The “cone of uncertainty” became a household phrase as Hurricane Irma approached the southern tip of Florida. Time and again, meteorologists informed us that predicting the weather isn’t an exact science. With some forecasting wizardry, however, they developed “spaghetti models” with a dozen or more “noodles” of probability. Their detailed charts showed winds speeds, ocean currents, barometric pressures, water temperatures, upper level atmospheric highs and lows—all lending an appearance of certainty to their prognostications.
Yet, like a defiant adolescent, Irma impulsively shifted her eerie eye from the eastern coast and Miami to the central wetlands of the Everglades to the western coast and Fort Myers. Interstates were jammed with long streams of evacuees crawling northward as first one side of the Sunshine State and then the other scrambled for safer havens somewhere.
A former pastor of mine when I lived in South Carolina, Sonny Holmes, observes in a recent blog, “Even with the technology of weather satellites, Doppler radar, dropsondes, supercomputers, weather hunters, and other forecasting wizardry exact precision is impossible.” Our hearts indeed go out to those who eventually found themselves in the path of the destructive power of the Cat-5 storm the size of Texas. An eventual downgrade to Cat-4 as it made landfall was of little comfort. Horrific images of a once beautiful Caribbean isle, Barbuda, obliterated a few days earlier by Hurricane Irma and of Houston drenched by 50 inches of rainfall as Hurricane Harvey lingered were still imprinted on our minds.
Irma and Harvey reminded us that try as we might to predict and prepare for the inevitable, destructive storms in life, we do not always know exactly when, where or how long the howling winds, torrential rains and violent waves will wreak havoc. Cones of uncertainty invariably arise—deaths, critical illnesses, debilitating injuries, financial ruin, marital breakup, career loss, robbery, house fires—anywhere our future seems unpredictable, continually changing.
In facing adversity, though, the strength of our faith frequently is tested, and there are fewer places that one can see a bolder demonstration of our trust and hope in God than in how we weather a “cone of uncertainty.” Citing Matthew 5:16, Georgia editor Gerald Harris, in a recent first-person piece, reminds us to “let our light shine” especially in times of need: “When people are going through a storm they are vulnerable, needy and searching. They need true godly examples before them to shine brightly and offer help, friendship and the hope that transcends the troubles caused by the storm.”
Paul and Silas once faced a cone of uncertainty in a very remarkable manner. In Acts 16, the two apostles had been beaten and thrown into what was undoubtedly a dark, dank, dingy dungeon. Yet, we don’t find them dismayed or in despair, fearing for their lives, or whining about mistreatment. Instead, we find them praying and praising God. Yes, singing! Loudly.
Amazingly, as the other prisoners were listening to them, a violent earthquake shook the prison. Cell doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. Praising God in the midst of one of life’s metaphorical storms may set us free emotionally, spiritually, sometimes even physically from the chains forged by earthly circumstances, the things that bind us, threaten to hold us down, set us back. Paul and Silas were praising God, despite where they found themselves at the time.
What is even more astonishing here is what happened next. With the cell doors wide open and chains off, most prisoners would hightail it. Not Paul and Silas. They stuck around. And, when a surprised jailer found that they were still there, he fell down trembling. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he asked. The jail cell may have swung open, but this was THE open door for which Paul and Silas were waiting.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household,” the two invited the jailer. In response, he washed Paul and Silas wounds that same hour, his whole family was baptized, and he took them to his house for a meal.
Isn’t it incredible how, in our learning to praise God in the “cone of uncertainty,” even one of life’s strongest storms may be changed into a “cone of eternal security”? And, in helping another who may be facing a cone of uncertainty, someone’s tangled “spaghetti model” suddenly may reveal the one true path of salvation. Sing … loudly!