A Theology of Hurricanes

Those who live in the southeastern United States are no stranger to hurricanes. In New Orleans, they throw hurricane parties in the streets of the French Quarter to celebrate the arrival of another storm. Most people adopt a soberer view of the storms, however. With the arrival of a hurricane, bread disappears from local grocery stores, lines at gas stations grow to unreasonable lengths, and people hunker down and wait for the power to go off. Hurricanes are simply a natural part of living so close to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Bible teaches us that we can learn about God from the created order. Known as general revelation, the idea here is that God spread knowledge of himself throughout his creation. It’s as if God’s fingerprints are all over the world. Take, for example, Jesus’s comment in Matthew 6:25-27. In this passage, Jesus observes that God set up his creation in such a way that it would provide for the birds. From this, Jesus tells us that we can trust that God will provide for us since we see him providing for animals in nature.

Hurricanes can teach us at least two things about God and his creation.

1. Hurricanes remind us of the reality of evil.

The best objection to Christianity is the problem of evil. Roughly stated, the problem of evil alleges that there is a contradiction between three Christian beliefs:

  1. God is all-powerful.
  2. God is good.
  3. Evil exists.

The proponent of the problem of evil claims that we cannot hold that God is all-powerful, good, and that evil exists. Our opponent claims that if God was really all-powerful and good, he would snuff out evil. Thus, the existence of evil is evidence that God is either not as good as we think he is, or he is not as powerful as we claim. The famous agnostic David Hume sums up this argument when he says: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”

To answer this problem, philosophers differentiate between two different types of evil: moral evils and natural evils. Moral evils are evils that arise from free moral actions. Going back at least to Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century, many Christians have held that the blame for moral evils belongs to the human actor. God gave us free will which we then used for inappropriate ends. God allows this to go on because he sees a greater good that can only be accomplished by allowing us to maintain our free will. Thus, though murder is certainly evil, the responsibility for the murder belongs to the one who murders. It makes no sense to blame God for our bad behavior.

However, a hurricane is a natural evil. No human actor caused a hurricane; instead, hurricanes are the result of forces that are largely outside of human control. Hurricanes destroy possessions, homes, and lives for no apparent reason. They’re just a natural feature of the world.

Natural evils point us to a deep theological truth: The world is not what God created it to be. In God’s original plan, the tropics did not produce storms of staggering intensity and size such as hurricanes. In God’s original plan, humans were to reign over a peaceful creation as the image of God. We were to be creation’s representatives before God and to manifest the power, presence, and paternal care of God to creation. We were to be to creation what Jesus is to us.

When we sinned, we traded in God’s plan and introduced unprecedented problems to creation. As the leaders of creation, our sin had a negative effect on creation in the same way that our political leaders’ poor decisions have negative effects on us. Due to our sin, we, along with all of creation, have been cursed and must live with the ramifications of our sin. It’s as if God created a smoothly operating machine which we proceeded to break. To paraphrase Paul, creation groans as if in childbirth because it is not in its natural state.[1] Indeed, creation groans for a return to normalcy. Hurricanes are a powerful reminder that something in creation is not right.

2. Hurricanes remind us of God’s power.

It’s difficult to grasp the size and strength of a hurricane. Hurricanes are so powerful that they can rip a large oak tree from the ground with the roots still attached. Hurricanes are so large that they can bring unrelenting rain to large sections of an area at one time.

The Bible unashamedly teaches that God has no counterpart. He is the one above all of creation, and no one and nothing can rival him. Instead, everything—including a hurricane—is subservient to him and falls short of his power. No matter how big a hurricane gets, we remember that our God is larger. No matter the strength of the winds, we remember that our God is stronger. When we grasp the sheer power of a hurricane, we remember that a hurricane is small and weak in comparison to the raw power of our God.

Notes & Sources

[1] See Romans 8:22.

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