I have been following the reports about the Oklahoma tornado since it happened yesterday. The more I watch, the sadder I get.
As I’ve seen the images, my mind has involuntarily weaved together scenarios of the lives that have been decimated. I’ve pictured the lives of those little children who woke up yesterday morning, got dressed similar to the way mine did, headed off to school, ate lunch, passed notes in class, played at recess, then headed into the hallways when they heard the tornado alarms. For so many, that was it. They’ve yet to be removed from the rubble at this point. It’s really hard to wrap my mind around it.
It’s always in times like these that the theological questions arise: How could God allow this to happen? Why didn’t God stop this? Where was He?
I understand the questions. Typing this right now, I am overwhelmed by the pain that is left in the wake of something like this. Couldn’t God have stopped this? Couldn’t He have answered so many prayers for protection over these people? Did it have to happen this way?
Answers aren’t easy and for some, certainly won’t be sufficient. It seems to me that the answers are yes, He could have stopped it. He is all-powerful. He could have answered those prayers for protection. He could have prevented death in the midst of destruction. So, why didn’t He?
I don’t know.
That leaves the final question: Did it have to happen this way? The only thing I can come up with is that I suppose it did only because it is, in fact, what happened. I’ll try and explain what I mean. I believe that God is sovereign and, therefore, in control over every aspect of creation. I believe that nothing happens outside either the prescriptive will of God (meaning that He causes something to happen) or the permissive will of God (He allows something to happen; doesn’t stop it). I also believe that God is not capricious, so because He allowed it, there was a reason for it to happen as it did, though you and I may never know why.
Someone on the radio this morning was trying to answer the “Where was God?” question. The response was something like this: “God was there in the people who responded. He was there in the love that was shown by those who survived and came in and helped with the recovery.”
While I agree with that, in part, I’m not satisfied. It makes it sound as if God was absent during the storm. Those are the moments we don’t know about. Maybe it would be more understandable if God had been away on His lunch break and just missed it, otherwise He would have stopped it. That’s not the case, though. We have to acknowledge a hard fact: God was there during the storm and He allowed it to happen. You just have to accept that or reject Him outright, which plenty are doing (Frankly, I would be more concerned to think that God would “check out” for a while).
Why would He allow this?
Specifically, I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know the motives of God in what He does. He doesn’t ask me (or you) for counsel or permission, nor does He give an explanation for Himself to us. I just know that He is good. I also know that even though He could stop the storm, we aren’t in any position to blame Him or get mad at Him. Instead, we should run to Him.
The storm is our fault.
That’s right, our fault. Please read on before you tune me out. Scripture is clear that it is the rebellion of man from God that has caused all form of destruction in this world, including storms and earthquakes and other forms of natural and man-made disasters.
Ironically, I preached from Hosea 7 and 8 this past Sunday. I talked about “The Calamity of Sowing the Wind”. The verse from which that title was taken was 8:7: “…they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” In this passage, the whirlwind that God is talking about is metaphorical. However, the principal applies to all forms of judgement: If we sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind, metaphorically and sometimes literally.
OK, stop right there.
I am NOT going “Pat Robertson” on this situation and saying that this tornado is judgement on the people of Moore, Oklahoma.
As I already said, I have no idea of God’s purpose for allowing this or any other storm. My point, instead, is that storms are the result of sin, in general. When Adam sinned in Genesis 3, the affects were felt throughout creation. The earth was cursed, making it difficult for him to grow food. This is a very different picture than the one we get when God created the earth, declaring it to be “good.” Post-Genesis 3, we don’t get a picture of “good.” We get a picture of chaos, a result of the sin of Man.
Does this mean that innocent people must suffer? No, only because there are no innocent people in the world. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), so no one is immune from the natural or man-made disasters in this world, whether a child of God or not. My sin in Tennessee is as much to blame for tornadoes in Oklahoma than anybody who had to endure it. That is humbling.
So, what do we do about it?
If we embrace this explanation, what should our response be? I can only say that it leads me to repent*. I am drawn into a place of confessing my failure before God, begging for mercy, realizing that my sin has contributed to this broken world we live in.
It’s also led me to a place of worship. In the midst of this tragedy and the realization that it is the sin of man that has caused it, I am thankful that the work of Christ on the cross has led to mercy so that, though we have to deal with a broken world now, those who trust in Christ don’t have to dread a broken eternity.
If you’re going through the tragedy on the ground, I’m sure it can feel hopeless…at least until the storm is over and you can see that God was there throughout. You hear testimonies of people who feel the strength and hope and peace arise where there should be none. That is God. He is there. He was there during this storm and through the tragic shooting in Connecticut and through every other disaster that has ever occured throughout history.
Honestly, I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around the level of devastation I am seeing in Oklahoma, but I am not struggling with my belief in a faithful, loving God. When I understand the nature of sin, I understand how God could allow it and I look forward to the day that He culminates His redemptive work in a restored heaven and earth, where sin has been abolished.
So, in the end, all I can say is don’t run from Him. He is good and He really is in control, even in the whirlwind.
Run to Him.
* Repentance is not just about feeling sorry, but about actually being remorseful for our sin and turning away from it (as in a military call to “about face!”). If we’re serious about repentance, we don’t want to continue in it, we ask God to forgive us and to give us strength to forsake it.