I sit looking out the window as I write. The rain continues to fall, just as it has for the past three days. We are told that three more days of rain are still to come. Buildings are flooding, streets are collapsing, levees threaten to be breached. If Houston were a towel, I cannot imagine how many days, and months, and even years, it would take to wring it dry. One of the most disconcerting facts of the storm is that it hems you in. My neighborhood remains in good shape. Our drainage has been good, and all is well…for now. Not far from us, though, are friends who have been flooded out. We want to help, but the roads are closed. Hopelessly unable to help, we sit, and I write.
I get asked questions frequently about God and life and faith. There is hardly a question asked more frequently than, Why does the bad stuff happen? Or more specifically, Why are there hurricanes and tornadoes and floods, and where is God, if He exists, in the midst of them? I wonder if questions like these will become more frequent in the days to come. In some ways, I hope they do. They are worthy of the times.
The God and suffering question can be approached in many ways. I won’t attempt to come at it from all the possible angles. Here I will just offer one. Let me say upfront, however, that I never propose to answer why God has allowed a particular disaster to befall anyone. I do not know if God has very specific reasons for seeing a family lose a child, or for a Midwestern town being decimated by a tornado, or for a city like Houston experiencing massive flooding. I do believe, though, that there are some general reasons that can give us perspective, and one has to do with deeper magic.
Deeper magic is not my phrase. I borrow it from C.S. Lewis. He used it in his classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Aslan, the Christ-like figure, was willingly captured by the witch and killed. All seemed lost for those who had any desire for good in the land of Narnia. But then Lewis’ story reminds us that in the dark hour of Aslan’s death, there was a deeper magic at play. Evil’s seeming victory was short-lived; Goodness would win and the witch and her minions would find themselves on the run from there on out.
One way to look at the Houston flooding is to believe there is a deeper magic at work. There are lost lives, and homes, and businesses, and dreams. But perhaps, just maybe, there is a deeper work going on that more than justifies the scale of suffering, a work that will make even this disaster seem like a light and momentary affliction.
Towards the end of Jesus’ life, he spoke of his return. A return not marked by the grace of his first coming, but by a judgment that would separate the sheep from the goats, those who sought his mercy and forgiveness from those who didn’t. Among his words, is this warning:
But as for that day and hour no one knows it — not even the angels in heaven — except the Father alone. For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:36-39)
Of course, given the circumstances besetting Houston at this time, the term flood jumps off the page. “What? Did Jesus say flood?” Yes, he did. He referred to a flood that makes what is happening in Houston child’s play. Even if you don’t believe there could have been a global flood, there are simply too many ancient accounts of a catastrophic flood to think that something of monumental proportions did not happen in the days of Noah. But let’s look at Jesus’ point in bringing up that epic flood. Maybe we will find some deeper magic at work.
Jesus says that the day of his impending judgment cannot be predicted. No three- or four-day warning like we get on The Weather Channel. Think if no warnings had been given in advance of today’s Houston flooding. How much more damage would there be? How many more lives would be lost? But Jesus is emphatic, there will be no specific warning of his return. The warning is the warning he gave when he first walked the earth. The warning is the warning given when the earth flooded in Noah’s day. And the warning is floods that happen today in cities like Houston.
Scripture tells us in no uncertain terms that God promised never to send another flood like that which beset Noah’s era, but it says nothing of God promising not to send smaller regional floods and disasters. So how do we interpret these events? I tend to believe it is best to think of them as aftershocks of sorts, as echoes of the same warning spoken in the flood of all floods. Jesus said the flood of Noah’s day caught people off guard. They should have known better; they should have listened to Noah. But they didn’t, and they paid dearly for it. They didn’t heed his call.
Now, echoing through the millennia, is a similar call to be ready. Tornadoes and earthquakes and hurricanes cry out to us: “Turn back, get on the boat, call out to Jesus! No time to waste! He will return, and there will be no second chances!” In Noah’s day “people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark.” Sadly, people do the same today. They live with no thought of what is beyond. They mock the coming return of Jesus, by doing as they please. No worries, be happy” is their mantra. All the while, the clock ticks down, the flood waters gather their wrath.
“So what about the deeper magic?” you ask. “What deeper magic is there in all of this flooding?” It is this: Some will hear the echoing message wrapped up in Houston’s flood waters. Some will be reminded that this life is fragile. Some will recognize they are nothing compared to nature and its Creator and Sustainer. And some, in the midst of all this tragedy, will make themselves ready. Not ready for an elongated power outage, or for months or years without a home. But ready for eternity. And they will make themselves ready by turning to Jesus. And they will be saved, not for a day, not to live for a few more decades, but from evil and death into all eternity.
If this deeper magic is at work, then Houston’s flooding is not a loss, not by a long shot. And we have reason, even as the rain continues to fall, to give thanks and praise to the One who opens the heavens.
John likes to help people wrestle with the big questions of life in his work with Search Ministries. He served as a pastor in Houston for 16 years, earned his doctorate at Biola University, and is a contributing author of Reasons to Believe: Thoughtful Responses to Life’s Toughest Questions.