As the lights flicker over my head of the church office this Thursday morning, as if someone were jerking out the fuse and cackling, I read about the power of God from the 37th chapter of the book of Job:
“He lets loose his lightnings from horizon to horizon, lighting up the earth from pole to pole. In their wake, the thunder echoes his voice, powerful and majestic.”
This morning in Laplace, a burg in the River Parishes between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where football is king and fixing jambalaya for Friday night games is the norm, my great friend Regina Hickman’s church is under water. Two to three feet of water, and I assume some loathsome varmints who wished they were anywhere else but the house of God, cover the wonderful area I’ve had many ministerial meetings before.
The questions, probably, began as soon as the water began to rise. How? Why? What? Heroic Job was asked to fire them off one by one as his family was taken from him. His wife tried to get him to curse God and die, but he refused.
Tuesday night we went to bed in Eunice, three hours or so away from our daughter’s misery, with visions of sour plumbs and rain drops and wind dragons flopping in our minds. We were assured the storm would come a visiting here like some sort of unwelcome house guest on Wednesday. Instead, the storm stayed atop my daughter’s quickly leaking home, clinging to the area with terribly horrific fingernails, like some Wicked Witch of the West Bank.
Wednesday the wind raked across the roof of our daughter’s house and shuffled the tiles of the roof like a dealer at Harrah’s and dealt a losing hand out into the yard. She and friends took the dreaded blue tarp, the one that had made a home for itself in that shed since Katrina’s house-party, and attached it to the roof to await the insurance guy and electricity, whichever comes first.
As we ponder what all this means, we can turn to Job, the oldest book in scripture or at least to a friend of Job named Elihu, and consider as he did, the wonder of it all.
“Job, are you listening? Have you noticed all this? Stop in your tracks! Take in God’s miracle-wonders! Do you have any idea how God does it all, how he makes bright lightning from dark storms, how he piles up the cumulus clouds -- all these miracle-wonders of a perfect Mind?”
The bottom line is we don’t have the faintest idea why a forest fire devastates family after family and leaves one without a so much as the smell of smoke, or why a much more powerful storm leaves a house untouched but the less powerful one sucks up roof tiles like a Hoover. Why a person in seemingly perfect health who attends every church service imaginable drops like a stone and a chain-smoking, beer-drinking, fat-eating, caffeine swilling insomniac lives to be 95. I simply have no idea. None. It’s way, way above my pay-grade.
Ultimately, it’s in His hands, this whole world thing. Elihu reminds us, “Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion?”
Not I. I assume not you. Certainly not Elihu nor even Job, the main character in this look at human tragedy. Loss and heartache and pain come, unwelcome guests all. Joy rains down on the just and the unjust, and we slump to the muddy ground and say, “Why?” And even at the end of a book about human frailty and the pain of suffering, the answers never come. Only the return of blue tarps.
Billy Turner is the pastor at Eunice First United Methodist Church, and he has a daily blog called That’s Life at billyssaints.blogspot.com