God and Natural Disasters

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The entire nation is grieving in the wake of the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma and other parts of the mid-West.  I am saddened by the loss of life, especially the children, brought about by these horrendous storms.  Never having lived in the mid-West, I cannot fathom the sense of helplessness and foreboding at the onset of a funnel cloud.  And along with you, I am also relieved to see the outpouring of love and compassion as countless neighbors from miles away converge on ground zero as an army of hope and helpfulness to ease the grief and loss.

In the aftermath of these kinds of calamities, many often respond with deep theological statements, as if they alone hold the answers to God’s ways.  As I’ve watched news reports and have read the social media posts, I’ve seemed to have noticed some statements that may not accurately reflect the nature of God.

Do natural disasters mean that God is angry about something and pouring out his wrath  indiscriminately?  Does God give and take away?  Why would this kind of God specifically target two elementary schools?

When humanity was young and had an elementary view of the cosmos and of nature, they would often attribute natural disasters to the wrath of the gods.  Your god was angry if the storm destroyed your home or your family.  The pantheon of gods would indiscriminately wreck havoc on your crops and livelihood as you unknowingly acted in a way contrary to their wishes.  (Even as I’m writing this I’m overhearing a conversation by two 20somethings about the Greek gods and goddesses and life and death!)

I think our human nature deeply desires to give meaning to the things that devastate our lives.  And even in our post-Christian American culture we want to attribute deep loss to “god’s will”.  Perhaps it is more comforting to do this instead of admitting that we are helpless in the midst of nature’s fury.

Truth-be-told, we live on a planet of natural laws.  Winds roar, waves crash, terra shakes.  These natural events have happened for millennia and will continue to occur.  Humanity remains small in the midst of the power of creation.  Where we choose to live geographically means that we will face these natural events with regularity.

Yet the question remains: where is God in the midst of nature’s fury?  While not being Deists, Christians do believe that God is creator and has at the beginning, established natural laws, seasons, climates, wind rotations, etc.  These natural events keep the earth balanced.  Even the ravage of forest fires purge the dead underbrush and offers the opportunity for new life.

Sometimes, the God of creation interrupts the natural order.  We call these moments “miracles.”  But these do not happen with regularity.  God lets nature happen.  This does not mean that God destroys or that God would take those children in the elementary school through the means of a tornado.

When natural (and unnatural) events happen God is present in his intended way:  through the compassionate hands and hearts of people.  In tragedy God is there.  He is present in the neighbors who search “board by board” for survivors.  He is present in the teacher who gives hope to frightened students.  He is present in the hundreds who drove miles with water, food and clothing to give to the ones who lost everything.  These are the acts of a good and gracious God.  This is God’s will being done.

Natural disasters may cause some to shake their fists at the sky and shout, “why god?”  Perhaps they are looking for God in the wrong place.  God is there rescuing from the devastation through those who love their neighbors like they love themselves.

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