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Faith Lessons from a Catastrophic Winter Storm

Atlanta and much of the South are blanketed under several inches of ice and snow today, the result of what the National Weather Service has called a "catastrophic event." Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal called it "one of Mother Nature's worst kinds of storms." Power is out and roads are impassible all across the region.

President Obama declared a state of emergency in Georgia before the storm even arrived. Governors of both Carolinas, Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland also declared states of emergency for much or all of their states. While the storm should not bring as much ice as it moves toward New England, it will cause snow accumulations of more than a foot in some places. 

When people hurt us, we can understand the theological logic that God is not to blame for the consequences of misused freedom. But when natural disaster strikes, there's no one to blame but him. It's true that creation "fell" when sin entered the world (Romans 8:22), so that there would have been no ice storms in the Garden of Eden. But God can intervene in nature, a fact proven across Scripture. Why, then, did he allow this storm? Why the tsunami in Southeast Asia or Hurricane Katrina?

I've been reading through Joseph's story in Genesis and came upon this statement: "Now the famine was severe in the land" (Genesis 43:1). This thought occurred to me: it would have been impossible for anyone victimized by that famine to understand God's redemptive purpose in allowing it. They could not possibly know that God would use the famine to bring and preserve Jacob's family in Egypt, then lead them out of Egyptian slavery four centuries later, establish them in the Promised Land, and eventually use their nation to bring the Messiah for all humanity. Those suffering from the famine lived and died with no concept of the larger story in which they played such a difficult role.

I wondered how much of the suffering we experience today is being redeemed in ways that are similarly unknowable to us. The fact that God is working through pain we cannot understand doesn't make the pain more intelligible, but it does give us hope as we endure it. Nothing in life is meaningless. "Now we see in a mirror dimly" and "know in part," but one day "I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Stoic Marcus Aurelius claimed, "If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment." We can "revoke" our estimate of our suffering by claiming the fact that God is using it to mold us into the character of Christ (Romans 8:29) and to accomplish his larger purposes in our world. The fact that we cannot see these purposes makes them no less real. We can't feel the warmth of spring in the dead of winter, but it's coming.

Artist Paul Gauguin said, "I shut my eyes in order to see." Sometimes we must do the same.

Publication date: February 13, 2014.

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