In the immortal words of James Taylor, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. Well, I haven’t actually seen that much of fire. I once drove up the coast of California from L.A. to Santa Barbara and saw wildfires at a distance burning up the scrub brush. I’ve also lived in Wisconsin where tornadoes are plentiful in the summer, and heard the sirens go off at 1 AM as the neighboring town of Barneveld was blown off the map by a twister. My only actual disaster experience was living through several pretty scary earthquakes in Southern California. One did a good deal of damage to my home, but I managed to escape—for the most part—unscathed.
But if I had to pick my least favorite “Act of God” type of disaster, I’d have to go with a flood. I once had a basement flooded by a bad rainstorm here in Philadelphia, and that was enough for me. In a flood, everything gets ruined. When the water subsides, all you have left is soggy, gooey mess. That’s followed by mold and mildew and disgusting stench and potential infection and disease. Also, you can’t escape from a flood. You can’t dive under a table like in an earthquake or head for the basement like in a tornado. You just have to get to higher ground and hope the water doesn’t rise too fast and help arrives in time.
Nobody is safe when the waters fall. They fall on the good and bad alike. Even Oprah Winfrey sustained property damage when the rains poured mud on her Montecito, CA home earlier this year. (And if Oprah isn’t safe, God help the rest of us!)
Yet, somehow, I take a little comfort in God’s wrath. Not that I wish harm on anyone, mind you. In fact, I’ve always been disturbed by the violence in the Noah story in Genesis (Genesis 6-10). It’s like God temporarily joined the NRA and thought that the answer to violence was more violence. Fortunately for us, God repents at the end of the story and promises never to destroy us with a flood again—at least not everyone at once.
What comforts me is the reminder of God’s awesome power. The flood story tells us again that we’re not the ones who drive this bus. When the rain comes down and the river rises, it doesn’t matter how rich, beautiful, important, or connected you are. It doesn’t matter what kind of degree hangs on your wall or trophy sits on your shelf. Your age, ethnicity, political affiliation, and religious denomination won’t be a differentiating factor. As much as we think of ourselves, God will have the final say.
And that should put some stuff in perspective for us. We better give a little bit of thought to the things we can control, because there’s a whole lot that we can’t.
Of course, besides the death and destruction aspect of the story, the other thing that gets me bothered about the tale of Noah is the idea that God singled out this one guy and saved him and his family when everyone else (and all the other critters, too) were drowned. Okay. The Bible clearly says that Noah was righteous and everyone else was violent and wicked. I guess they got what was coming to them, but it makes me wonder: If I get saved from a flood and my neighbor doesn’t, does that mean I’m good and he sucks in God’s eyes?
Maybe it’s better we just take the story for what it is and not go there. I’ll just stick with the idea that I can’t really control anything on this crazy rock. I’ll be thankful to God for the blessings God bestows on me every day and for God’s shear awesomeness. And I’ll hunger and thirst after righteousness, too. Not because I fear punishment, disaster, or retribution. But because I experience my helplessness. I don’t know how much time I have here, and I don’t want to waste any of it trying to out-God God.