ISSUES OF FAITH: In light of tragedies, how should we respond?

WILDFIRES HAVE RECENTLY ravaged forests and property in the Pacific Northwest, including the Jolly Mountain fire near my hometown of Cle Elum.

Hurricane Harvey collided with Houston, and Hurricane Irma bounced off Cuba and into Florida.

Then Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico before heading toward the Dominican Republic.

Two earthquakes caused deadly havoc in Mexico, killing over 230 people.

And on the other side of the globe, seasonal floods drenched areas in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, displacing 1.5 million and killing over 221 people. And …

I kept track of all of this chaos from the comfort of my reclining chair as I read the Peninsula Daily News, switched TV channels with my remote, poked my iPhone and occasionally walked all the way to the refrigerator to find enough nourishment to return to my chair to find out if the world would explode or implode.

How should we respond?

First, we must guard against allowing our comfort to desensitize us from the pain and anguish others are experiencing. The Bible tells us to not only “rejoice with those who rejoice,” but to also “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15 NIV).

People are dying, and the cries of anguish are real. Do you hear them?

Second, while both empathy and sympathy are very appropriate, these should prompt us to take some course of action.

Some people might be prompted to bring hands and hearts to help. This is good.

Many are prompted to give financial help. This is good. Do your research, and give generously.

And still others, while not ignoring the current needs, are preparing locally in case a disaster should strike this area. This, too, is good. Be prepared.

Third, there is the call to pray. Pray for the people who are directly impacted by the ongoing cataclysmic disasters in the world, and pray for the first responders who often risk their lives to help. Pray for the various organizations and churches that are on the frontlines helping.

Some may think prayer is too passive and accomplishes too little. I beg to differ. Yes, prayer can be done casually, even flippantly, but prayer can also be done earnestly and effectively.

James provides us an encouraging, inspiring example of this when he writes: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:16b-18).

Be encouraged. God hears and answers prayers from people just like us.

While watching and listening to all the storms in the world recently — whether its earthly storms, political storms or cultural storms — I have experienced a deep, guttural groaning.

Romans 8:26 tells us that when we’ve exhausted ourselves on how we should pray that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (8:26). Amen.

And we do not groan alone.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (8:22-25).

Though I am confident that God’s cosmic plan is unfolding according to his time schedule, I admit that I can sometimes be impatient. In fact, I’m finding myself increasingly restless, increasingly excited for the culmination of God’s plan on this Earth and “waiting for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13) and where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 ESV).

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Greg Reynolds is pastor of Joyce Bible Church. His email is jbc@joycebiblechurch.org.

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