As I write this, several million homes are without power on the East Coast due to Hurricane Sandy. Except for natural disasters like this one, it’s easy to forget our connection to the weather, nature, and the rest of Creation. Even for those in the midst of the hurricane, modern comforts — like Netflix, which experienced a boost in online streaming in the areas affected by severe weather — help take the edge off of the danger outside.
In the most recent episode of Mars Hill Audio, Norman Wirzba discusses his new book Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating. He quotes Wendell Berry, from his essay “In Distrust of Movements,” on the subject of our modern separation from the reality of the world:
Educated minds, in the modern era, are unlikely to know anything about food and drink, clothing and shelter. In merely taking these things for granted, the modern educated mind reveals itself also to be as superstitious a mind as ever has existed in the world. What could be more superstitious than the idea that money brings forth food?
When the stores are sold out of food and all the bridges and tunnels are closed, the tenuous connection between money and food becomes clear.
Still, we don’t usually expect the wind and the rain to try to kill us. The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson suggested on Monday that we might be naïve for assuming all will be well in our relationship with Earth:
FYI: Earth has always been supremely hostile to life. That’s why more than 95% of all species that ever lived are now extinct
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 29, 2012
Compared to the rest of the universe, Earth would hardly be considered hostile, yet he makes a good point. Instead of wondering “why” when something bad happens, why aren’t we amazed by all the good we receive undeservedly, including life itself? Another way of looking at the situation: in his memoir about dying from esophageal cancer, Christopher Hitchens responded to the ultimate question about suffering — “Why?” — by asking instead, “Why not?”
As I was thinking about this storm, Jesus’ words came to mind about rain falling on both the righteous and unrighteous. It seemed like an appropriate verse for this week, but when I looked it up, as so often happens, the context was different than I remembered.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48)
In the agrarian context of the first century, the rain of Jesus’ example would have been considered a blessing by his listeners. (Thus it’s paired with sunshine.) So really this passage is about why God blesses everyone, regardless of their moral or spiritual state. Jesus does bring suffering into the discussion by speaking of persecution. His focus, however, isn’t solving the theodicy problem — it’s teaching us how to love and live like our Father in heaven.
Not surprisingly, this reminds me of God’s appearance at the end of Job. The theme of Job is, ostensibly, why bad things happen to good people. Job’s friends gather to try to explain to Job why such terrible things have happened to him. When God finally appears in Job 38 – 41, however, he brings a very different agenda to the meeting. This morning, I listened to my friend and former InterVarsity colleague Kenny Benge preach on this very passage, via the podcast of St. John’s Anglican Church in Franklin, TN.
Here’s how Kenny describes Job’s reaction to God’s presence in Job 42:
The gracious experience of Job in the face of a mysterious and holy God was to understand that he was a creature before a mysterious, awesome, beautiful Creator. There were many, many things that were beyond his understanding, but that was okay, because he knew that God was good.
Let us pray for those who need help after the storm. Let us mourn with those who mourn. May we, like Job, be able to affirm that God is good.