As Hurricane Irma marched across the Caribbean last month, she left behind a shocking trail of destruction. Cars, homes, crops, boats and belongings were battered and scattered. Looting made things worse. Fortunately, only a few lives were lost, but years of rebuilding will be needed before earnings from tourism and agriculture return to normal. Among the islands to suffer when the eye of the storm passed over it was little Anguilla, just 13 miles long, where I taught O and A level Geography and English for two years in the early 1970s. I am confident that its 13,000 resilient inhabitants will rebuild their homes and their lives on this extremely beautiful island.
However, some people (there and here) might well be asking – How can God allow such bad things to happen? A primitive response might have been “the gods are angry”. Today our scientific understanding has developed considerably about tropical storms, flooding, tectonic plates, volcanoes, earthquakes and safer construction methods. Powerful natural forces are a “given” about how our planet works, though we should not rule out possible environmental damage resulting from irresponsible human activities and practices. The question ‘Why does God allow it?’ has no easy answer.
The sheer power of these natural forces can also inspire awe and wonder. We often talk as if we control everything, but we are reminded how vulnerable we are in this vast universe. Compassion and prevention are two very practical Christian responses to suffering of any kind, including natural disasters. Compassionate, effective action is vital in rescue, relief and rebuilding work. Prevention work helps reduce the impact of similar incidents in future, through better building locations, methods and materials, warning systems and response plans.
Our Christian faith also gives us assurance and confidence. With the writer of Psalm 46, we can say: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging”. So even if you feel as if you are in the eye of the storm, don’t abandon hope. God does care about you.
Rev Fred Olney