Getting Kicked When You’re Down

Typhoon Ruby map

As I write this, we in the Philippines wait tensely for Cyclone Hagupit (local name Ruby) to make landfall. Ironically, “Hagupit” is a Filipino term meaning “lash,” one of the five words we contributed to the international cyclone name database.

Everyone’s on their toes. The national weather bureau has been keeping us updated since Hagupit was a blip on the map. The government risk reduction agency has “pre-positioned” its forces and resources. The Department of Social Welfare and Development, the main government bureau in charge of relief operations, has been on red alert since Wednesday. The Red Cross has been too. Folks along the cyclone track in the Eastern Visayas and Northern Mindanao provinces have been warned and, in targeted areas, evacuated. Extra cautious officials are evacuating residents along the Manila coastlines as well, even if the capital is not directly in the line of fire, as it were. It seems we’re ready for Hagupit.

But are we? Just a year and a month ago Supertyphoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) ravaged the very same swathe Hagupit threatens now. At least 6,300 deaths and 28,000 injuries were officially recorded, though the actual count may be more than that since corpses are still turning up in Tacloban and its environs. Around 16 million people in 9 national regions were displaced. The total cost of damage was estimated at Php89.5 billion (slightly over US$2billion). Add to that the psycho-emotional fallout, which is impossible to measure.

Despite that, we as a nation have doggedly slogged our way through the debris. We’ve received immense help from our global friends and for that, we are truly grateful. But the process of recovery is difficult, and rehabilitation is even trickier. Some say we’ve made good progress in one year; others scoff at that. Personally, I’d rather encourage than smirk. While there may be instances of official inefficiency, cupidity, and possibly graft (this must be assumed), there is good here — many selfless people in the private and public sector have given much to ensure that folks in Tacloban and other affected areas are able to hang their shingles and rise to a new day. They may be wobbly, but they’re standing.

I am reminded of the final scenes in the film Gravity where after a series of near-death encounters in outer and inner space, Ryan at last makes it to safety. Incredulous, she clutches a clump of soggy sand and chuckles. She struggles to her feet but stumbles. She laughs. She tries once more, and stands.

I felt the metaphor was a tad too obvious, but I admit, I’m thinking about it now. With irony. Like Ryan, we’ve managed to get on our feet — barely — and here’s another calamity threatening to kick us down. What a bully.

The Philippines has responded with prayer. Calls for intercession are all over the social and broadcast media; “storm prayer brigade” text blasts are making the rounds. Is God listening? Well, I heard on the noontime news that Hagupit weakened from a 205 kph wind speed to 185 kph in a matter of hours. Its diameter reduced from 700 kms to 600 kms over the same period. Nonetheless that keeps it a category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale predicted to cause “devastating damage” with power outages that “will last weeks to possibly months” and rendering “most of the area…uninhabitable for weeks or months.” We need more time on our knees.

Why would God allow this? He surely knows we could use the break. I brought this to my quiet time and submitted it to Scripture. I got this in response:

Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5, NLT)

Point taken. That was yesterday. Today, I got this:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:5-6, 11-13, NLT)

This is a word even the devout will wrestle with, but that is precisely God’s intent, I believe. It’s His prescription for a faith solid enough to withstand any storm.

There are many things about our Creator and His methods that I will never understand. I find it remarkable that God would create occasions for His people to doubt Him and His benevolence, His wisdom and His will for creatures He says He loves and intends to save. He brings people to the end of dependence on platitudes and drives them to seek Him in spirit and in truth. What do you believe? He says. Who do you say I am?

I say He is sovereign, and I say He is never wrong. The discipline He is bringing to my country by way of Hagupit is not pleasant, it is painful. Yet having been trained by Haiyan, which has been our severest discipline to date, we Filipinos are readier now to face the onslaught with confidence in ourselves and a fuller faith in our sustaining God. Watching the pre-typhoon preparations, I feel that we have indeed strengthened our “feeble arms and weak knees” and are facing Hagupit with courage.

If God has to teach us how to right our national wrongs one calamity at a time, then we must accept that. If He must bring us to our knees so we can stand in faith, then so be it. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, God is not safe — He’s a lion! But He’s good.

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Those of you reading this who believe in God and prayer, please join us in asking the Lord our Father in Jesus’ name to weaken this storm as it makes landfall. Thank you, all.

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