By the time this hurricane will have left the Gulf of Mexico, more than 300,000 people in Texas will be left without electricity and between $40–50 billion of property damage will be sustained. An estimated 30,000 will be displaced from their homes. With peak accumulations of 51 inches of rain, Harvey will become officially the worst disaster in Texas history.
Where exactly is this God whom I tell my students is sovereign? Where is evidence of the Great Rescuer that I read about to my daughter in The Jesus Storybook Bible?
In my theology class, I tell my students that a Spirit-empowered Jesus goes to this village, not that one, heals this woman, not that one, allows himself to be interrupted by people along the way, even as he sets his face like flint toward the cross. But what about all the villages that Christ never visited? What about all the women who never got close enough to the Lord to be healed? What about all the storms that Jesus did not rebuke with a word?
Here in Houston, what about those without the means to escape their neighborhood? What about the underprivileged who lack insurance to recover their irreplaceables? What about the elderly who can’t evacuate their homes? Is it right that we should escape to save ourselves? How is that just or generous? Wouldn’t it be more loving to stay and to serve the poor and the needy? And how does any of this square with the sovereignty of God?
Back home, Phaedra and I took a quick account of what might be lost if the waters were to seep into our home. By then, a mandatory evacuation notice had been issued for our neighborhood. We gave ourselves two hours to prepare the house. I carried up to the second floor the irreplaceable things—heirlooms, artwork, photo albums. Furniture went up on bricks. I stored away boxes of memorabilia that include hand-written letters from my childhood and a vacuum-sealed bag full of newspapers from the day after 9/11.
Ten minutes after we exited our neighborhood, the floodwaters closed over our last way out. We were told that anybody who hadn’t escaped at that point would be landlocked until this Friday at the earliest, two weeks at the latest. There is the possibility that folks in our neighborhood will get up to four feet of water in their homes.
Right before we left, our friend Shereen, a single mother, asked if she and her two sons could take refuge in our home while we are gone. They walked into our house, along with their two dogs, just as we were escaping it. As we talked with Shereen, who runs a ministry to displaced single moms, I thought of the last thing I told my theology students in our session on Providence:
All the sorrow and suffering of this world is a mystery. There’s no wrapping our heads around it; there just isn’t. It’s a mystery whose meaning will only be disclosed at the end of the age. In the middle of it, all we can do is to trust the One who has suffered with us and for us, the kind of God who weeps with us and who gives his life to serve the destitute, the down-on-their-luck, the homeless, the penniless.
As we left our house, Phaedra turned to Shereen and said: “Jesus be with you.” It was the only thing that made sense to say under the circumstances.
Driving west on I-10 to stay with family in Austin, we passed convoys of National Guard soldiers, a fleet of first responders and state troopers with their sirens flashing, and a caravan of regular folks in their pickup trucks pulling flat bottom boats behind them, all driving towards the storm. It gave me the chills to see it. Phaedra wept.