Hurricane Irma unleashed its fury on the topics and Florida. The storm destroyed homes and upended lives. People across the state are without power and dealing with flooding. Off the southern coast of the state, the destruction is even worse.
Before the storm my family prepared our home and prayed. We attended Vespers at our church to pray God’s deliverance from this calamity. When we made the decision to evacuate, we prayed and placed icons facing our windows to ask God’s mercy.
Our prayers were answered when the storm shifted and weakened. Our home and our possessions were spared.
As I watched reports of the destruction Hurricane Irma unleashed elsewhere, I thought about the other people who had prayed for relief from the storm. Had God ignored their plea? Was this some punishment for sin? Why does the rain fall on the just as well as the unjust?
God in the storm
I sometimes treat prayer like a magic incantation to ward off suffering. When life is going well, prayers take a back seat. When I suffer, my prayers increase. I’m like a child that wants to go my own way, but wants my Father to save me from the consequences.
But God’s grace is not pass-fail. We are at all times farther from, or closer to, His mercy. God doesn’t send destruction to bend people to His will. Bad things are a call to repentance.
“Why do men learn through pain and suffering, and not through pleasure and happiness? Very simply, because pleasure and happiness accustom one to satisfaction with the things given in this world, whereas pain and suffering drive one to seek a more profound happiness beyond the limitations of this world. I am at this moment in some pain, and I call on the Name of Jesus—not necessarily to relieve the pain, but that Jesus, in Whom alone we may transcend this world, may be with me during it, and His will be done in me. But in pleasure I do not call on Him; I am content then with what I have, and I think I need no more. And why is a philosophy of pleasure untenable?—because pleasure is impermanent and unreliable, and pain is inevitable. In pain and suffering Christ speaks to us, and thus God is kind to give them to us, yes, and evil too—for in all of these we glimpse something of what must lie beyond, if there really exists what our hearts most deeply desire.” – Fr. Seraphim Rose
All suffering is for our salvation. Hurricane Irma was a painful reminder of our fragility. But it was not a punishment, in the sense of being Divine retribution for our evil. God calls all of us to draw near and be loved.
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