On May 20th, a two mile wide tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma. It destroyed homes, two schools and a hospital killing twenty-four people and injuring 377. When natural disasters happen, we are left with more questions than answers. When natural disaster happens, it is the appropriate response to rush in with relief. As people of faith, we have to be careful not to rush in with answers about God that could be hurtful to victims. It is okay, in times like this, to be filled with more questions than answers and to allow for silence and tears to be valid and complete responses.
When natural disasters hit, some people become victims and others are spared. Some are in the right place at the right time, and others are not. Those who are lucky may feel divine intervention kept them alive. Is there some divine judgement attached to who is struck and who is saved? This implies a God who is selective in who will suffer instead of admitting that there is chaos involved in natural disasters that affects both the just and unjust. The victims are somehow blamed.
When a girl is pulled from the rubble, alive, we say, “What a miracle that God saved her!” But what if she lost her parents and siblings in that rubble? Do we worship a God who can rescue one person, but not everyone? In hopes of offering the girl some comfort, she is told that her family is in a better place now, with God, in heaven. Even if we believe in an afterlife, which I do, this dismisses the present suffering of the person living with loss. It dismisses the importance of this life and turns God into one who takes from us and leaves us to suffer alone.
Humans have the desire to explain the unexplainable. Standing in the rubble of destruction after a tornado, we don’t see how this fits in with a good and loving Creator God. Sometimes we throw our hands up and say, “We can’t understand, but it must be part of God’s good and all-powerful plan. Some day will we understand.” I do believe that God’s love is capable of working through people in the building that happens after destruction. I do think that God’s love can, with time, bring goodness out of pain. That doesn’t mean we have to believe that God’s plan includes destruction that hurts us. After the flood in Genesis, God promises to Noah that God will never again send destruction to punish God’s people. Believing in God’s detailed plan, tornadoes and all, takes away our power of free will to act with the Spirit in the world.
In the wake of Oklahoma’s tornado, I am going to work at avoiding these potentially hurtful oversimplifications. The simple answers do not satisfy. In moments like these, it is appropriate, I think, to fill the heavy silence with questions and doubt. Faith may look like believing that God is questioning and hurting with us in the eye of the storm.