We need to look at life through the lens of Scripture and always be learning.
Hurricane Irma hit mainland Florida on September 10. I am a native Floridian and I travel there to visit Mom (age 93) and other relatives as often as I can. I was scheduled to fly into Tampa on September 8 but cancelled the trip due to the approaching hurricane. Growing up in Florida, I experienced many hurricanes. As a nine year old, I was staying with my grandparents north of Lakeland when the eye of Donna came right over central Florida in 1960. It came ashore as a category 4 with sustained winds of 130mph. I remember that it came through at night and you couldn’t see what was happening, but the terrible winds were frightening. Donna damaged more than 5,000 houses on the mainland mostly on the Gulf Coast. Then it exited north Florida, increased in intensity, and hit North Carolina.
On September 8, Irma looked like it would be much, much nastier than that. It was the most powerful Atlantic storm on record as it wreaked havoc on the Caribbean and Cuba.
Consider some lessons from a hurricane:
JUDGMENT AND CHASTISEMENT AND CALL TO REPENTANCE
From a biblical perspective, there can be no doubt that the steady onslaught of “billion dollar storms”--with the loss of life and property and business and the mind-boggling increase in debt--are a judgment upon America for her moral wickedness and the deep compromise of her churches. There have been more than 200 such weather disasters since 1980. And the cost is rising and the debt is rising. One senator told the news media that Congress is ready to do whatever is needed for the costs of Irma, but that is not true. All they will do is increase the nation’s already unfathomable debt.
No nation since Israel of old has had such light of Scripture or sinned against that light so brazenly as America. America’s Christians should be on their knees, but mostly it is party time as usual, even in the face of terrible storms.
God sends trouble for many reasons, but one of those is for repentance. Joel describes a judgment God sent to Israel, a judgment on their agriculture (Joel 1:2-4) and a judgment at the hand of Israel’s enemies (Joel 1:6-7). These were acts of God’s mercy to call the people to repentance.
“Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God. Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD” (Joel 1:13-14).
“Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (Joel 2:12-13).
This is a description of true repentance, and this is what the Almighty is saying to America, but few are listening. The interpretation of Joel pertains to the day of the Lord and God’s redemption of Israel, but the application is for today. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
Every Bible-believing church in America should heed the call of Joel. It would change things. It would change things greatly.
President Trump’s “day of prayer” on September 3 was nothing, really, other than an acknowledgment that there is some sort of unnamed God. The proclamation made far more ado about man’s ability than God’s. Trump said, “As Americans, we know that no challenge is too great for us to overcome.” He then urged Americans thusly: “Each of us, in our own way, may call upon our God for strength and comfort during this difficult time.” It’s a prayer about man, not about God. It’s a prayer to a God who is there only to help man. There is no mention of the nation’s sin against God. No call to repentance. No mention of Jesus Christ, in whose name and by whose atonement alone a sinner can acceptably approach unto God.
Trump’s day of prayer is not a day of prayer after the fashion of earlier times in American history. The nation was birthed and carried along by real biblical prayer.
At least 16 times, the Continental Congress proclaimed days of fasting, repentance, and prayer, “and the entire American community repaired to their various churches on such days” (Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, Vol. 1).
For example, a resolution in 1776 called upon all Americans “that we may, with united hearts, CONFESS AND BEWAIL OUR MANIFOLD SINS AND TRANSGRESSIONS, AND, BY A SINCERE REPENTANCE AND AMENDMENT OF LIFE, appease his [God’s] righteous displeasure, and, THROUGH THE MERITS AND MEDIATION OF JESUS, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies.”
This is the “day of prayer” that America needs today and it is the only type of prayer that will bring any substantive change. God doesn’t hear human-centered prayers offered to a nameless deity.
MERCY AND ANSWERED PRAYER
Another lesson from Irma is that God is a merciful and very longsuffering God. He waited 250 years to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel after the wicked and brazen establishment of an idolatrous religion by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12). He waited 150 years after Ahab and Jezebel introduced Baal worship. All that time, God was sending the prophets to call Israel to repentance.
I have no doubt that God answered prayer and showed great mercy in regard to Irma. We cannot forget that there are still many God-fearing people in America, and God has mercy on the nation for their sake and for their prayer’s sake.
The day before Irma hit, when it was a category 5 storm and when it looked like Florida would be devastated like the Caribbean islands had been devastated, some of which are currently uninhabitable, I sent the following note to some of my relatives:
“Grandma used to write out her prayers, which I always found to be interesting. Here is mine today, ‘Lord, America has sinned greatly against the light of your Word. We deserve any judgment you give us. But we are asking for and trusting in your mercy. You told us to pray, and we are looking for answered prayer. We ask that this great storm will not devastate Florida and not harm any of your many people living there. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.’”
Others were praying after this fashion. Within hours the storm weakened and it hit the Florida mainland as a category 2 and not the category 4 or 5 that was expected. There was a lot of damage, billions of dollars’ worth, probably, but the damage was nothing compared to what it would have been. One news source had the headline “Florida dodges a canon.” Indeed. The storm surge that deluged Jacksonville could have deluged every city and town on both coasts. The winds from a category 4 or 5 would have ruined buildings throughout the state. It could have destroyed thousands of expensive boats and tens of thousands of Florida’s mobile homes. It could have been a trillion dollar storm.
Those who are thanking “good luck” for this respite are foolish and blind.
In these natural disasters, America’s benevolent spirit is on display. Though America has fallen far in character from what it was in past times because of her general rejection of God’s Word, America is still powerfully influenced by the Bible. Neighbor helps neighbor. Strangers help strangers. The entire nation responds to these things with an outpouring of compassionate help.
The response of the U.S. government itself is a reflection of biblical values. For the most part, the response was benevolent, efficient, unified, and honest. From the local level to the federal, there is little corruption and self-seeking in these events.
As an individual who has spent 28 years of his life living outside of America and who has traveled to about 50 countries, I see these things through different eyes. Americans complain about their government, and there is plenty to dislike, but compared to South Asia or China or South America and Africa, even most of Europe, the U.S. government is still the world model of efficiency, justice, and honesty (again, measured by the standard of this world, not by the standard of God’s Word). One time I told an Indian man in Nepal that I had never heard of anyone having to bribe to get a government service in America, and he didn’t believe me!
The preparations for Irma were impressive, and the cooperation between the federal, state, and local governments and between government and business and between government and private entities such as the Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse, was wonderful to behold. Tens of thousands of people moved to shelters as they were instructed, but everything was orderly; little or no pushing and shoving and fighting, not much self-seeking. Theft and looting was the rare exception. For the most part, it was neighbor helping neighbor and stranger helping stranger. This is not man’s natural way; it is a reflection of the powerful influence of the Bible upon a people.
When the famous Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn visited America, he said, “The United States has long shown itself to be the most magnanimous, the most generous country in the world. Wherever there is a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a natural disaster, an epidemic, who is the first to help? The United States. Who helps the most and unselfishly? The United States.”
The U.S. Department of Defense is one of the world’s largest providers of international aid and disaster relief, and this reflects the nation’s benevolent spirit. A U.S. aircraft carrier is en route to provide assistance to non-American territories that were hit hard by Irma. The U.S. Navy has two massive hospital ships that are mostly devoted to aiding the needy. The USNS Mercy and the USNS Comfort “serve as 70,000-metric-ton symbols of how much America cares as a nation and as a people” (“Hospital Ships,” navy.com). Converted from oil supertankers, the two ships originally cost $560 million. The ships are each 894-feet long (the length of three football fields) and the height of a 10-story building. Each ship is a 1,000-bed hospital that carries 700 medical personnel at full capacity. On a visit to Southeast Asia in 2010, the USNS Mercy treated 109,754 patients and performed 1,580 surgeries. In 2015, the USNS Comfort provided care for more than 120,000 patients in 11 countries in the Caribbean and South and Central America. These projects are funded by the U.S. government with assistance by volunteer medical personnel and supplies donated by private organizations.
Such neighborly love is the fruit of the Bible on Western Society.
(For more about this see The Bible and Western Society. This 240-page book is available to view online, to download as a free eBook, or to purchase in print edition - www.wayoflife.org.)
The final lesson I would mention is that Irma is a forewarning of what is coming. Isaiah 29:6 prophesies of the Great Tribulation when the world will be visited by God “with storm and tempest.” Revelation 6-18 describes these terrible judgments. Billions will die.
Why? Because man has sinned against God and broken His holy laws, beginning with the first law which is to love God with all the heart, soul, and strength, and most men have ignored the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ and have refused to repent and receive God’s compassionate offer of salvation. Instead of humbling themselves before the Creator, mankind in general has walked in pride.
This present situation will not long continue. The end is near. In the coming day, “the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low” (Isaiah 2:11).
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