A little less than a month ago, I experienced my first catastrophic flood. Flooding is a normal thing in Houston, where I live. But, Hurricane Harvey thrust band after band of heavy rain over our region, and the waters kept rising and rising and rising. My home did not flood, but we came close. Compared to what was broadcast across national news, our neighborhood and the church where I serve had little to no damage. This is remarkable, considering something like 15,725 homes in Harris County sustained major damage or were destroyed.
Soon after the waters receded, one of my close friends puzzled over what to say when people asked her how she was doing after the storm. Like me, this friend had no damage to her home. “It doesn’t seem right to say I’m lucky or fortunate,” she said, considering what we, as Presbyterians, believe about God’s sovereignty. “But, it feels wrong to say, ‘I’m blessed.’ If I’m blessed, then what about my friends and coworkers and fellow church members who flooded, who may have lost everything? Are they not blessed?”
This question continues to pick at me as our congregation rallies around work teams helping to muck out and rebuild homes. Who is blessed in this storm? Central to this question is the sticky wicket of the problem of evil. Why did some people in Houston lose everything and other people lose nothing? We do have some scientific answers to those questions – answers regarding lack of zoning laws and overdevelopment in the city and surrounding counties. But, scientific answers don’t fully satisfy, and they are not a great pastoral response to the pain in our area.
I’ve reached two conclusions in regards to my friend’s question, “Am I blessed?” I’m still pondering these responses and sure there are other good conclusions that can be drawn. But, here is where my mind and heart have gone:
- Maybe we’re blessed by not suffering any flood damage. But, blessing in Scripture is never to be hoarded. God promised Abraham in Genesis 12 that God would bless him, in order that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him and his offspring. Abraham was “blessed to be a blessing.” If everyone in Houston had flooded, then who would have been present to do boat evacuations, to rally immediately after the flood waters receded? I have been so impressed with the residents of Houston – how we banded together right after the storm and got a lot done in the immediate aftermath. There is more to do. I cannot simply sit still and do nothing to help others rebuilding. That would be an abuse of the blessing of God.
- Maybe it is the people whose homes and churches were flooded who are blessed. I think about the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. The people Jesus declared to be blessed are not in enviable positions. They are poor in spirit, mourning, persecuted. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God belongs to these – people in pain. God’s Kingdom comes to us in our time of greatest need – maybe because we are more open or desperate for God’s provisions in times like these.
Whoever is blessed by this storm, we all have work to do, we all have next steps to take. And that is how I would ask you to pray: Pray that Houston would stay “Houston Strong” in the ongoing, long work of rebuilding. It’s not over yet. And we need a lot of blessing.
Rachel Young is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, in Houston, Texas. She is married to Josh, who also serves on staff at Clear Lake Presbyterian as the director of contemporary worship and media.