Hurricane Hilary and Our Culture of Fear

Hurricane Hilary and Our Culture of Fear

The last thing Hurricane Hilary saw, however, was people desiring to come to church. People were more interested in saving their lives by gathering in long lines for food and water. It was all reminiscent of the same fear that governed the Covid-19 pandemic. In the 90s, David Wells expressed that one of the great problems for people today is that God’s hand rests ever so lightly upon us. The lighter providences we have received in the West, in the face of past atrocities and calamites, has not made us a strong people. We have lived such prosperous lives, having at our disposal the best of medicines and helps afforded to us, that we are convinced that there should be no pain in this life.

One day Henny-penny was picking up corn in the rickyard when—whack!—an acorn hit her upon the head. “Goodness gracious me!” said Henny-penny, “the sky’s a-going to fall; I must go and tell the King…

The past few days on the West coast have been eventful. We were told a massive hurricane was coming our way in Southern California that would wreak havoc on communities and bring in an historic “100-year storm”—an event of such catastrophic proportions that imminent death would follow. Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency, well before the event even occurred. Is that normal? Costco saw long lines of people scrambling to horde water and generators, three at a time. Shelves at the local grocery store were soon found empty as people stocked up on supplies to prepare for what seemed to be the event of a lifetime. We had no idea of what to expect.

Sunday morning, as I was preparing for church, my wife handed me a picture of the Doppler Radar and asked, “where is this storm, I don’t see it.” Other images showed a massive swirl covering the Westcoast, but something seemed off. I then searched the news reports that continued reassure me that the storm was coming and that we should be prepared for the worst.

Then…it happened. The rain fell ever so lightly, and the trees swayed about, knocking down a few leaves, and it was over. I saw pictures of people online walking the beach during what was supposed to be the heart of the storm. All this media hysteria, and this was the extent of the “100-year storm” from which I was told to batten down the hatches?

Some areas did receive significant flooding, and I’m sure there will be reports of damage in desert areas, and even some death, but the most devastating eyewitness testimony I could find was this: “It’s quite amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Sean Julian, 54, a resident of the town. “I’m seeing a lot more trees down. And there’s a big tree that just fell over there, and I probably shouldn’t be out here.” With that account, the article ended. A tree fell over and I probably shouldn’t be there?

Living on the Pacific Rim has always come with the threat of disasters, especially earthquakes and fires. But this is no less true wherever one lives in this world. After all, Jesus told us to expect these things (Matt. 24). While the news captures the worst of images, does this really compare with Atlantic hurricanes?

On the one hand I am thankful that the storm did not bring the destruction that we were assured would happen, but on the other, it’s always wise to assess the larger problem of what is driving our culture of fear.

God’s Light Hand Upon Us

One doesn’t have to look far to finds tracts and treatises of past theologians who wrote about God’s use of calamity and destruction to awaken people to repentance. I have in front of me David Clarkson’s, “God’s End in Sending Calamities.” People faced terrible things. Plague often wiped-out major populations and most people viewed these things as the scourge of God upon people for sin. Whether providence should always be read this way is for another article, but most pastors had no problem using catastrophic events to call people to Christ.

Daniel Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” is a perfect example. Defoe describes the people coming to the churches in droves crying for prayer and help in the face of bubonic plague. They were certainly coming to the right place. The last thing Hurricane Hilary saw, however, was people desiring to come to church.

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