Good Night, Irene

The old American folk song sings it well, doesn’t it? Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene I’ll see you in my dreams You cause me to weep, you cause me to mourn You cause me to leave my home But the very last words I heard her say Was “Please sing me one more song” Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene I’ll see you in my dreams But nobody up and down the eastern seaboard is in any mood to sing these words, as the massive clean-up for Hurricane Irene’s devastation continues. “You cause me to weep, you cause me to mourn, you cause me to leave my home” pretty much sums it up in the aftermath of this storm—remembered more for her rains and floods rather than for her winds. Over forty dead, property damages predicted to exceed $7 billion, Irene now ranks in the top ten most expensive disasters in this country’s history. But what caught my eye this week was the announcement that this marks the sixty-sixth disaster that FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has faced in 2011. And the monies are running low, with only $900 million left in FEMA’s disaster aid funding. So here’s a question for your own brooding: Could an escalation in natural disasters drain our national economy? I.e., is it possible that a spike in costly disasters could someday (I’m not suggesting today) actually deplete government resources, drain private reserves and diminish our collective ability to respond to nature’s emergencies? How many more hurricanes or droughts (Texas was praying for the rain of that hurricane to veer westward to relieve their own withering disaster) or earthquakes would it take to “break the bank” in the United States? (Look at Japan with a single earthquake and tsunami this year, as she still struggles to gain her economic footing.) The US News and World Report website reported this week: “To date, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website, President Obama has declared 24 emergencies and 66 major disaster declarations in 2011. So, also including those for fire management assistance, President Obama has made 181 FEMA declarations this year. That figure easily eclipses the previous record of 157 overall annual declarations set by Bill Clinton in 1996.” And the year isn’t even over. ( “Good night, Irene.” But could it be “Good night, America” one of these days? Two thousand years ago, Christ made this terse prediction of global conditions that would occupy the headlines on the eve of his return: “On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.  Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.  At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27). So shall we panic? Not at all. But we really do need to quit living life as though it were “business as usual.” The “usual” has long gone, and the “unusual” is now our new “usual.” So what if we lived with the quiet confidence Christ’s next sentence offers: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v 28). Is Jesus suggesting a quiet confidence in his prediction? No, but implicit in his command is an abiding confidence in the One who is to return. That’s why our new series, “The Last Word: The Fourth Gospel for a Final Generation,” is front and center this new season—because reliving the story of Jesus can revive our faith in Jesus. Not faith in the headlines of earth’s “fourth watch”—but rather faith in the One who has promised that after the “Good night” will come the very “Good morning.” No wonder we can live the “fourth watch” with our heads up!