Rain, Drought and Other Undeserved Mercies

Recently, while walking barefoot out of our home to retrieve some item or other from the family van, I hurt both of my feet. The unsettling part of this rather mundane event is that I had mildly injured the skin on the bottom of my feet by making the mistake of walking on our lawn.

Along with a serious and seemingly-incalculable amount of agricultural damage, the mid-Missouri drought of 2012 also has turned the Mayer front lawn into an angry, scratchy collection of burned-out plant life that irritated the soles of my feet such that I now know better than to step foot on our “grass” without some form of foot protection. Blood was not drawn, thankfully, but neither was any “normal” amount of comfort to be found in what typically should have been a soft landing. All of my deeply-held expectations tied to the ideas of “bare feet” and “soft grass” had been thoroughly thwarted.

One of the more shopworn clich├ęs we use to address our lack of gratitude as human beings is to throw out the phrase, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” I suppose that sentiment is helpful, up to a point, but for me it falls far short of the more esential truth, namely that the fallen nature of our hearts is such that we routinely fail to give glory to God for the things that are going right in our lives. When it rains “like it is supposed to,” we tend to take it for granted. When a thousand daily mercies are showered on us even in the midst of a drought, we ignore the thousand reasons for joy and focus in like a laser beam on the one spot in our lives where we might be tempted to question God, or outright accuse Him of wrongdoing. Certainly I am as guilty of this as anyone else.

How sad that our hearts really have no clue as to how merciful God has been…and continues to be (Hebrews 1:3). For example, the gift of hundreds of safe commutes to work is likely to be entirely forgotten on the one day when some idiot runs a stop sign and totals our car, just as the gift of rain has been so forcefully brought to our attention by its prolonged and conspicuous absence. But rather than ask, “Why has God withheld rain?” it seems perhaps better to me to ask the question, “Why has God been so merciful as to provide us with rain for as long as He has?”

In his book of daily devotions entitled “Taste and See,” pastor and author John Piper – most certainly not a meteorologist – meditates on Job 5:8-10 and provides what I found to be a tremendous amount of insight into the greatness and power of an omnipotent and benevolent God to provide rain to crops in the ancient Near East. For my part, I feel emboldened by our current predicament to quote him here at some length:

Is rain a great and unsearchable wonder wrought by God? Picture yourself as a farmer in the Near East, far from any lake or stream. A few wells keep the family and animals supplied with water. But if the crops are to grow and the family is to be fed from month to month, water has to come from another source on the fields. From where?

Well, the sky. The sky? Water will come out of the clear blue sky? Well, not exactly. Water will have to be carried in the sky from the Mediterranean Sea over several hundred miles, and then be poured out on the fields from the sky. Carried? How much does it weigh? Well, if one inch of rain falls on one square mile of farmland during the night, that would be 2,323,200 cubic feet of water, which is 17,377,536 gallons, which is 144,735,360 pounds of water.

That’s heavy. So how does it get up in the sky and stay up there if it’s so heavy? Well, it gets up there by evaporation. Really? That’s a nice word. What’s it mean? It means that the water stops being water for a while so it can go up and not down. I see. Then how does it get down? Well, condensation happens. What’s that? The water starts becoming water again by gathering around little dust particles between .0001 and .0001 centimeters wide. That’s small.

What about the salt? Salt? Yes, the Mediterranean Sea is saltwater. That would kill the crops. What about the salt? Well, the salt has to be taken out. Oh. So the sky picks up millions of pounds of water from the sea, takes out the salt, carries the water (or whatever it is, when it is not water) for three hundred miles, and then dumps it (now turned into water again) on the farm?

Well, it doesn’t dump it. If it dumped millions of pounds of water on the farm, the wheat would be crushed. So the sky dribbles the millions of pounds of water down in little drops. And they have to be big enough to fall for one mile or so without evaporating, and small enough to keep from crushing the wheat stalks.

How do all these microscopic specks of water that weigh millions of pounds get heavy enough to fall (if that’s the way to ask the question)? Well, it’s called coalescence. What’s that? It means the specks of water start bumping into each other and join up and get bigger, and when they are big enough, they fall. Just like that? Well, not exactly, because they would just bounce off each other instead of joining up if there were no electric field present. What? Never mind. Take my word for it…I am satisfied for now that, by any name, this (rain) is a great and unsearchable thing that God has done. I think I should be thankful – lots more thankful than I am.

Like everyone else in mid-Missouri, I am acutely aware of the impact that this summer’s drought is having on farmers, cattle ranchers and others who depend on stable crops to provide them with their livelihood. And my family, just like everyone else’s, will get to further participate in the effects of this year’s drought when food prices spike in the fall, as most analysts confidently predict. And, of course, there are any number of ways in which drought might continue to make its presence known to those of us who do not work the earth for a living. So I join countless others in praying that God would be merciful and allow the rains to fall again, this year or perhaps next, to make the earth yield its abundance so as to sustain life in all its forms and glorify His mercies.

The often-ignored flip side to this, though, is that I also pray that God would advance His Kingdom – His will be done – and that He would do whatever He needs to do in order to “bring many sons to glory.” That’s a nice, Christian-ese way of saying that if God needs to use drought and other hardships to advance His purposes in the world, then I want to be found cooperating with Him in bringing about the purposes that He has ordained, trusting His will to be for good, even when it doesn’t appear on the surface to be good…and even if that means more of my family’s “disposable income” lands on Hy-Vee’s bottom line.

That’s an admittedly difficult prayer to wrap one’s heart around. Personally, I have experienced – and continue to experience – “drought” in many forms. Loss of relationships, lack of comfort, unanswered questions, unfulfilled ambitions. And there was a time not all that long ago when these very real deficits in my life would cause me to question God with an angry heart. Nowadays, however, I am often more inquisitive than upset or accusing. The best example I can use to explain my change of heart is that both Mary and Zechariah asked the angel Gabriel essentially the same question; what made all the difference in the outcome was the heart behind the questioner (Luke 1:18-22; Luke 1:34-38). So what exactly is God doing in and around those areas of our country so badly scorched by this year’s drought? We can and should pray that His purposes would be fulfilled.

Several days ago, I awoke to find dark clouds in the sky around my home. The precipitation had only just begun to fall as I made my way to my truck for the daily commute to the MU campus. Normally, I tend to seek shelter when it is raining, just like everyone else. On that day, however, I drove to work with the driver’s side window down, the radio off, and the sound of raindrops hitting my roof and windshield, thanking God that the rainfall was sufficient to justify turning on my wipers. My left arm was getting wet and water was dripping down the inside of my door. I didn’t even care.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Jeremiah 29:4-7, 11-13
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. … For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

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