Las Vegas remains in a state of shock. Puerto Rico lies devastated by multiple hurricanes. Monsoon flooding has decimated parts of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Families in Houston and parts of Florida continue to reel from hurricane-related damage. Multiple earthquakes in Mexico buried people alive in some of the poorest areas. Fires destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres in the Pacific Northwest this summer. North Korea is threatening to obliterate us. And then there’s the news story few are hearing: four of the worst famines since WW II are ravaging South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria, putting 20 million people at risk of starvation, nearly half of whom are children, at a time when the U.S. talks of cutting back on aid. Earth. Wind. Fire. Flood. Famine. Violence.
How can we respond?
- Pray. Really pray.Search yourself. Ask God to show you how you can help. Pray for those living in terror, displaced, agonizing in grief. This is too big for any of us. But we know the One who can handle it all. Ask how you can be his arms, legs, and tear ducts.
- Humble yourself.Instead of trying to explain the ways of God, we must exercise humility. Some natural disasters happen because there’s a clear cause-and-effect relationship (like the fire in Oregon caused by kids who ignored warnings and lobbed fireworks into parched ravines). But sometimes there isn’t such a clear-cut reason. And it may require omniscience to know the difference. So avoid saying, “This happened because God….because sin…because, because, because…” A lot of natural phenomena seem to match predictions about the last days—even unreligious people are saying so (though many tend to say this only in response to US disasters). But it’s arrogant to insist that “this is absolutely that.” Instead, we can focus on what we do know for certain: The one who can calm waves and save nations from famine calls all humans to repent, acknowledge His right to rule over our lives, follow Him, and lay up treasures where waters and fires can’t destroy.
- Weep with those who weep. Lament. There’s a whole book of the Bible filled with prayers of weeping and moaning and asking why and wailing in prayer to God. Lament is the most common form or prayer in the Psalms. Life is hard, so validate rather than minimize pain. Weeping indicates we’ve allowed others’ agony to touch us.
- Care for the people. Many have rushed in with boats and fresh-baked bread and water bottles and sledgehammers in the face of disaster. The tougher job will be to continue to show up as the weeks, months, and—yes—years drag on with people still cobbling together temporary housing, mold still rotting drywall, mosquitos still multiplying in standing water, food still scarce, and potable water still absent from faucets. Continuing to donate when we ourselves feel strapped will wear on us. One person can’t save everybody. But we can organize groups to help. And we can each choose a family to assist, one group to join, and/or one organization to support. We can—in one little corner of the world—show the love of the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep, including those without a shepherd. Some kids created a new-book drive to help elementary teachers replace their libraries. A church in Houston created a Wal-Mart registry where those in need listed specific needs, which the congregation delivered with a smile and a hug when donors gave. Families took their teens to flooded zones and helped believers clean up flooded messes. Teams are mobilizing. One person or a few people together can do a lot.
- Care for the earth. Recognize that the idea that humans are messing up the planet is actually consistent with a biblical view of sin. In Genesis, we read that God gave humans dominion over the earth and its creatures, and it didn’t take long for us to blow it. Since then not much has changed—except that our failure has greater consequences with each passing decade. For many, it’s time to stop scoffing at suggestions to better exercise that dominion and stop looking only to governments to handle it all. God has given us a job, and we need to get after it. We can consume less. Throw away less food. Sign up for greener energy. Plant trees. Spay pets. Drive cars that burn less gas. Recycle. Use bulbs that take less energy. Turn off the water when brushing teeth. Unplug the phone recharger when it’s not in use. Provide foster care for humans and animals. Monitor the thermostat at home, work, and church. Replace plastic bags with reusable fabric bags.
It’s easy to get “compassion fatigue” in the face of so. much. suffering. But with the help of the Spirit, we can wait on the Lord, find renewed strength, run and not grow weary. We have many opportunities to minister to Jesus in the face of His image-bearers. Imagine this: “I was flooded and you rescued Me…I was hurricane-tossed and you gave Me shelter… My house fell on my family and you came to comfort Me… I made the earth and you cared for it… I was hungry and you fed me…”
Sandra Glahn is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and the author or coauthor of 20+ books, including Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible.