My family and I vacationed again this summer at Harbor Island, just outside Beaufort, S.C. We’ve made this trip a number of times and have always enjoyed it. What was different this time was seeing the impact of last year’s Hurricane Matthew.
Although the storm was downgraded to a Category 1 by the time it made landfall on Oct. 8, its 75 mph winds lashed the South Carolina coastline, and caused massive flooding across its path. Every house on the beachfront was hit, and some looked as though a giant had punched his fist through them, shoving them off their foundations and scattering furniture and furnishings over the dunes. One house was completely gone.
I thought of all the families who were impacted, their places of joyful memories now tossed and broken like discarded dollhouses. According to reports, the powers that be at FEMA are not going to allow many of these places to be rebuilt.
The thought might be crossing some minds that perhaps these folks should not have built right on the beach in the first place. And that thought is worth exploring.
All of us know someone who has made choices and decisions that we found questionable at best, or even dangerous. And we cluck our tongues and wait for the disaster that will likely follow, privately congratulating ourselves for not being so foolish.
But each of us needs to carefully examine our own lives, and ask the question: Just what is it that I am building my life on? Is it the pursuit of the “American Dream,” chasing career and ambition and the acquisition of more and more stuff that tells our neighbors we’ve really arrived? Maybe instead we’re pursuing that perfect relationship, searching for our “soul mate” who will at last make us complete and whole and happy. Or it could be that we’re just hoping to find a way to escape the pain of life, whether through things like alcohol and drugs and sex, or jumping down the rabbit hole of computer gaming and the promise of some alternate reality that lets us be the hero.
Whatever choice we make we need to ponder what our lives will be like when all these things are snatched away. For the truth is this: Anything less than that which is eternal will indeed be taken away from us, sooner or later. All our “stuff” will one day end up in a garage sale, and eventually time and decay will erode it to nothingness. All our pastimes and pleasures are ultimately meaningless in and of themselves, falling into the category the writer of Ecclesiastes refers to as “vanity,” from a Hebrew word meaning “vapor,” or “mist” –something that has no substance and evaporates, leaving no trace behind.
The most sobering truth is this: All the people we know – not some, but all – will eventually leave us. Some will depart before they pass away, inflicting a different sort of grief, but all will one day die. And that includes us as well.
In Matthew 7, Jesus says there are basically two kinds of people in the world: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
There is only One who offers eternal security amid the storms of life. The rain and wind and flood come to all; I hope when the hurricane hits, you will have already taken refuge in the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Ed Rees is the pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church.