The American West--in fact and in legend--stands as a monument to the triumph of the human spirit. In various ways our popular culture often repeats the lesson learned from this history, "If you put your mind to it, you can do anything!" Or, we might say, "Where there's a will, there's a way."
While we do not want to condone the use of brutal means to tame the West, much was achieved without them. Often, it was the simple stubbornness of the settlers, refusing to give up on their dreams, that resulted in the establishment of civilization from the Missouri to the Columbia to the Pacific. Droughts, disease, failed equipment, and failed water wells regularly threatened the success of settling the West. Whatever challenges came their way, more often than not, those pioneers stuck it out and found a way to make things work. They proved that a determined human spirit--especially in a community with others of that attitude--can overcome almost impossible difficulties.
But that is too simple a view of their understanding. They knew they needed to "stick to it." They also knew that they needed the help of The Almighty, the Creator of all things. Though not all of the pioneers would have been active Christian disciples, American culture was greatly influenced by Christian ideas. So, people knew that God had the power to stop a draught with a rain storm. They knew that God could bless the seeds to germinate and mature to a full harvest. They knew that God could help livestock--not to mention young children--overcome life-threatening diseases that were too common.
Most importantly, they knew that they could not do these things for themselves. Human beings can do nothing to make it rain, or to cause seeds to be abundantly productive, or to make the human body defeat a deadly virus. No amount of stubbornness, or determination, or "want to" could abate these kinds of challenges from the natural world.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in south Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida and the southeastern U.S. At this writing, we do not know yet whether Hurricane Jose will also afflict our shores. We do know that all we could do in response to these storms was to do our best to stay out of their way, and to do our best to help each other clean up in the recovery afterwards. There was nothing we could do to stop them or to redirect them. Such storms remind us that our power is very limited--very often much more limited than we like to admit.
On the other hand, in the course of these storms and their aftermath we are also reminded of how good things can be with the blessings of God, the Almighty. In Texas, the resources of the federal government are virtually unnecessary, because the outpouring of support from neighbors across the United States continues. In Florida, the strongest hurricane on record weakened to a category 4 by the time it hit the Florida Keys. It was a category 3 when it came ashore at Marco Island near Tampa Bay. The damage was extensive, of course, but it could have been much, much worse.
Thank God that Irma was not more devastating than it was. Thank God that so much that divides us these days is being forgotten, because so many Americans are still moved by compassion for neighbors in need.
Nathan Wheeler is the Pulpit Preacher for Eastside Church of Christ in Farmington, NM. Nathan is also a candidate for the PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University.