This morning, while watching the news I saw an elected official from Hurricane Florence-ravaged North Carolina plead for neighbors to keep an eye out for each other, and to help whomever they were able to. It was a pretty benign request in the face of possible disaster. My initial response, however, startled me. I thought “technically, no one is legally obliged to help one another." And I was right. Of course, our “musts” and “shoulds,” do not always compliment each other. As I contemplated my thoroughly American and legalistic response, I wondered about a people bent on what is “legal” instead of “good” and how that might hurt us in the face of disaster. And I also began to wonder how these all-too-common tragedies might reveal not only harsh mother nature but also a loving God in Christ.
Hurricane Florence, or any natural disaster, can serve as a painful reminder of our own mortality, the futility of human ingenuity and strength. At their worst, storms are bigger than us, our buildings, and our ability to do anything much more than hope we aren’t crushed. This fact is as humbling as it is terrifying. While stories of the “Cajun Navy” and other citizens looking out for one another remind us of the better angels of our nature, we can’t shake the fact that no amount of charity can make up for the loss of life and property. A hurricane is like the law: no respecter of persons and capable of crushing everything in its path. But just as storms give way to eventual dawn, we find grace echoed in each thundering of the law.
Hurricane Florence, or any natural disaster, can serve as a painful reminder of our own mortality, the futility of human ingenuity and strength.
Whether it’s the Ten Commandments, Mother Nature, or Karma, we know that whatever this law does, it demands something we can’t fulfill. This law bears down on us with the force of a hurricane. And just as our structures are blown to pieces by the storms, so too are our self-justifications smashed by the law. The law exposes our weaknesses and soft underbellies. No dam is strong enough, just as no level of devotion, or emotion, can withstand the depths of a law that crushes us. We know that when the real storm comes, we have no hope. The law, like a natural disaster, is no observer of status or wealth or moral upstanding. The rains flood the cathedral and the brothel alike. The rains fall on the righteous and the unrighteous, just as the law also shows no partiality.
And this brings me back to the gentleman I saw pleading on television for neighbors to be neighborly to one another. In my own initial and disturbing response, technically, I was right. There is no constitutional requirement to serve your neighbor. In the face of disaster, the law can’t help us.
But there is something bigger than the law. It is a deeper magic wherein the world is turned upside down by the love of God in Jesus. This new world, or kingdom, or Gospel, acknowledges that storms come and that death rains on us all. But in this world, the punishment is not absorbed by our buildings or our bodies. It is taken by the Savior, in His body on the cross. Here, the love of God overrides the storms, the guilty consciences, and the years of caused pain and suffering. The love of God in Jesus gives us a more firm foundation, not to avoid the storms, but to survive them.
But there is something bigger than the law. It is a deeper magic wherein the world is turned upside down by the love of God in Jesus.
And now as Jesus has freed me from the law, I do not need to slavishly go back to it and insist I treat others as the law would, too. Of course, we don’t have to love and serve and give our lives. No law can, or should, compel this. In the face of the law, or disaster, we don’t consult the rulebook, but rather, we simply ask how we might be a good neighbor.
This isn’t something necessarily super-spiritual that needs special sanctioning as a ministry. It’s the stuff we know we can do when we take our eyes off ourselves and look to the good of those around us. Consult the wisdom of the ages, from the 10 Commandments to Aristotle’s Virtues and the Tao Te Ching, but the truth is, we usually know what to do. It involves little acts of kindness to our enemies and a loving smile when we are exhausted. It includes those things, and of course many more, from offering a literal shelter from the storm to acts of heroic self-sacrifice and bravery in danger; stories which we are sure to read about after Florence has passed.
Whether it is a hurricane or a disaster of a different sort, I offer the foundation laid through the cross, to a life not undisturbed by the pounding of waves and conscience but one in which the floods turn to streams, the waters of baptism renew, and our sin, guilt, and death are washed away. In the meantime, God be with you, you people of the Carolinas, and remember the confidence of St. Paul, who knew that neither death nor life, angels nor rulers, nor hurricanes or other natural disasters will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.