COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | DANIEL COFFEY

Are the storms in Texas ‘biblical’?

Everyone enjoys a hyperbolic statement once in awhile, but let’s face it, we risk the possibility of overworking terms that should be reserved for more worthy events.

After recent storms in Texas demonstrated how increasing moisture in the atmosphere might become greater floods on the ground, some people referred to those floods as “biblical.”

As reported in Reuters, “about 11 inches of rain fell in Houston on [Memorial Day] while parts of Austin have been hit by as much as 7 inches.” At least 17 people have died thus far in those terrible floods.

Certainly Texas is experiencing a very big storm with a lot of water falling in a short time, causing a significant number of fatalities attended by great personal tragedy, but akin to the biblical account of Noah and the flood it is not!

Using such terms indiscriminately diminishes a true understanding of the scale, scope, intensity and duration of the wrath of God as occurred during Noah’s time.

The Bible teaches in Genesis that the biblical storm lasted 40 days and nights and was invoked because “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5.

Thus, the biblical flood Noah experienced was one intended to destroy the whole of humanity, not merely to bring tragedy to unfortunate Texas families caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

By way of statistical scale and contrast, a 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study concluded: “during 2006–2010, about 2,000 U.S. residents died each year from weather-related causes of death. About 31% of these deaths were attributed to exposure to excessive natural heat, heat stroke, sun stroke, or all; 63% were attributed to exposure to excessive natural cold, hypothermia, or both; and the remaining 6% were attributed to floods, storms, or lightning.”

During 2013 about 2.6 million people died in America, 611,105 individuals from heart disease and 584,881 of cancer, and more than 32,000 dying in car accidents. Yet somehow, no one refers to such collective vehicular carnage as “biblical” in nature despite its enormous toll-taking scale.

That said, biblical narratives often focus on a select few individuals acting in the world and directed by a single God whose view of his creations changes with experience, even as that deity seeks to circumscribe the consequences of originally granting free will to humans by educating them toward a favored path of conduct.

Part of that education rests in grand collective events such as the biblical 10 plagues set out in Exodus that beset Egypt when the leadership of Egypt, the pharaoh, repeatedly refused to listen to Moses and would not release the Hebrew slaves.

Perhaps in that sense the Texas floods are not “biblical” as a standalone physical event, but are part of a series of physical lessons, a mounting chronicle of losses we are experiencing as our leadership fails to listen, learn and act wisely with respect to a particular message.

Insight into the consequences of the ignorance and evil of powerful and wealthy people is far more a topic of the Bible than events in the natural world, even as those events communicate God’s will and guidance.

Could the Texas floods be a divine message or lesson? Perhaps. Certainly those who might wish to see it could find a phrase or two in the confusing, taunting and frightening language of the Bible’s book of Revelation.

Unfortunately, what is happening in the minds and hearts of our leaders is what is truly biblical. As they become detached, hardened, insensitive, blasé and filled with trifles about celebrity, money, power and games, then we are truly encountering a biblical event, though one not readily acknowledged as such in news or commentary recounting physical tragedies.

What we do in our lives has lasting consequences, collectively and individually. We know more now about the physical consequences of those actions and failures to act than ever before in human history and yet show increasing signs of cloistering our thoughts in order to avoid understanding these adverse physical consequences in advance.

Key among the lessons of the Bible is the recurring human failure to timely act with wisdom and foresight in both small and grand endeavors. Alas, recall it was not until the 10th plague and Pharaoh’s own firstborn was lost that he relented and the Hebrew slaves were allowed to depart Egypt. Exodus 12:29

Ironically, Houston’s mayor in 2014 called for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and recently expressed satisfaction about bayou enlargements to convey stormwater more quickly. It seems even adaption to an acknowledgement of the overarching role of global warming is not enough to forestall the adverse effects of record-breaking rainfall.

Now, that’s biblical.


Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at daniel.coffey@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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