Why, God? Why did Hurricane Harvey have to happen? Did you send it? If so, why? If not, why did you stand by and let it happen?
Hurricanes have taken place before. So have floods and earthquakes and tornadoes. They are as essential a feature of this world as any other and have been for as long as it’s existed.
So given the harsh nature of this world, what is its purpose? Why this particular kind of existence, with all its potential for evil in men’s hearts and the chaos of the natural world?
This is the question that should be on the lips of anyone who’s ever seriously considered the existence of a benevolent God. No doubt it is on the lips of many as they experience firsthand or even watch on television the disaster that is Texas beneath the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey.
I saw on Twitter someone cynically asking Christians the following paraphrased question: Why did God unleash such a storm upon a state filled with so many who claim faith in him? And, I will add in the spirit of that question: Why does God’s omnipotent hand seem to paint such broad strokes of judgment across diverse regions of humanity?
I have no doubt many Christians are asking God that very thing, only earnestly. And that is good! That we ask this very thing should give rise to questioning our own heart before God. But we should remember, though the hurricane may have affected millions of lives, we don’t experience life as millions. We experience life as just one. And so the answer to the question of “Why?” is going to be as unique to you as your heart is to God.
But of course, as the old saying goes, rain falls on the just and the unjust, and disastrous weather can not be read as a simple judgment or punishment on all who feel its effects. Rather, I would suggest that, from God’s perspective, this great storm is actually an opportunity for us.
Yes, an opportunity. An opportunity for the goodness in a person’s heart to ripen into greatness as they sacrifice their well-being, their safety, their health, even their lives for the sake of others’. An opportunity for a people as divided and disparate as ours to reunite under the banner of America. An opportunity for troubled souls to forget the trappings of this mortal world and remember God.
Unfortunately, each of these opportunities is also a chance for failure. The most hellish of circumstances—war, natural disasters, large-scale tragedy—may reveal the best of humanity and also the worst. And it is why God gives us times of great extremity. They draw out our deepest natures and tell us and those around us who we truly are.
Where some find bravery in their heart and go to the rescue, others turn inward and seek only their own salvation and enrichment. Where some build bridges to reach out across the chasm, others scorn their political enemies and say that their perilous state is not just their own fault, but deserved. Where some see the chance to return to God and remember the things that truly matter in life, others see only the evil and reject even the possibility of God, for how could such a God let such horrible things as Hurricane Harvey happen.
So, where indeed is God in all this? That is simple: He is in other people. In the words of Spencer W. Kimball, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” God’s priority is not our everlasting comfort protected from all pain, but our increase of love for one another, our moral and spiritual growth. What is more unifying than allowing for a person’s rescue to be done at the hand of another of God’s children? What builds stronger bridges than risking our own breath and blood to save the stranded? What forges more loving relationships and fosters more loving hearts than the opportunity to give a hated political opponent a shoulder to weep against? What better circumstances can allow us to more clearly see the humanity in others?
This is true no matter what the disaster is that strikes a people. It happened so powerfully during the aftermath of 9/11. Do you remember those times, in the year or so after the attacks? The nation became deeply interwoven, no longer divided between political tribes. We cried together, we sang together, we prayed together. It was in those times that we most found ourselves and thus we most found God—He who allows our hearts to break in such a way that only He can knit them back together; He who gives us such problems that we can only turn to Him in our quest for understanding.
Today we’re more splintered than we’ve ever been. Are we capable of reunion? Are we capable of holding hands and turning back to God? We’d better be. God is giving us a chance. There may not be many more afterward.