Gratitude, God, Fear and Hurricanes

Having moved to Florida a few months ago, I wasn’t exactly expecting to experience a hurricane so soon, especially given that where we moved (the Tampa area) hasn’t had a direct hit since 1921. I guess we’re just good luck! Of course I don’t believe in luck, but in the sovereign, providential hand of Almighty God. But we didn’t get to experience the hurricane because we chickened out and left the state to environs well north to stay with family for a few days.

The word gratitude is a strange one to associate a “natural” disaster, unless the disaster was somehow escaped. I put the word natural in quotes because the basic assumption of people who live in the 21st century secular West is that the universe, and nature, is a closed system. In other words, even if they admit a God into the picture, he/she/it is a God similar to what Enlightenment Deists believed about God. He was to them an all-powerful Creator who built the machine, got it up and running, and let it do it’s thing based on “natural” laws. Orthodox, Bible-believing Christians know of no such God.

Even a cursory reading of Scripture communicates a God who is sovereign (ultimate ruler) over all of his creation. Some examples: I read the book of Daniel not too long ago, and what stood out to me was God’s providential, sovereign rule over all things, including nature (e.g., dreams, fire, lions), nations, rulers, and armies. Paul says in Acts 17 that God “gives all men life, and breath, and everything else.” Jesus, himself God in the flesh, speaks to nature and “even the wind and the waves obey him.” Jesus spoke to a dead man (Lazarus), and brought him back from death, not to mention his own resurrection. Paul says elsewhere that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” You get the point. So whether a hurricane destroys or doesn’t, God is providentially in control of every moment of it.

But what about gratitude being associated with fear? I recently re-read a novel by Umberto Eco called The Name of the Rose. Toward the end of the book one of the characters is speaking of the danger of laughter:

Laughter, for a few moments, distracts the villein from fear. But law is imposed by fear, whose true name is fear of God. This book could strike the Luciferine spark that would set a new fire to the whole world, and laughter would be defined as the new art, unknown even to Prometheus, for canceling fear. To the villein who laughs, at that moment, dying does not matter: but then, when the license is past, the liturgy again imposes on him, according to the divine plan, the fear of death. And from this book there could be born the new destructive aim to destroy death through redemption from fear. And what would we be, we sinful creatures, without fear, perhaps the most foresighted, the most loving of the divine gifts?

Fear as a divine gift . . . more on that in a second.

Think of a villein as an average Joe, and laughter as a means to distract Joe from what he should fear, inevitable death. License in this context is laughter, the distraction, but what brings Joe back to the stark reality of his mortal existence is the liturgy, or the religious exercises that point to the pressing nature of his need for victory over death in Christ. Hurricanes, while not liturgy, ought to illicit fear, which is a gift because it helps us realize that we are in fact mortal, and that our mortality ought to encourage us to realize the obvious: we will not live forever!

I am convinced most people do think they will live forever, even if the most obvious thing about our existence is that we will not. This is especially true in our secular, health-obsessed, airbrushed Western culture, where health and beauty are worshiped as ultimate values. We are also sold distractions, non-stop, to give our lives some sense of meaning, and to keep us from thinking about . . . death.

That is why we can be grateful for hurricanes. They are scary monsters that remind us that life on this mortal coil is brief and tenuous, that it can be taken from us at any moment, and we ought to live in light of that.