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Responding to the fears of natural disasters

| by Jim Farrer

“Nature’s gone crazy,” claims Jeff Masters, meteorology director at the private service Weather Underground. Many believe that the recent solar eclipse which could be seen by a sizable swath of the United States set off a series of ominous circumstances: four large hurricanes, a powerful earthquake and devastating wildfires. To these fears pastors can bring both needed historical and Biblical perspective.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

The solar eclipse explanation for the our present situation seems plausible. However, isn’t there an eclipse somewhere on earth about every 18 months?

Weather events are unpredictable. While currently about 80 large wildfires burn in the western US, this number is still lower than in 2012 and 2015. Denver’s driest year on record was 2002. Some assumed that this would precede a long stretch of drought. But 2003 was one of Denver’s wettest years.

In 1972, Hurricane Agnes stormed up the east coast dropping 17 inches of rain in five days causing areas of flooding. In comparison few remember that on July 17, 1942, a storm deluged McKean County in northern Pennsylvania with 34 and one-half inches from the sky in just 12 hours!

Why were sandboxes placed on locomotives? According to the Tribune Review, it wasn’t snow and ice that necessitated that innovation. Rather it was a grasshopper plague in 1836 that covered the ground and tracks causing metal wheels to slip even in flat eastern Pennsylvania. In 2002, in many states west of the Mississippi River, highway officials erected signs saying “Slow down, slick roads.” The reason—up to 200 grasshoppers per square meter.

In preparing for a recent pilgrimage to Scotland, I reminded participants to be prepared for strong winds on the coasts and islands. According to a TIME-LIFE book on wilderness areas, on the isle of Barra, the wind once blew a fish to the top of a 630-foot cliff and moved a 42-ton block of rock five feet.

We shouldn’t be stupid.

Death Valley received its name for a reason. It is an almost uninhabitable place. Before the invention of air conditioning, the population was much lower in the hottest regions of the US. In the past, fewer also lived in flood zones. If they did, they risked regular times of destructive waters and also were forced to have expensive flood insurance to obtain a mortgage loan.

Even those making their living by dangerous livelihoods try to respect the weather. But according to in the Shetland Islands in 1881, “In one afternoon about 80 percent of the men and boys of the Shetlands drowned. A whole bunch of little communities never recovered.”

Native Americans seemed more aware of weather dangers and moved from place to place with the seasons to avoid misfortunes and famine. While food is important, Amos 8:11 alerts us that the most dangerous famine occurs when people refuse to feed on the Word of the LORD.

We shouldn’t be selfish.

Many of us desire that every day be sunny and between 70 and 80 degrees. In Israel, the locals pray for enough rain and often say they hope that God doesn’t heed the prayers of the tourists for perfect vacation weather.

George Will in his column of April 23, 2016, reminds us that we live in a fairly pleasant era. In the northern hemisphere, the period from the ninth through the thirteenth century is labeled the Medieval Warm Period while the era from 1640 through the 1690s is called the Little Ice Age. In 1816, according to the Weekly Recorder frost and snow occurred every month of the year in the northeast US.

The Ogallala Aquifer which stretches from South Dakota to Texas is being drained eight times faster than the rainfall can replenish it. While current farm usage brings healthy cattle and fruitful crops those farms within the area may soon vanish, and communities dwindle.

Perhaps this will lead to another “Dust Bowl” in our Midwest where in the 1930s skies were darkened as far as Washington DC. So much dust settled that in Kansas automobile roofs were dented in by the weight of the dust.

We should be alert but not afraid.

There will always be changes in weather. Just as Jesus calmed the water on the Sea of Galilee, the Lord today brings seasons of calm. Until this year, ten years had elapsed since a bad Atlantic hurricane had occurred. Deuteronomy 33:27 assures us that in the most tragic moments of life, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (RSV) reminds us that no matter whether we are dead or alive “we shall always be with the Lord.”

Professor Jacques Ellul declared, “For the Christian, the future is more certain than the present.”

Photo source: istock

Jim Farrer

A broadly-trained church consultant, Jim Farrer is the founder of Vital Signs Church Consulting and a member of the Society for Church Consulting. A veteran of ministry positions in Canada and the U.S., he has trained leaders from 18 denominations and led seminars and coaching sessions nationwide. His articles have been published in the Journal of Evangelism and Missions and the Great Commission Research Journal. You can reach him by e-mailing or calling 814 629-5211.

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