As I write this, Hurricane Harvey has just finished his work, washing away the property and livelihoods of millions in Texas, and Hurricane Irma is just beginning hers, stirring panic in Florida that its residents will soon suffer a similar fate. Among my dear friends, there are some that are so tender-hearted that they are almost overcome with grief and compassion when such things occur – to the point where I feel like a heartless pig by comparison! And yet, heartbreaking and terrifying as they are, natural disasters (and man-caused disasters) can lead us to a beauty that transcends the horror.
I have long noticed that, in the wake of disasters, when the reporters seek out those whose homes have vanished, it seems there are only two kinds of response voiced in the interviews. There are those who, in haunting desperation, see only the loss. They have literally lost everything that gave meaning and hope to their lives, and, devastated, see no future. But there are also those who still have light in their eyes, who, even in the most baffling pain, are grateful to have survived with their loved ones, and inevitably remark that what blew away was all just stuff.
Jesus taught His followers to make certain that the things they value most are perfectly secured in a place where they can never be touched: “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
It occurred to me some time ago that the three “destroyers” that Jesus mentions – moths, rust and thieves – could be taken to be representative of the three means by which human beings suffer loss: Moths of the biological, rust of the inorganic, and thieves of human evil.
Non-human life forms, from bacteria to grizzly bears, can do us great harm, even though they are innocent of any malice. They are, after all, simply trying to get by! The inorganic world, following its physical laws of heat and chemistry and gravity, often erupts with a force that mortal flesh and engineering cannot endure. And even if we have escaped the moths and rust, every one of us has suffered loss from foolish and selfish choices of free moral agents, even if those choices have been ours alone.
And so, where is the beauty? It is in the astonishingly Good News that, as we embrace the real-but-invisible Kingdom of God as our home and the only Nation wherein we find our true citizenship, our deepest lives and truest treasure cannot be touched. We may see our every belonging go up in smoke or crumble to dust, our health and our wealth may fail, but the deposits we make in Heaven’s storehouse, through trusting and submitting to the One who made us, and by following Him in showing sacrificial love to friend and enemy alike, can never lose their value.
There will never be a human institution, nor political system, nor bank vault nor army nor vaccine nor insurance policy, that can offer the promise of absolute unshakable security. The great beauty is found in the message that it is actually, literally, possible to enjoy that kind of security, and to experience a life of peace, hope and freedom from fear, even under the worst circumstances that moths and rust and thieves might bring.