Media images of flood victims are again on our mind. This past week's rains forced many Houston-area residents from their homes. What did they take with them as they left for their lives?
"Historic Flooding Ongoing as Houston Records One Of Its Rainiest Days Ever," said one news source. Said another, "Seven dead, 1,200 rescued." And another, "1,000 homes have been flooded, about 120,000 homes are without power, and school and transit systems are shut down across the region."
Accompanying the stories were pictures and videos of swamped and shivering people fleeing to higher ground with little in their hands.
One man grabbed a single suitcase as he abandoned his home and said, "All I got a week's worth of clothes and my important papers."
A wife clung to prized family pictures as she was floated out of the flood on a make-shift raft.
Reflecting her own sense of priorities, a drenched and matted little girl riding the same raft clung tightly to her dolly under one arm and to her puppy under the other.
These images of flood victims and the things they carried are sobering: what would we grab if we had to run from torrential rains?
These images and questions about what we would carry are also symbolic: what would we grab if we had to escape from a spiritual storm?
The Perfect Storm was a 2000 drama/adventure movie co-starring hunky George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg and Clooney were Atlantic-Ocean commercial fishermen whose small fishing boat got caught in an unusually intense confluence of storms described as "the perfect storm" by awe-struck meteorologists. The Clooney and Wahlberg characters were first awe-struck, then wave-struck, and finally wave-drowned. The movie about their tragic death entered the words "perfect storm" into contemporary English as an expression that describes events that spiral our of control due to unusual combinations of negative circumstances.
Perfect storm is an apt description of the confluence of spiritually negative circumstances that now threatens to "drown men in destruction and perdition." Christians are reeling from a myriad of cultural shifts that have drastically altered our world. Where once Christianity was the dominant social force and Christians were comfortable within the society, Christians are now marginalized and Christianity is under attack. It is not to higher ground that we must flee, but flee we must.
Under Our Arms; In Our Suitcase
Running from our door, what will we grab for our single suitcase? Riding on a raft, to what will we cling? Instead of puppies and dollies, what will be under each arm? There is just enough room for our families, for soundness of faith, and for beloved brethren.
Selfishness is too strong a word with too negative a connotation to accurately describe proper motives as we flee. Perhaps a better term is Properly Prioritized Personal Precedence. It's OK to think about ourselves and our families first during a Perfect Storm. It's OK to put ourselves and our dearest loved-ones first in a sinful and getting more sinful society. Christian fathers and husbands: think about how you need to lead to save your families from the perfect storm. Christian moms and dads: think about how joyous you will feel if you can save you and yours from "wrath to come."
Several New Testament Epistles were written to First-Century Christians who suffered the first perfect storm of persecution. Ignoring the common temptation to lighten-up on those whose lives were described as "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind," New Testament writers reemphasized moral and doctrinal first principles. Instead of tolerating "a shipwreck of faith," they stressed the importance of remaining firmly on the ship.
Finally, after Properly Prioritized Personal Precedence and after moral and doctrinal first principles, we need to keep close brethren under each arm. "Love one another with a pure heart fervently," said Peter. "The word "fervently" (ἐκτενῶς) means, "intensely," with all the energies strained to the utmost," as if we are each other's last best hope in the flood.