As of last weekend I was expecting to have a nice array of articles, recordings, and videos ready for publication on URC Psalmody this week. After my visit to Community URC and Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Schererville and Dyer, IN, I had an exciting brood of fresh ideas for blog material.
What I didn’t expect was a hurricane.
After Hurricane Irene in August of last year left us relatively unaffected, Sandy took my family by surprise. True, we made adequate preparations and expected a few days of wind and rain, along with some minor inconveniences. But only God could have foreseen the actual impact of this storm.
On Tuesday morning, after a long night of howling wind, we turned on the battery radio (we had lost power on Monday afternoon). The reports were shocking. Over ninety percent of Long Island homes—nearly one million utility customers—were without electricity. The storm surge had combined with the full moon to create record-breaking high tides, causing devastating flooding in low-lying areas. Bridges, tunnels, railways, ferries—all infrastructure was shut down. For a day or two there was no way to get on or off Long Island. Many roads, from the local streets to the expressways, were impassable due to flooding and downed trees.
As the floodwaters inundated many local communities, residents lost furniture, appliances, vehicles, and sometimes their entire homes. Electrical problems made many houses burn down, and gas leaks caused others to explode. As far as we know, God mercifully protected all of the members of West Sayville Reformed Bible Church from serious damage; we only heard these devastating stories secondhand. But the effects of Hurricane Sandy were, and continue to be, eerily close at hand.
Over the course of the week, my personal devotions took me through Psalm 30. With a new level of empathy I meditated on these words:
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O LORD,
you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
–Psalm 30:6,7 (ESV)
Whether spoken or unspoken, doesn’t the declaration “I shall not be moved” so often characterize our lives? In times of prosperity, we like to believe that we can control our own destiny. How soon we forget the true Source of our life and comfort! “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:13,14).
Sometimes it takes a hurricane to bring us to our senses.
Over the past week, I’ve seen Sandy bring out the best and the worst in people. Inconvenience and discomfort often demolish humanity’s façade of politeness and generosity, leaving tatters of envy, selfishness, and bald-faced greed. On the other hand, examples of selflessness and compassion abound, particularly among our fellow believers. Knowing that friends from North Carolina to Ontario to Missouri have kept us in thought and prayer through this time is incredibly comforting.
More importantly, though, Hurricane Sandy has served as a colossal perspective adjuster, and hopefully not just for me. Our first response to disaster should reflect our reliance on God:
To you, O LORD, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
Instead of uselessly trying to assert our own independence, we “ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). Confronted with the awesome power of a hurricane, we should turn our eyes toward the God who “makes the clouds his chariot” (Psalm 104:3).
And what of those who lost their property or even their loved ones in this natural disaster? Those who have placed their trust in Christ can rest assured that the Lord’s “anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime” (Psalm 30:5).
Things are not yet back to normal here on Long Island. This will be my family’s eighth day without power, phone, or internet. As of Saturday, hundreds of cars were still lined up waiting for gas at the few stations that have reopened since the storm. Some families in the more devastated areas of the island are just starting to return to the remnants of their houses to assess the damage. Since electricity and internet access are still hard to obtain, it may be several more days before I’m able to resume writing for the blog. But, like the psalmist, I can rest in the unshakable comfort that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). With confident expectation I can declare:
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
–Psalm 30:11, 12