Calm in the Eye of the Storm

Calm in the Eye of the Storm

"For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock."
Psalm 27:5, ESV

[Credit: Abraham Hunter]


“Each of us as human beings has a responsibility to reach out to our brothers and sisters affected by disasters. One day it may be us or our loved ones needing someone to reach out and help” (Michael W. Hawkins, American Red Cross). “One day” happened last week in my hometown of Houston, Texas, when my relatives were affected by a severe storm that hit the city, left 900,000 people without power, and caused much destruction as straight-line winds of more than 100 mph battered buildings, homes, and human lives. The entire United States has, in fact, experienced a rapid increase in destructive storms in recent years. This country led the world with twenty-five disasters in 2023. There also have been 699 preliminary tornado reports here in the U.S. to this date in 2024, which is well above the historical average of 549 by this point in any given year. Massive destruction and devastating loss of lives have occurred.
What, where, and why?
Such natural calamity also is increasingly the case across the globe, where floods, earthquakes, storms, fires, and heatwaves are occurring at an expanded rate in recent years. There were seventy-five natural disasters in the world in 2023. A natural disaster is “a natural event such as a flood, earthquake, or hurricane that causes great damage or loss of life.” These events are extreme, often sudden occurrences that are caused by storms, floods, droughts, fires, and heatwaves.

Science has enabled us to understand where and why most natural disasters occur. The theory of plate tectonics informs us that ninety percent of all earthquakes and volcanoes occur along the Pacific Ocean’s outer edges, called the “Ring of Fire.” Asia-Pacific is the most disaster-prone region of the world. Forty-five percent of the world’s disasters occur in this area, and seventy-five percent of the people impacted by catastrophic calamities globally live in this part of the planet. Therefore, great strides are being taken in this region, and around the world, to prepare for and respond to such tragedies. One global hot spot is setting a standard for prepared readiness.
Preparation and response is critical
Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh on the evening of 15 November 2007 with 136-150 mph winds, causing extensive damage to life and property. Damage and losses were estimated to be $1.7 billion. More than 3000 lives were lost in that storm, a number that was greatly reduced from the previous deadly cyclone that claimed 140,000 lives in 1991. This reduction in the loss life is significant because the region is known to be situated in the eye of the storm, where the sheer number of similar weather threats faced by Bangladesh is “unprecedented.” The risk, exposure, and vulnerability of the residents equates to one of the most disaster-prone locations on the planet. Interestingly, the government implemented disaster relief strategies prior to Cyclone Sidr that resulted in countless lives saved.
There is a Bangladesh saying, “You haven't seen the power of a cyclone till you've seen the calm at the eye.” In other words, the path to storm readiness emerged because of efforts to fairly evaluate firsthand experiences from those who survive the horrible effects of such natural catastrophes. Investments were made in preparedness, flood management, efforts to reduce economic losses, and steps to protect developmental gains. A powerful key to successful recovery from storms like Sidr has been the country’s response that includes risk management strategies that are inclusive and integrate the needs of the citizens they aim to protect. [1] "Community" has happily taken priority over bureaucracy in that nation. In common parlay, all concerned groups have learned to flock when there is a flood!

With so many relief organizations and governmental agencies across the globe responding to natural disasters, I wonder what sort of moral obligation there is for Christians to respond to catastrophic events like cyclones (hurricanes), earthquakes, and heatwaves? I do believe that a Christian response to natural disasters is vitally important. Let's consider why this is so.
Why a Christian response to natural disasters is important
First, Christians ought to respond to disasters because we know that all humans have intrinsic value. Some secular relief responses are aimed toward saving the greatest number, which is rooted in philosophical traditions like utilitarianism or consequentialism. [2] This approach has its benefits in mass disasters, but there are times when complex traumatic events require a methodology that includes a broader focus. [3] Christians have long offered beneficent service to humanity that is egalitarian. Make no mistake, the challenges of scarce resources and extraordinary human needs occurring in the wake of a calamity requires careful moral decision-making about the most effective ways to address a crisis. Even so, Christians are oriented to value each human life, regardless of status, education, or wealth, and to treat each person equally.
Secondly, Christians ought to respond because we recognize that natural disasters impact human well-being. Life as usual is literally ripped apart and blown or washed away in a moment’s notice. Being helpful (doing good) demonstrates love for one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37, “And who is my neighbor?” “Which one . . . proved to be a neighbor . . . The one who showed him mercy”). These responses are helpful; however, secular responses often mirror them. [4] Surely there is a deeper moral obligation that begs for Christian involvement.
Thirdly, natural disasters expose the truth about humankind. Humans are frail and finite, and crises often lay bare these realities and lead victims to search for the transcendent. It is in these moments when Christian servants, who know about raw suffering and loss, represent Christ most powerfully. Our Savior was bruised and bloodied and bore the full weight of sin in his body on the cross. Believers exhibit “calm in the eye of the storm!” Jesus Christ, the sufferer par excellence, showed strength in a metaphorical storm when He fully faced His imminent sufferings in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). He modeled supreme calm as He entrusted His life to the Heavenly Father just prior to His betrayal, arrest, trial and flogging, and crucifixion (Matthew 26:39, 42, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done”). In the human sense, He faced a catastrophic storm of evil but remained steadfast throughout. He showed human emotion, but never did He doubt God’s goodness and care in the crisis. He knew the importance of completing the mission to lost humanity. Christian calm in the midst of, and aftermath to, great natural disasters testifies that God can be trusted in the crisis. There can be peace amid great suffering.
Fourthly, Christians know that there is a greater catastrophe to consider in natural disasters—and the whole of life (Luke 13:1-5). The reason why Christian disaster response is of critical importance is because of the singular significance of Jesus’ Cross event, and His post-resurrection mandate to take the good news of His resurrection into the suffering world (Matthew 26:36-46; 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Christ provided once, and for all time, the redemptive sacrifice for the sins of humanity (Romans 3:21-26; 4:25; 5:6; 9:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 5:7-9; 1 Peter 2:24). [5] In this sense, we will not ever be able to comprehend what He in His sinlessness must have felt as He became sin for us. However, we can learn by His example, and give witness, to that which enables the victims of tragedy to see Christ as their eternal hope. “Jesus’ death is consistently interpreted in the New Testament as an act of self-giving love, and the community is consistently called to take up the cross and follow in the way that his death defines.” [6] To be a Christian disciple means that we will bear the cross as He defines!

Fifthly, Christians ought to recognize the shift in how disasters are viewed and addressed. David Chester, of the Faraday Institute, states that "previously natural disasters were just seen as extreme physical events, but there is now an increasing emphasis on disasters as social constructs; that human choices and vulnerabilities can transform a natural process into a natural disaster." He goes on to state that "theological approaches mirror this shift; rather than asking how a loving God can allow disasters to happen, greater prominence is now being given to human sinfulness, manifested in national and international disparities in wealth, poverty and hazard preparedness." [7]
I truly believe that most Christians understand a basic theology of disaster response. However, too many times churches and Christian organizations do not demonstrate community (the Body of Christ) in response to human need. They duplicate efforts and vie for preeminence when addressing needs. They unwittingly have become participants in the broken social constructs that hinder disaster response. The resulting efforts are dappled and disjointed. It is at this point that we may learn greatly from organizations like Texans on Mission and government and non-government organizations that practice principled and unified disaster relief.

For example, Texans on Mission, formerly Texas Baptist Men: Disaster Relief, a Christian disaster relief body associated with the Texas Baptist Convention, has responded since 1967 to similar tragedies around the globe, here in the United States, and even in my hometown of Houston last week. They are a Christian gold standard for disaster relief. Their willingness to partner with other aid organizations and sustained pattern of extraordinary preparedness and rapid response to need provides us with a picture of impactful Christian concern for the suffering.
Christian actions that parallel disaster preparation and response
Advance preparation. Christian disaster relief provides a robust holistic understanding of evil in our world that leads to human tragedy. Consider Jesus’ Garden of Gethsemane prayers through a lens of His previous statements (Matthew 1:21 and 20:28), and His mission to establish a new covenant and provide redemption from sin for His people (Matthew 26:26-30). These prayers were not signs of desperation, but rather a solid consecration of His life to follow God’s will (John 3:17). Christians know that it is Christ’s will for His disciples to minister to those who suffer and have need (Matthew 25:35-40; James 1:27). We take careful preparatory steps in advance to provide a rapid response to those who suffer great catastrophes out of the spiritual resources He provides and as we commit to offer our lives in sacrificial service.
Effective response. The government response to cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh sought to integrate into their response the needs of those they sought to help. Jesus came into the world prepared to accomplish God’s redemptive will. Therefore, the Savior was in full control of His sacrificial death (Matthew 26:53). He was fully prepared from all eternity to offer the best response to evil and sin, which was to fulfill the redemptive purpose of God (John 6:37-39). His mission was to be used by the Father to meet the precise needs of humankind. Christians are of course aware of the spiritual needs of people, yet they will strive to provide holistic care (cf. Matthew 7:9). They will have conducted advance research of the most pressing needs that surface in disasters and come ready to adjust their approaches in order to provide careful responses that meet the stated needs of people in the middle of a calamity.


I have a lifelong memory of a similar tragedy to Cyclone Sidr when I was a boy. Hurricane Carla struck the Texas Gulf Coast on September 11, 1961, when I was a six-year-old boy. The storm made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds more than 145 miles per hour. It soon made its way inland and passed over the Houston area. I have a faint recollection of calm inside that terrifying storm as the eye passed over our area. I discovered a similar account of a Baytown family by the name of Murray. They faced two crises: the storm, and a heart attack that hospitalized their husband and father. That family sought shelter in a large church in Baytown, a satellite city on the east side of Houston that had prepared a place for people to seek refuge. One of the children recalled that it was there in that secure place that they listened to the howling winds and torrential rains throughout the night. When the eye of the storm passed over the next morning, she stepped outside with her mother into an eerie stillness with a bit of light up above. It was the calm at the eye in the middle of the storm that she has remembered all these years.
If I may draw a parallel, Christians help victims of life’s great howling disasters to step into the calm of the eye and encourage them to look up to the light that is Christ’s suffering and death on the cross and His resurrection that followed. It is there that hope shines into their hearts. Jesus tells His followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27, ESV).
1. See: "Bangladesh: Building resilience in the eye of the storm" (2017).

2. Zack, Ethics for Disaster, 2d ed., p. 72.
3. Compare, for example, Ezekiel Emanuel, et al, "Fair Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources in the time of Covid-19," in The New England Journal of Medicine. The authors present a case for pandemic response that used a model based upon four fundamental values. Save the most individual lives (utilitarian), treating people equally, (e.g. random selection), instrumental value (prioritizing those who can save others), and prioritizing the worst off (e.g. the sickest or young people who will have lived the shortest lives if they die untreated).
4. Ethics for Disaster, 73.
5. Expositor's Bible Commentary: Romans.
6. Cf. Hays, Moral Vision of the New Testament, 197.

7. Chester, "Natural Disasters and Christian Theology."