are not able to determine with perfect accuracy, or more likely, 2) they do not behave in perfectly organized ways, so there is a minute amount of randomness in the behavior of every particle. The infinitesimal bit of randomness in every atom might explain why we cannot predict the weather with good reliability even six or seven days ahead.
For an atheist, the birth of a massive hurricane and its violent invasion into New York City is nothing other than a product of that randomness in the behavior of matter. The chances of a late-season hurricane becoming as large as Hurricane Sandy did are extremely low, and normally such a hurricane would have been pushed out to sea by the jet stream. This time, however, a blocking pattern of high pressure forced the hurricane to do a left hook right into New Jersey (weather.com). In other words, the factors lined up like a hundred lottery numbers.
The New Jersey atheist has a hard time speaking of this as a totally random event. You might hear a person say, “Nature does whatever she wants, and she doesn’t give a rip where we build” (or whatever they say instead of “rip” in New Jersey). This is a nice way of giving human personality to an event which, for an atheist, cannot be anything more than the collision of molecules and the flowing of fluids.
Most Christians prefer to talk about “Nature” in exactly the same way, as if it has a mind and a life of its own. In one of my previous posts, I talked about how weather is an unruly thing that has never been domesticated, and it is liable to make a mess. This principle is useful for talking about winter storms, summer floods and the occasional drought. However, when Christians apply this principle to Hurricane Sandy, I think that we are failing to take our faith seriously.
For a Christian, God is so powerful that He is not only aware of all the collisions of all the molecules in the atmosphere, and of all the possible consequences of those events, but the tiny bit of randomness in every atom gives God all that room He needs to draw a nearly infinite number of tiny events into the outcome He wants, in this case, an enormous hurricane. This does not mean that every weather event is a manifestation of God’s will, since He can and often does let the weather flow according to its own rules. However, the sheer number of factors that needed to line up just right for a late season hurricane to grow as massive as Sandy did and make landfall where she did should tell a Christian that this was not just nature doing her thing.
The fact that God was not absent, but closely involved, is hard for Christians to accept unless we can answer the question of why God did this. I believe that God sent Hurricane Sandy as His messenger, for the same reason He sends every messenger: to show us the truth about ourselves and about this world.
– The truth is that everything falls down. We might tell a little boy who built a sand castle by the sea, “Of course your sand castle fell down, you built it too close to the water.” Blaming the boy is silly: where would you recommend that he build a sand castle so that it will not fall down? Everything we build is like that sand castle; it is only a matter of time before it crumbles, wears out, and collapses. Because our brick houses last for years instead of hours, we easily forget that they are going to fall down. God has to do something dramatic to remind us that nothing we build or buy will last: it all crumbles and falls apart.
When our homes crumble, what do we realize? The value of life! We realize that the things in the house, as important as they seemed to be, and the house itself, as much as we felt at home there, were not nearly as precious as the people living in the house. Sometimes we cannot see the people until the house falls down.
– The truth is that everybody dies. One of the reasons that Christians are afraid to think of Sandy as a messenger of God is that she has blood on her hands. About 110 people are said to have died in the United States and 67 in the Caribbean (CNN), how could a loving God do such a thing? Do we forget that death is one of God’s servants, according to the Bible, and that devastating violence is one of His messengers in the book of Revelation? God has given the gift of life and sooner or later He must take that gift back.
When our homes and business are demolished, we are reminded that nothing we build lasts forever. When people have died, we should be reminded that there is something in this world that lasts forever: we will last forever. Normally we are more concerned about daily life than about eternal life, but when daily life is in shambles and people have died, we are reminded that all our decisions need to be made in light of the eternal life that God wants to give us, not in the light of this life which is passing away.
– The truth is that only God is God, and we cannot pretend to be. A massive hurricane shows us that we are not God, and we should not take the place of God. This is exactly the reason why the Catholic Church condemns abortion, same-sex “marriage”, embryonic stem-cell research, and laws that permit sick people to commit suicide. We call these “intrinsic evils” because in every case we are either making a decision that only God can make, or we are declaring that it is legitimate for other people to make a decision that only God can make. We think that these choices won’t be a big deal, or they won’t effect us, but we forget that a nearly infinite number of tiny events contributes to a giant storm, that can be very destructive.
Many people reading this might agree that it is a good thing to be shown the truth, but might object to the frightening way that God has chosen to do this. It is a heartbreaking tragedy for so many people are suffering right now, and will continue to suffer for months if not years.
While death is a tragedy, our faith does not see death as a bad thing, as long as we die with faith in God, because God uses death to gather His children to Himself. Yes, having your home reduced to ruins is a very painful experience, but our faith does not see suffering as an a totally bad thing, because it encourages us to huddle much closer to God. God’s love is worth more than anything in the world, and when ordinary means have collapsed, God will provide for our needs in extraordinary ways.
In conclusion, I believe that our Christian faith tells us that God sent Hurricane Sandy as His messenger for two reasons: to proclaim the truth of our world, and to gather some of His children more closely to Himself. Pray for the dead and the suffering, that this storm might be a moment for each one to come closer to God +