God’s Beneficence and Man’s Arrogance

With the clean-up effort just beginning after Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey, many attempts at returning to “normalcy” are being complicated by long lines, high demand, and short supply. Tempers are flaring and looters are out in full force, looking to turn a bad situation into a quick profit. With his regular schedule on temporary hold, one writer in the area took to writing a short theology of weather, or more specifically, what he referred to as “A Jewish View of Hurricanes.”

Not surprisingly, the author—a Jew (obviously)—begins his study in the book of Genesis. Jews often begin in Genesis, as they well should; it is, after all, the book of beginnings. He writes:

Wind and rain are as old as creation.  The ru’ah elohim, usually translated as “the spirit of God,” that “hovered upon the face of the water” (Genesis 1:2), can also be interpreted as “a divine wind,” a form of hyperbole indicating that the wind exceeded anything natural or ordinary.

Indeed, wind is often so likened with the character of God, that the two cannot be separated. Consider what Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (v. 8).

Not so with rain. The article author makes the point that rain is “sent” from God. It is always a blessing—even when it isn’t. He writes: “God, in His cosmic beneficence, lets it rain.  Man, in his individual and collective arrogance, builds cities on sites singularly susceptible to saturation.” If any readers missed his argument, he repeats it rather clearly:

Man’s hubris, his awful arrogance in the face of God’s intent, led to the confounding of the plan and the cessation of the construction [of the tower in Babel] (Genesis 11:8).  But man is nothing if not persistent; and in London, Amsterdam, New Orleans, and other low-lying areas, he has thrown caution to the winds by constructing cities against the dictates of “nature.”  If he is prudent, he invests wisely in building and maintaining the levees and escapes the direst consequences.  From time to time, prudence is supplemented by serendipity, and a timely finger in the dike prevents catastrophe.  If, however, he acts impudently and imprudently—squandering precious time and resources on other and more selfish projects—then he is proverbially and poignantly hoist by his own petard.

Expanding on the Bible’s own description of Babylon as being built “in a valley in the land of Shinar,” this author is making the obvious point that man has learned nothing in 5000 years. He is still foolishly building his house upon the sand, shaking his fist at God, convinced that he can build his own “tower to heaven.” Man will do things his way; he will build his house wherever he likes, even next to the ocean, or under the Gulf of Mexico. Our New York author knows a thing or two about living near the water, as he is currently dealing with the ramifications of his housing decisions. He knows of what he writes by firsthand experience.

Major hurricanes have now ravished New Orleans, New York, New Jersey, and New England. The message should be clear: the “new” places are just as susceptible to the same hostile weather as the “old” places. Japanese ancestors had literally left “tsunami stones” behind that warned their children and grandchildren to “not build any homes below this point.” Their warnings went unheeded and today the homes below the stones no longer exist; they were completely obliterated by the tsunami of March, 2011. Thousands of years before that, King Solomon put it plainly:

There is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after. (Ecclesiastes 1: 9-11)

The real question is: What will it take before we pay attention to the ancient wisdom?