After the Storm

August 14, 2017

First, the full moon stopped shining. Then came the thunder, rolling out of the dark night sky. Lightning flashed, and—finally—the rain started. It began as a steady pitter-patter but soon pelted our canvas tent as it blew in sheets across the narrow island. My husband and our three children had pitched our tent on the sandy soil of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in northwest Florida; in the wee hours of the night, lying there in the thunderstorm, I felt like the foolish person who had built my house upon the sand. I wondered if the tent would collapse in the strong winds or become so saturated with water that we would be floating on our camping pads.

As I lay there listening to the storm, I thought of hurricane victims worldwide and the fear that wind and rain can evoke. A thin canvas barrier does little to protect from the terror of being at the mercy of the natural elements—one human being in a powerful storm, vulnerable and small.

And yet, I’ve survived storms such as this—literally and metaphorically.

One of today’s Scripture passages features a storm tale familiar across human cultures. Noah and his family experience the trauma not only of trying to survive weeks of rainstorms, but of knowing that their fellow human beings and the creatures around them are dying. Genesis 7 spares little detail: except for the Noah clan, “all flesh died that moved on the earth.” The crew on the ark were the only survivors of this storm.

The psalmist, identified in Psalm 18’s opening lines as David, also experiences trauma (although details are not provided about the specific nature of the calamity). Whatever the trouble—whether natural as in a storm or man-made as in warfare—the psalmist finds “mighty waters” to be an apt metaphor. This brush with death causes the psalmist to cry out to God.

When we face the most traumatic of circumstances, when our life is threatened by forces that are beyond our control, we can do nothing—except, for believers, there is one action we can take. For people of faith, no matter the size of that faith, our only option is to cry out to God.

This teaches us something.

In the midst of the storm, we discover just what we really believe about God. All of our creeds and systematic theologies mean little when we come up against the reality of our own destruction. In the midst of the storm, we find out how much we trust that God is in control, that God is present somewhere, that God is listening.

Because of our encounters with our own vulnerability, we uncover the capacity for deeper trust in God. And then, how sweet is the peace we know after the storm! Storms not only bring the potential for our destruction, but also the potential for deeper trust and faith in the sustaining presence of God.

Some theological perspectives suggest that God brings traumatic events into our lives in order to teach us a lesson, to test our faith. I do not share that perspective. I do not find it consistent with God’s character that God would harm anyone or anything in creation. But, I do affirm that God is present with us in the storm, and our spirit senses this presence; and so, we call out to our Creator and Sustainer.

It is after the storm that we can, from the depths of our hearts, affirm God’s presence. Even if our fears came true and the deliverance we sought did not come in the way we expected, the possibility still exists that we can affirm God’s presence in a deeper way. After the storm, we can proclaim with the psalmist, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my rock in whom I take refuge.”

About the Author
  • Sarah Ann Bixler is a PhD student in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, focusing on Christian education and formation. She also works for Princeton's Center for Church Planting and Revitalization. Sarah is a member of Mennonite Church USA, in which she has served as a youth minister, middle judicatory administrator, classroom teacher, residence director and curriculum writer. She lives in Princeton, NJ with her husband, Benjamin Bixler, and their three children.

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