Monday was an unusual day for those of us who live in the Atlanta area. We all hunkered down and waited for Hurricane Irma to make her way to us. By the time she arrived, Irma had become a Tropical Storm, but she still had some power to her. She brought wind gusts of 35-40 miles per hour and rain, lots and lots of rain.
Schools, government offices, and businesses shut down on Monday. Like most other folks, I was home–waiting, listening, praying. To take my mind off the swaying of those really tall pine trees in my backyard, I read writings by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Baptist women (what else would a Baptist historian read during a Tropical Storm event?)
Among those writings was a treatise by Katherine Sutton, a Baptist who lived in England during the reign of King Charles II. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant time to be a Baptist given that the English Parliament was busy passing acts designed to limit religious freedom and oppress dissenters. In 1660, Sutton finally fled to Holland, and three years later she published a treatise titled “Christian Womans Experiences of the Glorious Workings of God’s Free Grace.” I read this treatise on Monday as I listened to the strong winds blow, and I was struck especially by a question Sutton raised, one that had come to her during a sermon: “Why doth God sometimes seem to leave his own people?”
Katherine Sutton, a Baptist woman who lived 350 years ago, wrote down these words that I have been feeling, thinking, pondering in the past few weeks. The destructive forces that have swept across our country–hurricanes, floods, and fires–have left me wondering in my darkest moments whether God has taken leave of us, if God is anywhere to be found.
Sutton did not provide much of an answer to the question, but that she gave thought to the question and included it in her writing was in an odd way comforting for me. I felt less alone on a dark Monday, knowing that women of faith and men of faith from across the centuries have, like me, struggled to feel and know God’s presence on their hardest of days. I am not the first to wonder why God seems so far away, and I won’t be the last. I join with a whole company of the faithful who have expressed such doubt.
On Tuesday, Tropical Storm Irma left us. She stayed about twenty-four hours and made her departure. She was kinder to Atlanta than she was to the Caribbean or to Florida, but she did gift us with power outages and downed trees. She also gifted us with new stories: stories of neighbors and strangers who showed up with chainsaws to help, stories of family and friends who called, texted, and sent messages of concern and hope, and stories of a God who showed up for some of us even while we were asking where God was.
On Monday, God showed up for me in the midst of my doubt. Two Texas friends, friends who experienced the worst of Hurricane Harvey and are still experiencing the worst of Harvey, took time to check on me and send their love. And suddenly God didn’t seem so far away after all.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.