Monday I watched with great terror and shock as a massive tornado roared through Moore, Oklahoma, leaving at least 24 people dead. I was at work when someone said “the City is getting storms.” I live in Tulsa, 100 miles east of the City—Oklahoma City—and was trying to keep an eye on the weather. The City had a “moderate” risk of severe weather according to the Weather Channel, while Tulsa was in the “exceedingly high” risk area. I knew that when the City started to see storms, they would be on their way eastward to where I was.
So I pulled up an Oklahoma City TV station on my phone and … and watched on live TV as a massive tornado destroyed everything in its way. Buildings were ripped apart as though they were made of straw. I know people who live in and around Moore. My heart went out to them, even as I began thinking of what to do for my family if the storms held together. But they petered out before they got to Stroud (about halfway between Tulsa and the City), and we just got a brief rain shower.
Okies stand together (except when it comes to football), and those of us outside of Moore looked for ways to help the families who suffered such incredible loss. Don’t you think it pleases our Father when we look for ways to help others? Apparently that isn’t so obvious to some who cannot resist cramming their feet in their mouths at times like these. Before I get to these idiots, I want to share a story of someone whose life is given to giving.
My friend Vic heads up One To The Other Ministries, and a big part of what he does centers around natural disasters. Just as he did two years ago following the deadly Joplin, Missouri tornado, Vic and several others went to Moore yesterday to give food and water to those who were involved in the search and rescue mission, as well as to offer prayer and counseling to those who were still in shock from the storm. Vic didn’t cite any Bible verse for the reason he went. He didn’t make up a theology for why the tornado followed an almost identical path as the May 3, 1999 tornado that left 36 people dead in Moore. Vic went to serve those who were serving because that is what he does. (Last night Vic told me he had received offers of help from as far away as Cuba.) He was just one of many who gave of time and energy and resources to aid the survivors. Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder pledged $1 million to help in the recovery effort; the Red Cross reports lines of people gathering in the state to give blood and donate blankets, pillows and the like. That’s who we are. We are Okies, and we help each other.
So forgive me when I say I do not need any bad tornado theology at this time. Yes, I expected Fred Phelps to jump in with a “I’m glad people died to show how bad our country is for allowing gay marriages” rant. He is an idiot and the very few who follow him are idiots. And I wasn’t all that surprised when Pat Robertson said the tornado could have been prevented if enough people had prayed for Jesus to still the storm. (How many would “enough people” be, Pat? I was praying. I stood with my phone in hand, watching live a two-mile wide tornado tear apart a town, and I prayed fervently for their protection. I guess I didn’t have enough faith, huh Pat?)
I didn’t even flinch when I read a tweet John Piper sent out (since recalled) Monday evening that read, “Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.” (Job 1:19) He followed it up with the next verse in Job: “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” I didn’t flinch when I read that, but I did want to puke. Piper sits in his pompous palace on his pompous ass and tosses out verses that are supposed to explain just why this tornado touched down and killed ten children and fourteen adults. (This afternoon, Chaplain Mike takes a look at just how miserable a comforter John Piper actually is.)
So why do bad things happen to good people? Why do earthquakes and tsunamis and tornadoes and hurricanes destroy so many lives? Why do good people get cancer that eats them alive from the inside out? Why do hard workers get laid off, setting in motion a chain reaction that leads to the breakup of families? Why is there rape and murder and theft in our world? Where is God in all of this?
For once, I agree with Al Mohler. Speaking on a special podcast he released on Monday night, Mohler said,
Evil is something we want to rationalize, we want to try to find a way to explain it. It is a natural human temptation, it is a natural Christian temptation, to try to rationalize evil and explain that we know how it happened. Once we understand it, we can control it. We do, as Christians, weep when other people weep, we share joy with those who are overjoyed. In this case it is grief.
Some of the bad that occurs in our world is brought about by our own choices. I’ve always said that this “free will” thing was a bad idea. When God breathed us to life, he did so knowing we would go our own way and do things that would hurt ourselves and others. Libraries of books dealing with this topic exist; I’m not even going to venture into their territory. I am talking right now about natural disasters. No one’s free will brought about this week’s tornado, no matter what Robertson or Piper say. So, why does this universe that God created seem so tragic so often?
God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day (Genesis 1:31, NASB)
So, did God make this good world, and then take away his hand and let it spin on its own? No. We are told that Jesus holds all created things together.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16, 17, ESV).
So Jesus holds all things in his hands. That includes exploding stars and black holes, floods and plagues, hurricanes and tornadoes. Jesus created these as well as mountains, prairies, oceans and islands. I don’t know why our loving Father doesn’t banish all bad things from our world. I could never grasp why Dumbledore allowed Draco Malfoy to harass Harry Potter. Harry was the chosen one, wasn’t he? So why did he have to suffer so much? Bad things were constantly happening to him, which made for a great story for us, but a lousy life for young Harry. Yet without the areas of conflict, we really wouldn’t have much of a story, huh?
Perhaps we are part of a story God is unfolding before the universe. Job certainly was. It starts with God receiving reports from various angels, including Satan, about what was going on in the worlds they are in charge of. God challenges Satan to take a good look at his righteous servant, Job. Satan goes on to destroy Job’s life with natural disasters, physical pain, and clueless “friends.” God seems disinterested in it all until Job begins to question what God is up to. Job learns a valuable lesson: There really is a God, and you are not he. Through it all, God never offers up even one explanation for the disasters that happened. Not one. And Job seems to be ok with that.
A story of Job’s faithfulness in the face of adversity? No. It is the story of God in all of his Godness being God. God is the God of life, yes, but he is also the God of death. Death is not evil to our God. Death was present in the Garden even before the Fall. This world operates on a cycle of life and death. The Creator, the one who holds it all in his hands, was slain from before the foundation of this world. He died, and once dead, even though resurrected, he holds death in his hands. He knows its taste and smell. His message to us is not, “If you would just try a little harder, you could become a good person like I am.” Instead, he says “Follow me to the narrow gate marked Death. Come with me through the gate marked Death, for on the other side is true life”
Dying is the one thing we can all do, and do well. And dying is the only requirement God makes of us if we want eternal life.
Some of us will live to be 105 by eating bacon daily. Others will develop cancer and die young. And others still will be killed by a tornado. It is not a form of punishment for sins—we are all sinners. It is not because of a lack of faith. When Jesus returns, will he find any faith on earth? It is not because God neglects us—he knows the number of hairs on our heads. We all die. And it is usually a mess when we do.
In the BBC production of Shadowlands—the story of C.S. Lewis and his wife—Lewis (known as “Jack” to his friends) is coming out of the church where his wife’s funeral had just finished. The parish priest is walking with him and says,
“Faith, Jack. It is faith that sustains us in times like these.”
“No, Harry,” says Lewis. “This is all one big mess, and that is all there is to it.”
For the people in Moore, Monday’s tornado doesn’t come with a gift-wrapped explanation. It is one big mess, and that’s all there is to it.
That is about the only way to describe things that otherwise make no sense. We seek to understand things that are incomprehensible when we really need to trust our God. For people like Piper and Robertson to try and reduce God to an explanation that will fit in a sound bite or a tweet is idiocy.
My friend Vic is no theologian. But he knows the God of life and death, and knows that Jesus, the creator of all things including tornadoes, holds all in his hands. Vic didn’t go to find an explanation; he went to find someone who needed help.
You can help, too. You can make a donation to Vic’s One To The Other Ministries that will enable him and his team to continue being fast responders.