The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

It’s Tuesday, October 4th, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Rebuilding Challenges and Costs, Opportunism and Moral Corruption, Big Government and Bi-Partisan Political Cooperation: The Paradoxical (And Urgently Important) Aftermath of Hurricane Ian

The fact is that we live life from a human scale, and that means that even with the latest technologies, it is often some time before we understand what is going on in the world around us. That is especially emphatically true for the people of Florida, particularly Southwest Florida, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. We’re talking about just a few days ago, but for many people, especially there in that region of Florida, it is as if the world has suddenly changed, and in a big sense it has. This reminds us of the massive power of weather systems and in particular the giant storms known as hurricanes. At least in this part of the globe.

These hurricanes have historically changed the flow of rivers. They have changed coastlines and have altered landscapes, and of course they have also taken many lives. If you look at Hurricane Ian, we now know, for example, that in the region closest to the storm’s landfall, about a year’s worth of precipitation fell in a matter of just hours. Now, there is no place on planet Earth that can handle that very well. We’re talking about a massive weather system that will leave a massive imprint, not only on the Florida coastline and on those affected communities, but on the human beings whose lives were directly affected by this storm, and of course, the death toll continues to rise. As of last night, the death toll was officially 103.

Now, many people wonder how in the world that kind of number is actually ascertained or determined. That number does not mean that 103 human beings lost their lives in the active course of the storm. It does mean that at least at this point, 103 deaths can be attributed directly or secondarily to the storm. The argument would be that those deaths would not have happened if the storm had not taken place. Now obviously some of this counting is inexact, but it does tend to be proportional. This tells us something about the deadly effects of this storm as compared, for example, with other similar storms. There are so many lessons to be learned here. For one thing, there’s a lot of conversation about the fact that this particular hurricane was unusually unpredictable, and at one point, there was a likelihood of landfall indicated virtually throughout the entire western coast of Florida, including both the peninsula and the panhandle. That’s a lot of territory, that’s hundreds of miles.

But even as there are some who say that it came as something of a complete surprise that Hurricane Ian made landfall around Fort Myers, Florida. The reality is that Fort Myers had never not been in that particular zone of warning for the previous five days. Hurricane experts and those who tried to predict the landfall of such storms and their effects refer to what is known as the cone of uncertainty, and again, that included virtually all of this area. But it tells us something, and this is a humbling realization for human beings, that even as we have massive technology, we have satellites that can measure and also track these storms. We can see them develop. They’re often off the North African Coast. They’re the east coast of Africa. We can see these storms make their way across the Atlantic and gain strength.

Officials such as the National Hurricane Center in the United States have grown very, very efficient with the limits of what they can know in predicting where these storms will fall and how powerful they will be when they hit. But on the other hand, there is probably more unknown than known. I refer to this cone of uncertainty. The fact is, that human beings live in a certain cone of uncertainty, and when it comes to natural events and something on the scale of a hurricane, there is no easy way. There is no absolutely certain way to predict, not only where a storm will hit, but what the effects will be when it hits. This gets to another issue, when you’re thinking of these massive hurricanes and in particular, category four hurricanes, such as Hurricane Ian, one thing to keep in mind is that you’re looking at massive winds; you’re looking at massive rainfall, and you’re also looking at what is known as a tidal surge.

This is a literal lifting up of the water, and you can understand why this would be significantly different if the tidal surge were to come at high tide rather than low tide. One of the problems when it came to Hurricane Ian is that so many of these factors basically appeared to conspire to amplify one another. The hurricane, of course, is sometimes known as a cyclone. It is a cyclonic storm. It is in the form of a great spiral. The winds are in motion, and in the northern hemisphere, those winds at the north are pointing towards the west, and at the south are pointing towards the east. Thus, if a hurricane hits the east coast of the United States, the worst effects are often on the north side of the storm. But if one of these hurricanes hits Florida on the west coast, well, then it is the southern part of the storm that often bears the greatest brunt of damage. That’s exactly what happened.

The weather forecasters had suggested that the hurricane may hit anywhere from the southern tip of Florida up into an area north of Tampa in terms of the eye of the storm. But the storm instead hit considerably south of Tampa, and this led to the amazing site of Tampa Bay being at least partially exposed because the waters were being pushed out there in Tampa. But they were coming in fast when it comes to Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, and other areas there in Southwest Florida, and furthermore, this meant that there was a great deal of water being pushed inland in those regions. At the same time, the storm slowed down and dropped unprecedented amounts of water by rainfall that added up to a massive amount of damage by flood, by rain, by wind. It was an extremely powerful, deadly and destructive combination.

There are several pretty significant worldview issues for us to consider here, but we must always keep in mind that we’re not just talking about a massive natural occurrence. We’re talking about impact on very real human lives, and this means that there are many people in South Florida who now have no homes to which they can return because the massive devastation was on a far greater scale than had even been expected as the storm was being anticipated. You’re looking at areas such as Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island off of Florida, Southwest Coast being largely destroyed. Many of the buildings simply now no longer standing. Much of the land now swept clear except for an enormous collection of debris. The community known as Sanibel or Sanibel Island is largely destroyed.

One of the bigger issues there is the fact that the causeway that links that island community to the Florida mainland has been largely destroyed. A major section of it is simply gone. Indeed, at least three sections are either weak or destroyed in such a way that it might take a considerable amount of time before the actual causeway can be repaired if indeed they decide to repair this causeway rather than to build another. This reminds us of the fragility of human civilization, of communities that actually do have to be connected one way or another, or the fact that physical access, even to the areas where we live, well, that can be affected in such a way that the survival of a community can actually be at stake.

But this situation gets a lot more complicated when we understand that in this world, when we look at a major storm like this, it is not the case that what was there can simply be rebuilt. In many cases, something new will have to be built in its place, and that’s not just true in terms of physical construction. It’s also true in terms of human community. For one thing, there has been a pretty wide dispersion of human beings, individuals, couples, and families from the areas most affected by the storm to other areas of Florida and perhaps even beyond. The question is, will they go back to their homes and resettle? Will they rebuild? Will the communities be able to rebuild as well? Well, we can hope so. When you look at the resilience of human civilization, there’s good reason to believe it will be so, but it’s also likely to be different.

Here are some factors you might not think about. For one thing, when you are looking at infrastructure, it is very expensive to build. It takes time to build, and even when there is the cultural and political will to rebuild infrastructure, it takes some time. You just can’t wish a massive causeway into existence. Another issue is rather paradoxical, and in a fallen world, this is one of the paradoxes that can sometimes confuse us, and that has to do with the fact that when a massive natural disaster like this takes place, the land values in those communities sometimes do not go down; they go up. That is to say that developers see an opportunity. After all, there’s a lot of land that is now basically undeveloped because whatever had been there is no longer there. You’re looking at the fact that as land values escalate, especially in coastal communities, well, that has a distortion effect.

So, for example, if you had a home that was worth, say, $100,000 on a certain piece of property, if that piece of property is now, and it was even before the hurricane, vastly more valuable, you’re not going to be able to rebuild a, say, $100,000 home… I just made up that figure, on that same parcel of land. Know that land is now so valuable that it is unlikely you could rebuild a house that wasn’t so expensive, or a facility that might not be as valuable on that same land now. It’s just a reminder that when you’re looking at a massive integrated economy of the complexity of ours, all kinds of factors play a part. You’re also looking at something else, many of those… and we know this from their own words, many of those in some of these coastal communities had decided to live there, even as they knew that some forms of insurance were either impossible or implausible just on the financial model, and so they decided to live there without insurance.

Now, here’s where things get very dicey in political and moral terms. Does the larger society, does the state of Florida, or do the taxpayers of the United States of America owe these coastal communities to rebuild when, after all, it’s just a matter of time before one of these massive storms hits? There’s a reason why the insurance that might be purchasable, say, in the interior of the country, is too expensive to buy on the coastal areas, and that’s because you’re looking at two very different contexts with different levels of risk. Florida Senator Marco Rubio speaking on news programs over the weekend dared to utter the fact that as you are looking at some of this destruction, it’s going to take a considerable amount of time in order to be able to rebuild even the infrastructure of some of these communities and those communities will be forever changed.

Fort Myers Beach, for example, which was heavily damaged, is something of an historic Florida community, but you can’t go back and build historic Florida. Something very new is going to be built where historic Florida once stood. Some of those who were anchoring these programs threw at Senator Rubio, the fact that he had been quite concerned about the misuse of Federal Disaster Relief Funds in areas in the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy, and they ask if he would be quite so scrupulous when it comes to the situation in Florida. Senator Rubio made very clear that he does not want unwarranted claims to be paid in Florida any more than in New York and New Jersey. But the complexity here is massive. Senator Rubio, along with other politicians there in Florida, they are clearly feeling the moral weight of trying to help so many citizens in that state to recover, and not just individuals and families, but communities as well.

Now, that political conversation raises another very interesting worldview dimension, and that is the fact that you don’t need government until you do, and many Americans believe they don’t need much government until they do need a bit of government attention or assistance, especially in the aftermath of this kind of disaster. Now, conservatives are those who feel that government must be chastened and must be limited, and see, the growth of a massive government as inherently repressive. I share those convictions, but there are certain responsibilities that can only be carried out by government. When you’re looking at a storm of this scale, you are really looking at the necessity of government involvement. The neighborhood PTA is not going to rebuild that causeway.

But on the happier side of the ledger, there’s something else for us to notice. Many people in the media are saying, “Wow, will you look at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and then look at President Joe Biden, there are two administrations, though, representing two separate parties and for that matter, a great deal of political conflict, and for that matter, a potential rival face off in the 2024 presidential election.” At least in the course of Hurricane Ian and in the immediate aftermath, there has been an amazing amount of cooperation and an amazingly small amount of political friction. What does that tell us?

Well, it tells us that despite the effects of sin and despite the realities of political conflict, we really are looking at the fact that a disaster like this, a natural occurrence such as Hurricane Ian does afford the opportunity for people to work together as they seek to help a community and individuals to respond and to recover in the aftermath of such a devastating storm. This does not mean that all of a sudden Governor DeSantis and President Biden have become political allies. No, it does mean that they both bear great political responsibility, great moral responsibility, and when it comes to something like a hurricane of the scale of Hurricane Ian, they actually work together. Now, that might not last. As a matter of fact, when hard questions about policy and priority arise, not to mention the electoral conflicts that are coming, you’re likely to see a breakdown of that cooperation.

But nonetheless, it does tell us something encouraging about at least the ability of human beings, even human beings with grave differences in a political context, to work together in order to help people at a moment of genuine need. But we’re going to see something else as well, a flip side, and it’s Christians who understand sin, who know to expect this, and that is that there is going to be a great deal of cynical opportunism. There’s going to be something that basically will look like a pattern of crime, or at least of criminal activity with persons trying to profit off of the disaster known as Hurricane Ian, and in many cases, to take advantage of people sometimes offering them money, financial settlements. Well, you can just imagine where this is going. The reality is that a moral urgency like this natural disaster demonstrates both the propensity for good and the corruption of evil that is just a part of the human equation, as is made very clear in Scripture.

Part II

Why Don’t Humans Evacuate When They are Warned of a Natural Disaster?: Human Nature, ‘Anchoring,’ and Our False Sense of Security in a Fallen World

Another issue before leaving Hurricane Ian, why do people sometimes not heed warnings when they are given? Why did people who knew that they were always for five days at least in a potential landing area for the storm, why did they stay on Fort Myers Beach? Why did they stay on Sanibel Island? Well, the reality is that human nature goes a long way towards explaining this. Of course, when we say human nature, we’re talking about fallen human nature, and that means that there are certain patterns that should have our attention. One of them was described by the news source Axios, and that is anchoring. That has to do with the fact that when a major storm like this has a predicted path, people tend to go with that original prediction and not to update it, even when subsequent reports indicate that the storm might have changed directions somehow just given the way the human brain, the human consciousness works. When you are told the storm is likely to do this, you basically bake that into the cake. It’s hard to overcome that when the storm follows a different path or lands in a different area.

The other insight that follows along with this is the idea of false security. We often feel secure in our homes. That’s often the place where rightly we feel most secure. By homes, in this case, I mean houses, and in our houses where we make our living and where we live with our loved ones, the reality is that we can feel very, very secure. But the scale of these kinds of storms reminds us that we are not secure. When we are told there’s a massive storm with a tidal surge and massive winds and waves and the rainfall and all the rest, and we are told that it is heading for us and we are to evacuate, the smart move is to evacuate. It’s not just smart. It has to do with the stewardship of information and the importance and prioritization of protecting human life, our own and the lives of others.

That gets to yet another issue, which is, it is not simply our lives that we have stewardship for, because even when you have people who may say, “I’m going to write out the storm.” If they need to be rescued, it is often at the risk or expense of other lives and at the expense of other rescue priorities. It’s just one of those interesting reminders that we always live in a moral universe. This is the way the Creator made it. This is the way the Bible explains it, “We’re moral creatures in a moral universe and there is no way out of our moral responsibility.”

One final historical note, as you’re thinking about Sanibel, let’s remind ourselves that that’s a part of a two island system. Pine Island is made out of rock. Sanibel and Captiva, that’s one island, are actually on sand. That’s a part of the problem here. You just think of Jesus’ teaching in the gospels concerning sinking sand. We are told that about the time of the Old Testament, this particular island was inhabited by an empire of those known as the Calusa Indians. Now, of course, Indians is an anachronistic name, but they were an indigenous tribe that had located in this region of Florida, again known as the Calusa. Now, when I was a boy growing up in Florida, and by the way, the first storm that I remember hearing about, I was born but not very conscious of what became known as Hurricane Donna, another category four storm that hit in 1960. I was alive, but I wasn’t aware of it. But boy did I hear about it. It was one of the constant historical references that I remember from my boyhood.

But thinking of Sanibel, as a boy, I remember it basically for its white beaches and for its incredible opportunity to collect shells, because the beach there, they’re on the west coast of Florida, this barrier island was a place where you could find shells like you could find them nowhere else. I’ve been praying particularly for those of Southwest Florida there in Fort Myers and Naples, and, yes, Sanibel and Captiva. It’s important that we as evangelical Christians remind ourselves that there are important Christian works. There are evangelical congregations there in those areas that need our prayer, and they need our support, and particularly now cut off from their own membership and from their own communities.

This is a particularly important and very fragile period of the ministry of those churches. Gospel-minded believers will have to not only pray for them, but come alongside them.

Part III

A Russian Czar with Nuclear Weapons Backed into a Corner: Vladimir Putin in Vulnerable State as War in Ukraine Slips Through His Fingers

Other big news we simply have to consider includes the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin, has pushed through the annexation by what was claimed to be of vote of the citizens of those areas, by which miraculously enough, we are told that conveniently for Vladimir Putin, those citizens voted to become a part of Russia rather than remaining a part of Ukraine. Now, the background to this, of course, is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so many ideological and historical grievances that we have discussed. But this is a particularly explosive issue. What’s really important for us to recognize is that there is no legitimacy whatsoever to Vladimir Putin’s claim that these regions have just voted to become a part of Russia. They voted at the point of a gun, at the barrel of a rifle, and with Russian soldiers basically running the whole thing.

By the way, Vladimir Putin is now in an increasingly vulnerable position. For one thing, remember that he has made himself the equivalent of a Russian czar and just remind yourselves of one big historical fact. You look throughout history and guess what you won’t find? A former czar. Vladimir Putin made a horrible miscalculation. He calculated that he and Russia’s wanted military would be able to crush Ukraine to do so quickly, to take key the historic Ukrainian capital, to take all of Ukraine’s territory and add it to the glory of Mother Russia. Let’s just say that hasn’t happened. As a matter of fact, even some of the areas that Putin claimed to have annexed over the weekend have now fallen to Ukrainian forces. The Russian forces are in disarray, and they are, at least in many places, in retreat, and this puts the entire world in a very dangerous situation because Vladimir Putin is basically the equivalent of a trapped animal.

There is virtually no way that Russia can regain the military advantage unless they can somehow force this into a very long stalemate and win by a war of attrition. Even as Putin called up, and this was a political humiliation, he had to call up about 300,000 reservists. The fact is that even the Russians have admitted that they’ve had grave political difficulties getting those troops to report. Furthermore, many of them have been physically and medically disqualified from service. The reality is that what the world has learned is that Russia’s mighty military was not nearly so mighty as it had appeared. By the way, lest Americans gloat about this, we could imagine a situation in which it could be discovered to our own chagrin and sorrow that America’s mighty military in a certain context might not be so mighty after all. Just consider the situation in the end of the 20th century, with the United States having very bitter memories from places such as Korea and Vietnam.

But nonetheless, Russia does at the moment, appear to be a particularly vulnerable state at a particularly dangerous time. What makes this situation all the more dangerous is that in a speech given by President Putin over the weekend, he basically said that he reserved the right to use at least limited nuclear weapons. Putin made very clear that, at least in his view, all weapons are on the table. That’s a very dangerous situation. But Vladimir Putin is because he’s placed himself there in an extremely dangerous position. Sadly, he has put the world, the entire world in the sense, but certainly America and our NATO allies, as well as Ukraine, in a very dangerous situation. In coming days and weeks, we’re going to be looking more closely at the worldview, the biblical considerations of the options now faced by the United States and allies, as well as Ukraine.

It’s a reminder to us, by the way, of the fact, that until the kingdom of Christ comes in its fullness, there will be wars and rumors of wars, and there will be no perpetual or lasting peace. That’s a daunting and humbling realization, but Vladimir Putin has done his part to make that realization all too clear.

Part IV

125 People Killed During Indonesian Soccer Match: Why Do Sporting Events Spark Such Violent Riots? — The Answer Can Never Be Merely Anthropological

But then finally, for today, we have dealt with the reality of what’s called a natural disaster with Hurricane Ian. But we also have to deal with the moral dimensions of what can only be described as a moral disaster, such as what took place in a soccer stadium in Indonesia over the weekend, at least 125 fans died in violence that broke out there in that soccer stadium. The interesting thing about this that has to haunt us is that this particular kind of violence has broken out so often when it comes to organized sport in general, but particular in the sport known in the United States as soccer and elsewhere in the world as football.

Why do so many of these matches turn so violent? Some suggest that it’s because something of the tribalism that seems to be so much a part of human civilizational history comes out when it comes to sports rivalries, and there’s no doubt that these rivalries can get out of hand and reach virtually idolatry dimensions. When we’re looking at this particular kind of violence, we realize that you go to some nations or in some areas of the world; local teams are not even allowed to play one another simply for fear of the violence that would break out. The bloodshed is not worth it. There are other historians and anthropologists, by the way, who make the argument that this kind of organized team sport is actually a form of sublimated warfare. As you think about it, you realize that so much of the language of organized team sport, particularly the more aggressive sports, actually does use explicitly military jargon or language along pass is called a bomb.

The two opposing sides shift between offense and defense, and they gain terrain. They gain ground, or they lose ground. Such anthropologists have suggested that it’s a form of civilizational achievement, that killing or spearing one another will be transformed into beating one another on an athletic field. No doubt there’s something to that, but Christians understand that can’t be all there is to it. The answer to this cannot be merely anthropological or historic. The theological dimension to which Christians are accountable reminds us that when it comes to sin, it’s one thing for that sin to be seen individually. That’s horrifying enough, not only in temporal, but eternal terms, but when you add human beings together, after all, you are congregating sinners, and guess what? Sin has at least a capacity to multiply.

The catalyst for that sinfulness breaking out could be something like a sporting event. It could be something very different, just ask Vladimir Putin. We live in a dangerous world, and Christians understand that so dangerous in fact, that even a soccer match can turn deadly.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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