In the latter part of the last century, my family lived for over a decade in a serene Garden of Eden called Siesta Key, a sleepy-in-the summertime barrier island off Sarasota on the Gulf Coast of Florida. One full moon night my sunshine-deprived cousin from Portland, Oregon, and I paddled my canoe around the mesmerizing smoky mirror that was Robert’s Bay—our backyard—escorted by friendly dolphins periodically blowing abeam us. My cousin rested his paddle, pondered a moment and said, “You know, if your kids grow up here and never leave, they’ll never know what the real world is like.”

In the wake of recent events that profundity sounds like so much hyperbole. God only provides glimpses of heaven on earth for those who have eyes to see. He also sends wake-up calls, even catastrophic wake-up calls to remind us that this sin-stricken world, for all its magnificent beauty and bounty, is not our abiding place. If God wills the sun could dawn one day on Roberts Bay filled with shattered extravagant playthings and debris from every man-made structure surrounding it, as happened last week in a neighborhood a little further down the Gulf Coast. One fall day in the pleasant interlude between the summer season, when cooked human flesh obscures the sand, and the sky-darkening arrival time of migratory snowbirds, a Sovereign God ordained from all eternity a ruinous Noahic flood and whirlwind of biblical proportions. The day after the whirlwind we watched with wet-eyed sorrow the drone footage of Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach, our wonderful winter playground in our RV days. The islands looked like the work product of my whole squadron of bomb-laden F-100’s. At the risk of sounding like Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz lecturing Job on his ash heap to those now weeping on the ruins of their homes and livelihood, life is all about choices and those choices have consequences. We made the choice for island life for a delightful decade, and faced, with varying degrees of trepidation, the seasonal flee-or-stay decisions, but chose to retire near family in Ohio, and if the Lord wills, we could be awakened in the night to the sound of our house crashing down upon us from an unannounced tornado. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

Hobbs said life is nasty, brutish and short, and so it probably appears to many Gulf Coast pagans ruined by hurricane Ian. Holy Writ instructs otherwise, that life indeed has meaning, and the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, even through the hard times.

Brothers and sisters in Christ on the Gulf Coast, I feel your pain in deep soul-searching ways. It was God’s angel that drove that whirlwind as it spun across Florida. Your distraught unbelieving friends ask, “Where was your loving God in all of this?” God has an answer in Job’s profoundly painful lesson in theodicy—the justice of God in human suffering. Having lost his estate and all ten children in a day, he responded to the devastating news, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” And later, in response to a demand by an exasperated wife to curse God and die, he replied, “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?”

That reply takes an extraordinary measure of God’s grace to say and sincerely mean, and that was just the beginning of Job’s travail. After seventeen unremittingly miserable chapters filled with well-meaning, even flawless logic woundingly applied by three friends, Job still expressed his conviction:

 “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

Several chapters later Job’s patience did appear to wear thin. He asked God, in effect, why me? There followed the most sobering reply that any Christian could hear in the midst of suffering. God did not answer the question. Instead he answered out of the whirlwind:

 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38: 4-7)

He asked Job dozens more questions whose answers only God knew. Job got the point. The finite mind of the creature cannot comprehend the infinite wisdom of the Creator. Job replied, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth … I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know…therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job had grown to realize through his horrendous trials that he did not, could not understand the infinitely higher thoughts and ways of God (Isa. 55:8-9) in the titanic spiritual struggle of the ages between God and the devil, “things too wonderful” to wrap his small mind around, but his trust in that Sovereign God who wins in the end was unswerving.  Old Testament Job may not have realized it, but that superhuman trust, that indefatigable faith was a gift from his Sovereign God. Then Job prayed for his inconsiderate trio of sideline theologians and the LORD restored his fortunes and blessed his latter days more than his beginning (Job 42:12).

Pastor Jeramie of Sanibel Community Church, now homeless, isolated from what’s left of his church and seeking refuge on the Southeast Coast of Florida, was talking with some mall shoppers this past week when another listening stranger asked, “Why are you so calm? You’re losing everything and yet you seem so nonchalant.” Pastor thought it an odd perception, as he did not feel that way at all, and replied, “Well, I’m a Christian and I pastor a church…” The man’s face lit up and he interjected, “Of course! You have God. I got it! It all makes sense.” And he walked away smiling.

Oh, merciful God, please grant a similar measure of Job and Jeramie’s trust and peace that passes all understanding to the rest of your suffering Gulf Coast children. Through it all may they grow in faith and every grace and find their all in thee.

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say you are my God. My times are in your hand …” ­(Psalm 31: 14-15a).

 See you in church.

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