The images of the tornadoes are there, displayed at somebody else’s expense, an unfortunate testimony to the fact that we humans are morbidly curious. The dangerous weather events that caused such devastation in Oklahoma and Texas have left tragedy in their wake, and newspeople can’t quit showing it and talking about it, and we can’t look away. There are a lot of reasons we look at the news coverage when other people are devastated. We are somber over other peoples’ loss, and concerned about survivors. We are curious about people we know in the affected areas, and wonder how they are. We hope for survivors in the wreckage, and grieve over those who didn’t. We see dazed, heartbroken victims, anxious relatives, and aerial views of what must be worse than a war zone. The wreckage from the tornadoes is otherworldly, like something out of a movie, but full of details only reality could provide. Cars have been twisted and tossed like little toys; houses, businesses, street signs and landmarks are all just gone, leaving nothing behind but trash covered slabs and debris-strewn fields that used to be neighborhoods just like ours. Victims have lost possessions, vehicles, photos and heirlooms, personal belongings, shoes, cell phones, computers, homes, everything. As a result, people are glued to television and the internet, listening to stories, looking at images of utter destruction from the deadly tornadoes.
Some just gawk, relieved it wasn’t them. Some try to learn about safety, playing “what if” scenarios in their heads and evaluating potential survival strategies should such a thing happen to them. Some are motivated by the tragic scenes of ground zero to respond, to offer help. People outside the boundaries of the tragedy analyze it, break it down, and speculate about how it happened, and why. Survivors within the tragedy are struck by the randomness of it all, and are grateful for God’s protection and their good fortune. A quick scan of Facebook shows several themes about the deadly tornadoes and the destruction they left in their wake in Moore, in Cleburne, in Granbury… Some thank God for his blessing, because they or their possessions were spared; many express grief or sympathy, or provide what they hope is helpful information; and there are posts saying that schools were damaged as a result of God’s judgment: since we have taken Him out of schools, He has not protected them from natural disaster. Questions arise out of the wreckage. Did God cause this storm? Did he select certain homes for destruction while blessing others by leaving them intact? Did He judge elementary school children for the fact that we have separation of church and state?
How can a loving God allow this to happen? A couple of observations:
1. Under the vast umbrella of God’s sovereignty, in the same place he allows us choice about what house to buy, what food to eat, who to fall in love with, there is a provision for human will, for cause and effect. Solomon said, “I have seen something else under the sun: the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant, or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” Because we have the ability to make choices, we live in a world that is subject to the vagaries of cause and effect, of time and chance. Ultimately, yes, God allowed the environment that leaves room for tornadoes, and they fall under His domain; but the storms happen because we live with choices in a fallen world. Wouldn’t a loving God cause such tragedies to cease? He only would if He was going to circumvent our ability to choose, and He loves us too much to do that. I certainly believe in God’s sovereignty, and that all things happen within His will. I might concede that God does intervene in this world to exert His will at times, but I also believe He allows random things to happen because He loves us enough to let us make choices.
2. Is God’s blessing indicated by survival? I want to tread lightly here, because I would not presume to know all about God’s blessing, or to dispute with anyone who felt that they had received blessing from God. But a couple of things: if God blessed those who survived, does that necessarily mean He cursed those who didn’t? It’s hard to have one without the other. Perhaps we need to recalibrate our assumptions about blessing. God’s blessing is not found in material things, it is not found in prosperity, and it may or may not be indicated by survival. What if God’s blessing is just His presence and His peace? What if it comes from His being with us in the midst of tragedy, rather than His protecting us from harmful events? God’s blessing could exist then in every outcome, not just the ones that favor us circumstantially. We could find His blessing everywhere, and encounter His supernatural peace and presence in the wreckage of natural disasters, in difficulty and disease, as well as in seasons of prosperity and good fortune. Don’t hesitate to thank God for blessing us with love, health, and possessions; but don’t fail to thank Him for blessing us within devastation, loss, and grief. Paul wrote to Timothy that he encountered trials and tribulation at Antioch, Iconium, and Derbe, but was delivered out of all of them. Sure enough, in Acts we read that Paul discovered and escaped from plots to execute him in Antioch and Iconium. However, at Derbe he was stoned by an angry mob and left for dead. (yes, he was struck repeatedly by large, heavy rocks until he was battered and bruised and assumed dead) Apparently Paul’s definition of deliverance is different than mine. What he knew, and what he taught is that sometimes God’s deliverance (blessing) is FROM the stones; sometimes, it is THROUGH the stones.
3. Did God judge elementary school kids for the fact that we have taken Him out of schools? This is almost too ignorant an assumption to address, but the short answer is “no, He didn’t.” In Luke 13, Jesus is asked if some Galileans who had been killed by Pilate deserved to die. He asked, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” He extends the example to an accident in which the Tower of Siloam fell on unsuspecting bystanders. Jesus uses tragedy to teach that for every one of us, the harsh lessons of life should call us to evaluate ourselves, to be accountable, and to humbly repent before God. But he clearly says that the victims of these tragic events were not selected because of their sin. When bad things happen, we should turn to God.
4. If God cares about us, why are there tornadoes? Why does He allow such tragedy? I think there are lots of ways to approach this, but I will choose one: God’s concern for us is not contained in the prevention of tragedy, but in His participation in it. He is not some cosmic Being, sitting majestically removed from us in the heavens, He is “god-with-us”, who humbled Himself, suffered the death on the cross, and as God the Father had to experience the loss of His own child when He could have stopped Jesus’ suffering at any time. The fact that Jesus lived on in resurrection does not diminish his pain and anguish on the cross one teeny bit; and God’s own power and glory did not prevent him from feeling every bit as loving and protective towards His son as any parent would. Yet His love for us was such that He did not intervene, and He cared about us enough to absorb personal tragedy of the darkest kind. God’s empathy is not phony, and His ability to walk with us in the dark times is not based on whimsy or fiction. He really does understand, and He knows everything there is to know about loss and pain. He also knows about redemption and peace. I would add that the finite circumstances we see may be outweighed by the glory of the infinite outcomes we don’t see. For those innocent victims we see in tragedy, God may have infinite outcomes we will only see when all ends are revealed. We assume in our grief that loss of life is the worst thing that can happen; it may be perhaps the doorway to the best thing that can happen.
We are praying for you guys in Oklahoma, and for you guys on Facebook, and for whomever has to deal with the tornadoes that come. May you find the blessing of God’s presence no matter what the circumstances.
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If we would like to know a little more about God, who He is ,where He is and what He is doing and will be doing, this is as good as it gets.