This past month has been a tough, confusing, and at times, chaotic month for many Americans across the East Coast of the United States.
Hurricane Florence — a Category 1 storm that had been labeled by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper as a “1,000-year rain event” — made landfall on Sept. 14 on North Carolina’s coast, and brought with it heavy rain, high winds, and dangerous flooding as it slogged its way across the Carolinas.
When natural disasters like Hurricane Florence happen, many people’s first response is to ball up their fists, raise them toward the sky, and cry out “Why? Why did you allow this to happen to us, God?”
I don’t think that’s an odd thing to question. Why does this happen? After all, God is in control of the entire universe; everything that happens — from the tiniest butterfly emerging from its chrysalis to the awe-inspiring and luminous galaxies that speckle the night sky — can be wiped out or put into motion at any instant by The Almighty above. It would make sense that if God wants his creation to thrive and live happy lives, then he wouldn’t allow us to suffer, right?
If you’re looking for a quick and easy answer to “why do we suffer?” in this column, then I’m afraid you’ll need to turn your attention to someone much smarter than I. I’m not a pastor. I don’t have a fancy theological degree from a prestigious seminary. I don’t have the right answers. I have just as many questions as you do.
As Christians and Methodists, we know that the Bible teaches that suffering is a direct result of sin and evil entering the world. But knowing why something happens doesn’t necessarily bring comfort. In all honesty, understanding why something happened often brings even more pain because you then begin to think about all of the things you could have done differently to prevent the results.
Even John Wesley couldn’t answer the question of why humans are forced to suffer tragedy, saying in one of his many famous sermons “we cannot say why God suffered evil to have a place in his creation; why he, who is so infinitely good himself, who made all things ‘very good,’ and who rejoices in the good of all his creatures, permitted what is so entirely contrary to his own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works.”
But even though we can’t answer the question of “why did this happen?” it is completely within our power to answer the question “what are we going to do now?”
As troubling as the news coming out of the East Coast has been these past few weeks, I am also not completely without hope. I have heard countless stories of the amazing ecumenical work that Christians have done to help folks who are no longer able to help themselves.
United Methodist congregants, both clergy and laity, sacrificed their resources — and at times their own safety — to ensure that no one was forgotten and left out in the storm.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief gave $10,000 in emergency grants to the North Carolina and South Carolina conferences.
Even those who do not reside in the conferences affected by Florence continue to give what they can through donations of money, food, clothing, soap, shampoo, bedding, clothes and more.
We’re never going to be able to find the answers we seek for why suffering and tragedy happen. It’s just not within the capacity of our tiny little human brains to understand. But when I hear stories like this of good people coming together to sacrifice their own time and resources to give others the assistance they need, I no longer ponder the question “why?” Instead, I reflect on the goodness of people and the hope I have that when disaster inevitably strikes again, there will always be a helping hand available – both heavenly and earthly – to pierce through the darkness and pull us out of despair.