In early September I watched a documentary on PBS called “Killer Landslides,” which focused on the devastating landslides in Oso, Washington, in Afghanistan, and in Nepal, which collectively resulted in hundreds of human fatalities.
From a strictly scientific perspective the evolving nature of our natural environment is subject to dramatic and violent events, caused by such forces as underlying tectonic plates, volcanic action, and climate change. A recent visit to Hawaii’s Kilauea volcanic caldera convinced me of nature’s violent potential.
From a Christian perspective, however, these natural disasters, including earthquakes (such as the recent ones in southern Mexico), tornadoes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and–of course–hurricanes, all remind us that we live in a fallen world, subject to danger and potential destruction.
People who live in close proximity to these cataclysmic forces of nature can expect to fall victim to them sooner or later. Common sense would dictate that people should avoid living in these areas; yet it’s not that simple. Poor people usually can’t choose where to live and end up on precarious hillsides or perilous, flood-prone lowlands.
Conversely, some of the most productive and prosperous communities (Houston and Miami, for example) are located in vulnerable places. Which brings me to some observations concerning Hurricane Harvey, most of which also apply to ironically named Hurricane Irma, which means “sister” in Portuguese, as well as to Hurricane Maria.
The silver lining to Harvey, if there is one, revealed the essential generosity and goodwill of people in Texas and beyond. Volunteers from all over the nation showed up to help, and millions of dollars have already been donated. One news story reported that a Red Cross chapter came all the way from Hawaii. A well-known San Antonio billionaire contributed five million dollars to relief and reconstruction. Houston Texans star linebacker, J. J. Watt, also contributed generously to Harvey relief.
A fellow church member, whose vacation home in Rockport was badly damaged, commented on the generous outpouring of support in that location. He was especially impressed by members of a girl’s soccer team from Corpus Christi, who showed up to help, and a young boy who helped his father distribute ice from their pickup truck. And these are just a few examples. No doubt numerous first responders and others risked their lives to rescue people–and even their pets.
Of course, the power of prayer must not be ignored in these destructive events. In spite of Harvey’s immense destruction in the Houston-Beaumont area, as well as Irma’s similar path of destruction in Florida and Maria’s in the Caribbean, individual and collective prayers undoubtedly meliorate d the situation in ways that we may never know.
In responding to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma especially, many Americans were guided–either consciously or unconsciously–by Jesus’ echo of Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39 NIV ), and by the Apostle Paul’s injunction in Philippians 3:3-4, “In humility value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.”
Our calling as committed Christians is to follow Christ’s positive rendering of the “Golden Rule” (Mt. 7:12) at every opportunity, catastrophic or mundane, and ask his forgiveness whenever we fail as imperfect disciples to do so.