The power of nature is something I have generally seen on the television screen or in newspapers; witnessing its effects in reality is something else. The sheer scale of what wind and water can do to the man-made landscape induces a feeling of great humility – and not a little a fear. The east coast of England was hit by a tidal surge on Thursday night, Friday morning. I was at a meeting out near the coast on Thursday, and we got back with difficulty as many trees had come down in the high winds, and some roads were blocked – off-road vehicles with a high wheel base are literally life-savers at such times. Β They were certainly most useful when, being slightly mad, we went back last night to take food, clothing and other things collected by the churches locally. It is so hard to know what to say to people who are at the start of the trauma of losing everything – which may be why the British habit of offering a cup of tea with sympathy evolved. Β The authorities have done a tremendous job protecting so much of the coast, but when nature unleashes its full force, it will always overpower the works of men. At such moments the church is there, serving. Β The resources of a prosperous society will be deployed to help people hit by this – but the inward hurt needs something more than forms and money.

As I look out of the window this morning, there is no sign of the violence of yesterday – except at the coast, which is illustrated above. For centuries this region has been battered in this way, but about every sixty years there is a confluence of wind, wave and high tides which carries huge tracts of land into the sea. About sixty miles down the coast are the remains of Dunwich, once a prosperous town in medieval times, but now a small hamlet hanging on perilously to the land. One can only imagine how our forefathers coped with such storms. It is easy enough to see how they came to see God’s wrath as typified by a storm – that sense of utter powerlessness against a force beyond your understanding is, perhaps, one way of actualising the metaphor of the wrath of God.

The good side of all of this is that it brings out the sense of community. In one case neighbours formed a human chair to help one householder get things out of the house before it fell off the end of the crumbling cliff; in others, people whose houses are safe, are offering shelter to those made homeless; and the local authorities, so often criticised at such times, not only helped get people out in time, but have been marvellous in providing food and shelter to those hit hard by this tidal surge.

As we were there by night, we could not really get a sense of how bad it is, although photographs like the one here give you some idea. Sometimes we sing the hymn, ‘For those in peril on the sea’ – I think we need a verse for those in peril from the sea. Lord, have mercy.