Faith Amid the Sorrow

Background Passages: Job 3:24-26; Romans 12:9-13

He sat on the ground covered in the dust, overwhelmed by all that occurred to him. He lost everything and faced rebuilding what remained of a shattered life. Shaken to the core by circumstances beyond his control, Job revealed the anguish in his heart.

“For sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared most has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

When I offered my last devotional post two weeks ago, my family and my community braced for what our weather forecasters called a “major flood event.” I know enough to know that forecasting remains ever an inexact science with constantly changing variables and frequently reflects the worst case scenario. Their suggestion that rains brought by Tropical Storm Harvey might exceed 50 inches seemed outlandish. This time they pegged it. My neighborhood received in excess of 51 inches. Other areas of Houston experienced more.

My family and I remain thankful our homes did not flood, but many across our area and all of southeast Texas were not as fortunate. During the storm it seemed it would never stop raining. The waters rose and fell in the streets and yards, depending on the strength of the rain at that moment, until the rivers, creeks, bayous and drainage ditches spilled over their banks. Then, the waters just rose.

Some people faced imminent threat to the lives of their families. First responders and complete strangers went out in waves of high water vehicles and small boats to bring thousands trapped in their homes to the relative safety of hastily improvised shelters. Many more thousands huddled on furniture or upstairs as the waters climbed inside their homes. By the time the rains stopped, thousands of homes were flooded.

Those who experienced the flooding stand in a mess not of their making and face rebuilding what remains of their storm-shattered lives. You can read Job’s words etched in their bewildered faces, “For sighing has become my daily food.”

Surveying the damage, many of them feel uncertain as to where to begin the process of cleaning up. What items must be discarded? What can be saved? For those on fixed retirement incomes or those without flood insurance, they wonder how they will find the funds to rebuild what was destroyed or replace what was lost? In the midst of such uncertainty, they find no peace. No quietness. No rest. Only turmoil.

Two things impressed me in Harvey’s aftermath. First, the victims of the flood who I knew to be followers of Christ, though obviously struggling at times to hold it together, remained steadfast in their faith. You see, sorrow and faith are not mutually exclusive. Job’s distress ran deep, but so did his faith. His heart bore the burden of his grief at the same time it welcomed the hope borne of his faith. Our friends and neighbors showed the same faithful resolve while grieving over all that was lost. I found their strength inspiring.

My church, like so many other churches and organizations, like so many individuals, jumped in to provide resources and labor to help victims of the storm begin walking down the road to recovery. Many of our people worked the shelter and processed thousands of requests for supplies of clothing and food donated from across the country. Our “mud out” teams gathered each morning and went to homes in our community to help friends and neighbors clean up from the storm.

God taught another lesson in the two weeks since the storm. Christians do not hold a monopoly on caring. Across the area, there were people of every background helping others in need. Basic humanity compels us to reach out to those who hurt. The world responds to dramatic need out of a sense of community service and charity. However, for followers of Christ, the motivation to help ought to exceed obligations of social concern and benevolence.

The Christian response ought to be grounded in love. The Greek language of the New Testament used four unique words for “love.” There is God’s love (agape) for his creation and his children. There is a romantic or sexual love (eros) and the love for a friend (philia).

Paul offered another word used only this time in the New Testament. It is the word storge. It is a love derived from natural attachment. The love a mother feels the moment she sees her newborn baby for the first time. The love flows automatically because of the natural connection between them.

Paul, in writing to the church in Rome, said the Christian response of human need must surpass social concern or civic duty. When facing human need, followers of Christ ought to demonstrate God’s love to everyone for no other reason than he created them in his image just as he created those of us who call him Savior. It is not a love that can be faked.

Look at what Paul said in Romans 12:9-13.

“Love (storge) must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Throughout the week as teams went into homes to jump start the process of recovery from the storm, this passage manifested itself in the lives of the volunteers time and time again. Not just in the things that were being done, but through whispered words of encouragement. The hug or the arm around a sagging shoulder. The expressions of hope. The prayers voiced aloud and uttered in silence. The sharing of resources.

The countless acts of love demonstrated over the past two weeks did not end the anguish for those who suffered so much. It is my hope that each piece of sheetrock and insulation removed made recovery come a little quicker; a little easier.

As I spent my time at work, I could not help but see God’s love at work as his people put their love and faith in action. Amid the ugly devastation of the past two weeks, I find that beautiful.

*****

Our prayers go out today for all of those in the Caribbean whose lives were forever changed by the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Irma. We pray for safety and comfort for the people of Florida who face the strength of the storm and the inevitable struggle for recovery in the coming days.

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