I was driving down the road one day last week, if sitting through three red light cycles per intersection due to horrendous traffic could rightfully be called “driving,” that is. Hot and sweaty, filthy, emotionally drained, and exhausted from cleaning and hauling, I was making my way from my best friend’s flooded house to help out at my ninety-five year old grandmother’s flooded house, guilt-stricken that I couldn’t be in both places at once.
And that’s when I heard it.
I was listening to one of my favorite theological podcasts, and when the host began talking about the flooding in Baton Rouge, my ears perked up. He began talking about God’s sovereignty- that, because God always does what is best for believers – for our discipline, growth in holiness, increased dependence on Christ, and the like – that this flood was good for us. He said it kindly, lovingly, and backed up with Scripture. And he was absolutely right.
Yet, three days after a life-altering catastrophe, with a heart still raw and broken for my loved ones and my community, it was exactly what I did not need to hear.
It’s crucial to bring good theology to bear on every situation we face in life. We need to apply Scripture to the situations we go through in order to help us make biblical sense of things, walk obediently, give thanks, and glorify God.
And yet, the Bible doesn’t say, “Give a theology lecture to those who weep.” It says, “Weep with those who weep.” Why? God is all about the Word, isn’t He? Why wouldn’t He want us to jump right in and exhort hurting people with scriptural principles?
Because He knows us. He created us.
People need a minute to take a breath and absorb everything that has happened to them before their hearts and minds are ready to transition into thinking theologically about the situation.
Sometimes we just need to sit and cry for a while. And maybe we need someone we love to sit and cry with us. No Romans 8:28. No talk about how God is going to use this to grow us. No discussion of whether God “caused” or “allowed” this tragedy. Just some time to grieve without having to think. And God’s word says that’s OK.
Even Job’s companions, poor theologians though they were, got this part right:
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:11-13
But sometimes, even with the best of intentions, maybe without even realizing it, we skip the vital step of making an appointment to sympathize with and comfort our suffering loved ones. We neglect to rend our hearts and sit on the ground and weep with those who mourn. We fail to see that their suffering is very great. And yet this is one of the very ministries Christ calls us to.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
A time to discuss theology, and a time to weep with those who weep.
I originally published this article on August 21, 2016, just a few days after the historic flood in my own area last year. I am re-running part of it now (along with some current tips about disaster relief) because the situation in the Houston/Galveston/Corpus Christi area in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is going to be nearly identical when it comes to flood relief efforts. If you have midweek services at your church this week, it might be a good time to get with your pastor and fellow church members to talk about how your church can help.
And just to drive home the point of how much help is going to be desperately needed in Texas, the one year anniversary of the Baton Rouge area flood was about a week ago, and we still have many people who are not yet back in their homes and need help rebuilding.
Originally published August 21, 2016
Imagine 90% of the homes and businesses in your town destroyed by a flood. Thousands of your friends and neighbors rescued from rapidly rising deadly currents by boat, sometimes, literally, with only the clothes on their backs. Some separated from spouses or young children for days because they had to get into different boats and ended up at different shelters. No homes to go back to. No jobs to go back to because businesses flood just like homes do. No cars to drive because cars flood, too. No clothes, no food, and often, no money to rebuild and replace everything they owned.
Now try to imagine, in the aftermath, having to choose whether to scramble to clean out your own flood ravaged house before it molds and mildews or helping a loved one who desperately needs you. Or, if your home didn’t flood, feeling torn between helping your family, your best friend, your church, and other relief ministries.
This is the situation my community, and communities across south Louisiana, are facing right now. Those of us whose homes and businesses God spared are doing what we can to help friends, loved ones, and strangers, but we are spread dreadfully thin. Shelters and relief ministries are in desperate need of food, supplies, and volunteers.
In Louisiana, we take great pride in taking care of our own, and our locals are doing an astounding job of it. But the situation is so overwhelming that this time we need help.
We need your help. We need your church’s help.
How? Could you spare a few days or more to come down and volunteer with a flood relief ministry? Could your church send a team? Would you like to make a donation, or could your church collect a love offering, to help the many people whose lives have been turned upside down by the flood?
The areas of Texas hit by Hurricane Harvey are going to need tons of help, too. I am certainly no expert in disaster relief, but, having helped out in my own area last year, here are some observations and suggestions:
First, if you go to a doctrinally sound church near a hurricane damaged area that will be helping with flood relief efforts, please contact me so I can help get the word out. (This needs to be a church you have personal, solid knowledge about regarding both their theology and organized flood relief efforts.)
For those in other areas of the country who would like to help:
If you have a contact at a church near a hurricane damaged area, get with that person and find out how their church is helping or needs help.
If you don’t have a contact in the area, get with your local Southern Baptist association (you can do this even if you’re not Southern Baptist) and find out if they’re organizing help, offering disaster relief training, or collecting donations. If you don’t have a local association, contact Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and find out if they could use a team from your church or if you could make a donation.
There are two reasons I strongly recommend donating to, or volunteering with, SBDR or a local doctrinally sound church rather than a secular or governmental agency: first, SBDR or a trustworthy church will not merely help people with physical needs, they will also share the gospel with the people they’re helping, and that could make this hurricane the best thing that’s ever happened to somebody. Second, as my area witnessed with local churches, the “Cajun Navy,” and other neighbor helping neighbor relief efforts, it seems like the more grassroots the organization, the better and less expensive the help. I even heard a government official say something similar to that on the news yesterday.
Three things I would not recommend:
1. Do not just get a bunch of people together and drive to Texas with no contact person to organize your group, especially right now when the resource grid is down. That is not “stepping out on faith,” that is acting in foolishness, and possibly doing more harm than good. You need to have a confirmed place to stay, access to food, working plumbing and utilities, and somebody to put you to work where work is needed.
2. I would personally not recommend donating to Red Cross based on what I have heard from local flood victims. They have a very high overhead, and I have heard nothing but complaints about how they deal with people personally and the red tape that’s involved with getting help. Again, if you’re going to donate, I strongly recommend either donating to SBDR or directly to a church in the area that’s helping people and sharing the gospel with them.
3. This one comes from a local pastor friend who is still coordinating flood relief efforts in my area: Do not randomly send used clothing to the area.
(In fact if you want good, godly, expert, practical advice on flood relief, just go over to Todd’s Facebook page and start scrolling. He’s got lots of great resources and information over there.)
If your church can put together a team to travel to Texas to help and you can wait a few months to go, you may want to consider that. What’s going to happen is that a lot of people are going to volunteer right now while Harvey is fresh on everybody’s mind, and then people are going to forget about it and go about life as usual. But the hurricane victims will still need help months down the road from now. Start thinking about Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, 2018 winter/Easter/spring break when students and other people in your church might be off school and work. That will also give you time to start collecting monetary (and material, if needed) donations to take with you.
Don’t forget about the little guys. Something I observed with both last year’s flooding and Hurricane Katrina was that media attention was focused almost exclusively on the major cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Smaller towns and rural areas were virtually ignored (even though, during last year’s flood, it was a few smaller towns on the outskirts of Baton Rouge that received the majority of the damage) in the coverage. With the media’s current focus on Houston, it looks like the same thing is happening with Harvey. When you’re thinking about flood relief, don’t forget about the small towns and rural areas that may have received even more damage than the major cities and have fewer resources.
Pray. Tangible help is desperately needed, but spiritual help is even more important. And God is the One who coordinates that disaster relief. Pray for specific people you know. Pray for the spread of the gospel. Pray that Christians affected by the hurricane will grow in their dependence on Christ. Pray that God will provide for the needs of the people. Pray that God will give Christian disaster relief workers the right words and opportunities to share the gospel with people.
Let’s all be in prayer for those affected by this devastating hurricane.
PLEASE SEE THE COMMENTS SECTION FOR READER SUGGESTIONS AND INFORMATION ON HOW YOU CAN HELP THOSE IMPACTED BY HURRICANE HARVEY.