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God and His Kingdom in Hurricane Ian

I have created this post with significant contributions from my long-time friend, Don Stephens. You can read more of Don’s work at Dispatches from the Shadowlands .

Hurricane Ian undoubtedly prompted some to ask the age-old question, “Why does God permit disasters to happen, especially when he has claimed this world as his Kingdom?” Believers as well as non-believers stood in the path of its fury. Didn’t Christ still a storm to save his disciples? Matthew 8:23-27. Why not now?

We all know deep in our hearts that we are not perfect. We hear it in our thoughts and words and see it in our behavior. Nevertheless, we see God’s hand in the beauty and seeming perfection of the natural world about us. When that beautiful natural world rears up in terrible power and destruction we, therefore, easily tend to see God’s hand in that as well.

The problem is that although we know we are imperfect, we expect the world about us to be perfect. God may have promised perfection someday, Revelation 21:4, but that day is not today. Paul explained in Romans 8:18-25 that all of creation shares our imperfection. The beauty of the world may lull us, but it, too. is flawed. Paul likens the world to a woman in the pain of childbirth, groaning to birth a better life. That world has not yet been born. The one we have is flawed.

So what does that mean for storms such as Hurricane Ian? Disasters, just as pain, sorrow, and death, are part of the overall imperfection of life. In Romans 8:28, Paul provides assurance “that all things work together for good for those who love God.” That assurance leads many to believe God will protect them from suffering, and confuses them when he does not. Paul’s oft-ignored conclusion, however, is that God may intervene “to those who are called according to his purpose.” He acts according to his purpose, not ours.

God’s purpose and his Kingdom experienced now is spiritual and relational, not physical and material. He seeks a spiritual relationship with each of us, and then for each of us also to be in a relationship with others. The imperfection within us and in the world about us does not mean God’s Kingdom is not with us. But so is suffering.

Suffering marks all humanity as imperfect residents in an imperfect world. God does not cause suffering, but in his spiritual economy, it plays an indispensable role. Suffering can open a heart to God. He uses it to shape us, refine us, and turn us to him and into the sort of people he seeks for his Kingdom. Once we have suffered, we understand the suffering of others. From our suffering, God will flow compassion for others. In that compassion, we and others experience God and his Kingdom.

One of the best places to see the Kingdom is in the compassion that pours out to those devastated by a storm. Christ moves people to act in countless ways to meet others’ suffering. Organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse, The Salvation Army, and many churches are obvious examples. The defining examples, however, are individuals, not organizations. Everything from a kind word, a cold drink, or a dramatic life-saving rescue may each open a window to Kingdom life.

The Kingdom lives in the space between the outstretched hand of one person seeking to comfort to the hand of another. Both know suffering. We twenty-first century Christians are big on God’s promises until we come to John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation.” The beauty of the Kingdom is that it gives meaning to our suffering. Though we may recoil from the pain, and fail to understand such brutality, we can be confident that suffering is a specialty tool in the workshop of our good and wise God. Welcome to the workshop.

© 2022, Donald Stephens and Thomas Trezise

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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