Hurricane Michael is rapidly gaining strength in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico as Floridians prepare for what could be the panhandle’s strongest landfall in 100 years. Authorities are pleading with residents to follow the evacuation order as they prepare for an ocean surge that could inundate more than 325 miles of coastline, flooding roads, homes, and businesses under as much as 13 feet of water. Hurricane expert at the Weather Channel Rick Knabb tweeted, “#Michael will make new history for central Panhandle, Big Bend. Some of you could get water and wind worse than ever before.” And Weather Underground’s meteorologist Bob Henson warned, “This is the real deal. Hurricanes that intensify overnight just before reaching land are the worst nightmare of forecasters and emergency managers.”
Few things make us feel more powerless than natural disasters. Faced with the fury of “Mother Nature,” we are reminded of how little control we truly have over our own lives. But rather than become circumspect, we quickly become distracted. Whether these distractions are rooted in the busyness of life, amusements, environmental activism, or relief efforts, the end result remains the same: We fail to receive what may be a message from God delivered in such a way as to make it unavoidable. Far from being a display of Mother Nature’s power, natural disasters might be viewed as God’s postal service. Sometimes they serve as a delivery mechanism for God’s message to us.
In Amos 4:6–10, God reveals how He used famine, drought, blight, and pestilence to alert the Israelites to the danger they were in due to their rebellion against God. His intent was not to punish sin but to draw the people back to Himself. Nevertheless, Amos repeatedly laments, “yet you did not return to me, declares the LORD.” Could it be that, like Israel, we are dismissing God’s efforts to arouse us from our spiritual slumber as being nothing more than inevitable forces of nature, as is implied by the term “natural disaster”?
Like Israel, America is experiencing trouble in the areas of:
- Water –In 2017 Texas and Florida were inundated with flood waters from record-breaking hurricanes, while 10 western states suffered from 62 active forest fires, due in part to a lack of water. These drought conditions stretched into this year with 38.4% of the nation experiencing drought conditions in February of 2018. Certainly America has been experiencing its own version of Amos 4:7–8 where God says that He sent rain to one city and drought to another in an effort to provoke the Israelites to question why.
- Lack of Food – Today 41 million Americans struggle with hunger, and one in six American children may not know where they will get their next meal. Surprisingly, these children are not where we may expect to find them. According to National Geographic, “Today hunger in the suburbs is growing faster than in cities, having more than doubled since 2007.”
- Poor Harvests – Over the course of 10 months in 2017, America experienced 16 separate billion-dollar weather and climate-related disasters, costing American agriculture more than $5 billion dollars in lost crops. These wreaked havoc across the nation, affecting beef cattle ranches in Texas, cotton and rice farms in Louisiana, orange groves in Florida, and vineyards in California.
- Infestation – The Emerald Ash Borer is spreading at an uncontrollable rate, killing millions of Ash trees across the country and increasing the risk of forest fires where such are usually rare. This invasive insect has been heralded by researchers as the most serious threat to forests ever seen in the U.S. And rat populations are exploding to record levels in cities across the nation. In California, Roof Rats are migrating from the cities to rural areas where they are destroying fruit and nut crops.
- Disease – Untreatable sexually transmitted diseases and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are spreading across America. Our water infrastructure is stressed, producing an increase in waterborne diseases. And today, one out of every three Americans are likely to develop cancer within their lifetime.
At what point will we pause long enough to contemplate whether God is using nature to deliver a message to our nation: Repent before it is too late? Almost certainly, the Israelites dismissed their plight as forces of nature beyond their control. Consequently, God declared, “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel! For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth—the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!” (Amos 4:12–13)
Frightening as an encounter with the unbridled forces of nature may be, it is far less terrifying than a reckoning with He who controls the forces of nature. As such, God sometimes uses our helplessness in the face of His creation to remind us that we are not truly in control and that we are in great peril if we remain in rebellion to Him who is in control. Given the parallels between our nation and Israel’s experience, we ought to consider the possibility that God is using nature to deliver a message to our nation. While we still have time, let us ask what it is that God may be saying to us through these disasters.
1. Weather.com Meteorologists. “Hurricane Michael May Be Florida Panhandle’s Strongest Landfall in 13 Years with Life-Threatening Storm Surge, Damaging Winds, Flooding Rain.” The Weather Channel, October 8, 2018. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/2018-10-09-hurricane-michael-forecast-gulf-coast-florida-georgia-carolinas.
2. Samenow, Jason. “Hurricane Michael Forecast: ‘Potentially Catastrophic’ Storm Makes Landfall Near Panama City.” The Washington Post, October 10, 2018. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2018/10/10/hurricane-michael-could-become-strongest-record-strike-florida-panhandle-wednesday/?utm_term=.13287ab1642f.
3. Dr. Rick Knabb. Twitter Post, October 9, 2018, 7:07 PM. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://twitter.com/DrRickKnabb/status/1049843738623791104.
4. Bob Henson. Twitter Post, October 9, 2018, 8:29 PM. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://twitter.com/bhensonweather/status/1049864417024925698.
5. Samenow, Jason. “Harvey is a 1,000-Year Flood Event Unprecedented in Scale.” The Washington Post, August 31, 2017. Accessed April 16, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2017/08/31/harvey-is-a-1000-year-flood-event-unprecedented-in-scale/?utm_term=.fbc16ecc49da.
6. Regan, Adam. “Hurricane Irma Could Create One of the Largest Mass Evacuations in U.S. History.” USA Today, April 16, 2018. Accessed September 8, 2017. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/09/07/hurricane-irma-evacuations-florida/643045001/.
7. “National Preparedness Level 5 Report.” National Interagency Fire Center, n.d. Last Updated September 13, 2017. Accessed September 13, 2017. https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm.
8. Rice, Doyle. “U.S. Drought at Worst Level in Nearly 4 Years.” USA Today, February 2, 2018. Last Updated February 3, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2018/02/02/u-s-drought-worst-level-nearly-4-years/300850002/.
9. “Hunger and Poverty Facts.” Feeding America, n.d. Accessed April 16, 2018. http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-and-poverty-facts.html.
10. “Child Hunger Facts.” Feeding America, n.d. Accessed April 16, 2018. http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-and-poverty-facts.html.
11. “Why are People Malnourished in the Richest Country on Earth?” National Geographic, n.d. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/hunger/.
12. Bloch, Sam. “2017’s Natural Disasters Cost American Agriculture Over $5 Billion.” The New Food Economy, January 4, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2018. https://newfoodeconomy.org/2017-natural-disasters-agriculture-damage-5-billion/.
14. Biba, Erin. “America’s Ash Trees are Being Wiped Out—Here’s How You Can Help Them.” Earther, October 17, 2017. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://earther.com/americas-ash-trees-are-being-wiped-out-heres-how-you-ca-1819618010.
15. Atkin, Emily. “America Is on the Verge of Ratpocalypse.” New Republic, August 23, 2017. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://newrepublic.com/article/144392/america-verge-ratpocalypse.
16. Rodriguez, Robert. “Roof Rats are Invading California Farms and Destroying Fruit, Nuts and Irrigation Lines.” The Fresno Bee, March 12, 2018. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://www.fresnobee.com/news/business/agriculture/article204696074.html.
17. Sarmiento, Samuel. “3 Common STDs Becoming Untreatable: How Worried Should We Be?” NBC News, September 2, 2016. Accessed April 16, 2018. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/sexual-health/3-common-stds-becoming-untreatable-what-happens-now-n642161.
18. Szabo, Liz. “‘Nightmare’ Bacteria, Resistant to Almost Every Drug, Stalk U.S. Hospitals.” USA Today, April 3, 2018. Last Updated April 3, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/04/03/nightmare-bacteria-antibiotic-resistant-stalk-hospitals/482162002/.
19. Rose, Joan. “America’s Water Crisis Could be Worse than You Know.” TIME, March 22, 2016. Accessed April 16, 2018. http://time.com/4266919/americas-water-crisis/.
20. “Lifetime Risk of Developing or Dying from Cancer.” American Cancer Society, n.d. Last Updated January 4, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2018. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-basics/lifetime-probability-of-developing-or-dying-from-cancer.html.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.