The Dust Bowl in the Central and Southern Plains was a 10 year span of severe drought and suffering brought about by the cycle of regional climate conflicting with man’s agricultural intervention. Intensified by the great depression, the suffering and poverty of the people was immense. Considering the duration and intensity of the struggle, it is hard to image the scale of poverty and need. People lost their farms, family members, and source of income. Parents became increasingly desperate, just trying to survive and feed their children. Families methodically searching for lost dimes in the house to buy bread in order to make bread and butter sandwiches. Lost lives to dust pneumonia, lost wages, lost farmers, and lost hope.
Throughout the 1930’s, desperate refugees from the southern plains migrated to California and other locations to try to scrap a living together to support their families. Migrants were often disrespected, persecuted, and ostracized. Although they were from a number of states, they were nicknamed Oakies; their plight was made famous by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.
Our View of Tragedy
Throughout the dust bowl documentary by Ken Burns some of the survivors remembered that certain storms came with a unique intensity. Immense large black clouds blocking out the sky and causing damage to property and livestock. Some were told, as children, that the end of the world was coming. Of course, the end of the world did not come and they trudged on – living through years of storms, more tragedy, and more drought. It is hard from a earthly point of view to understand such a grand scale of suffering.
As finite beings, God calls on us to use both our mind and our faith to understand and believe in his promises. It is up to us to maintain hope in the Lord, the external one, who sustains his people through such times as then and now. He promised never to forsake us or leave us in our time of need.
“Faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand.”Thomas Aquinus
Jonah and the Plant
Like Jonah, we often mistake our view for God’s view. We use our circumstances to determine our understanding. What does God provide for us in order to live? How comfortable am I in this situation, job, or relationship? Is there justice in this life? We often take our view seriously and God’s word as secondary. Our pain is too real and God’s commands too abstract. We suffer and want something to change.
Israel suffered under Nineveh, and Jonah wanted them to be punished for all the evil they did. It does not record why Jonah hated Nineveh so much, but he ran away from God, and that takes some intense feeling and conviction. God, however, had different plans both for him and Nineveh.
“Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’” (Jon 4: 5-8)
God’s Labor for Us
The Sun and the East Wind overwhelmed Jonah. So much so that he desired that he might die. His extreme circumstances determined his mindset. Not the circumstances of others or the plans of God. God reminded him that His plans would prevail, and that his plans are for the good of his children.
“But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry for the plant?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.’ And the LORD said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’” (Jon 4:9-11)
Despite the suffering of Jonah’s people (Israel) at the hands of Nineveh, God planned mercy and grace for them, saving over 120,000 that did not know their right hand from their left. Likewise, we often cannot see through our own circumstances and societal concerns to see how God is moving among his people.
How did the dust bowl help the church in the Southern Planes in the 1930’s? How do the current medical and social crises work in his plans? Without definite evidence, we must hold onto our faith that God is working through his wonderful loving kindness for our good and the good of his kingdom.
“…the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Hab 2:4)
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt 5:4)
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Arthur Rothstein, for the Farm Security Administration, Farmer walking in dust storm Cimarron County Oklahoma2, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons