Fallen Creation and Hurricane Harvey

We live in a fallen world. From the time of Adam and Eve and first humanity’s turn away from God, from the time they broke their relationship with the Source of life, the world has been in turmoil. Yet, not only are we humans confronted with brokenness, suffering and death since the Fall, but even all of creation is in turmoil. Imagine, creation is affected by the fallen world. The Apostle Paul implies this when he writes in his letter to the Romans, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” and goes on to talk about the suffering and futility of creation, how creation itself will be “delivered from the bondage of corruption… For we know that the entire creation groans and labors with birth pang… waiting for redemption.” (Romans 8:18-23).

Just as humanity longs for redemption, and will find complete redemption ultimately in Jesus Christ’s victory in the kingdom of heaven, in like manner all of creation also awaits for redemption, and will only find it at the second coming of Christ Jesus. Until then, we have to deal with living in a fallen, broken world. A world where there is much suffering, darkness, and great mystery, along with beauty, love and goodness.

I begin my sermon today with this introduction about how all of creation is affected by the fallen world we live in, because this past week we witnessed what the National Weather Service called an “unprecedented and beyond anything experienced” natural disaster with Hurricane Harvey. Imagine, more than 52 inches of rain falling in such a short span of time, a record for the continental United States.

When we see such natural disasters, we may partially blame the severity on climate change, but we also have to realize that there have been hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and other such natural disasters throughout history. These are all a part of the “fallen world” in which we live.  And until the end times, we will continue to have such tragedies affecting the world.

Now, some will question, “Why did God allow Hurricane Harvey to occur? How could a loving God allow such natural devastation to happen?” Others could also point to human disasters and devastations from war and violence – the war in Syria or Yemen, the migrant crisis, and more extreme events like the Holocaust, the Gulag prisons from the Soviet Union, and horrific genocides that have occurred. When we are confronted with the evil of humanity, or the devastation of nature, this leads some to question “How can these things happen?  Why does God allow such events to occur?”

All these disasters and tragedies, which entail so much suffering, should wake us up from our comfortable lives, and make us think deeply about existential questions. They should also compel us to respond!

From the time of Job, the righteous man of the Old Testament who suffered immeasurably, to today “innocents” who suffer from natural and man-made disasters, our Judeo-Christian faith has proclaimed an important message in the face of unexpected suffering. Bishop Gerasimos, of blessed memory, said it best: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.”

Think about that, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived!”

As Christians, one of our first and foremost convictions of faith is the certainty that we finite beings can never fully comprehend the ways of our Almighty God. We humbly acknowledge that we will never know all the answers to the countless mysteries of life. We can’t answer why Hurricane Harvey, or some other natural disaster happens and causes such devastation. We can’t understand why “normal” people participate in genocides and other horrors against humanity.

We don’t always have answers, but we can acknowledge that “life is a mystery,” and as such, there will always remain some experiences, situations and encounters that we just can’t fully understand. We can also be sure of one thing, though, and that is in the midst of every difficult experience, disaster, and tragedy, God is still there. He is a God who is present in the midst of suffering. In fact, He is a God who has tasted the cruelest suffering himself – He willingly accepted to endure suffering on the Cross - so that he and we could then overcome it!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was originally a cry by David in the Old Testament. He begins Psalm 22 with these words of despair and doubt, yet concludes the psalm with the assurance God will prevail. “Those who seek the Lord,” David proclaims, “will praise Him.”

Jesus repeated this cry for help when he was crucified on the Cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But in that moment of ultimate suffering, He carried the sins of the world on His shoulders and accepted the great mystery of death itself, opening a new path for all humankind to new life. He destroyed death by His own death and opened the gates of paradise. His victory, we must always remember, came through the mystery of suffering!

So we may never fully understand the mystery of tragedies, disasters, and suffering, like that of Hurricane Harvey, but we can live through them with the hope and assurance of God’s presence! “I will be with you always,” our Lord Jesus promised, “even to the end of the age.”

Therefore, when asked the question of “Why?” we can answer without embarrassment, “We don’t know BUT we do know we live in a fallen world that is waiting itself to be renewed, along with all humanity. This fallen world itself is a mystery. Our goal is simply to live through that mystery with faith and with hope, loving and helping others!”

Here lies another important question, though, in the midst of any tragedy and suffering, especially during times like Hurricane Harvey. We go beyond the question of “Why” and address the question of “What should we do?” In the midst of suffering, we are God’s hands and feet, His instruments of help, healing and restoration.

Watching the heart-wrenching scenes of despair, especially now that many residents are trying to return home, we cannot but be moved by the human tragedy. And our inner conscience, inspired by the Holy Spirit, calls us to reach out and help, to assist in a concrete manner to all those suffering. For some, this concrete help will mean traveling to the afflicted areas and offering whatever expertise they have. For others, concrete help may mean opening their homes to house people with no home. For us who live in far away New England, what can we do?

First, as Christians we are called to pray for all those suffering. Pray first for the souls of those who perished unexpected deaths. Pray for all those whose lives have been shattered, either losing loved ones, losing homes and all possessions, and losing all sense of security. Pray that we will not forget, especially after these events are out of the news. These people’s lives have been changed forever by this disaster.

Prayer is essential, yet it is incomplete if we are not ready to put our prayer into action! We pray for those in need, but how are they to be helped if we ourselves don’t offer the help. Let us make a sacrifice and offer something substantial to those in need. After this sermon, we will pass around a tray which we will send to the IOCC, the International Orthodox Christian Charities, the Orthodox humanitarian agency which is already down in the Gulf States offering aid. Let us not put in the tray some amount that means nothing to us, an afterthought. Let us remember the scenes on TV this past week, and make a decision to offer something substantial, something meaningful, something sacrificial! In this manner, our prayers find support in our actions.

Remember: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” AND remember “The sufferings of this time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

We may not be able to answer fully “Why tragedies and disasters occur?” but we do know how to answer “What should we do?” Let each one of us respond in a concrete and substantial manner.

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