This Memorial Day weekend will be like no other for the residents of Moore, Oklahoma and the other areas affected by the EF5 tornado. My heart breaks for all the residents who lost literally everything they owned, but even more so for those who are wrestling with the bitter reality of never seeing their little boy or girl again. Having dropped them off at school in the morning, like many of us parents do, they never realized it would be the last time they would be able to see them, hold them, or speak to them.
There seems to be a desire to offer some explanation as to why things like this happen. Sometimes folks offer reasons that baffle the mind, and more to point attempt to understand the mind of God. One recent example was provided for us by John Piper, a popular Reformed theologian and pastor. In the moments after the Moore tornado, he offered tweets which shall we say, weren’t received too well. Not that every tweet has to be popular, but his comments weren’t too sympathetic to the victims of this twister. As anticipated, he later retracted his comments much like he has done on other occasions when devastation was involved.
He’s not the only person who seeks to speak for God in times of loss and tragedy, but as a pastor myself I received his remarks as a cautionary tale about using twitter and the danger of appearing trite and pithy. I don’t have a satisfactory explanation for the Oklahoma tornadoes, but there is a passage of scripture I found gone to time and again. I have used these verses as a helpful guide to interpret devastating circumstances. It comes from Luke 13:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that 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. Or those eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
The application of the story here about the deaths of 18 because a tower fell on them can be useful in viewing 21st century situations. I cannot imagine God being vindictive towards parents and children and send a tornado to punish them in some way. But, there are terribly painful circumstances which happen in life and they cannot be explained from a theodicy perspective. There is a mystery to the Divine that we will never understand, and while it may be helpful to try to do so, our primary efforts need to be one of helping those who have been affected by this twister. Our own repentance should involve an examination of our relationship to God and also to those around us.
Another helpful passage that many believers hang on to is Romans 8.28: ” And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God is the one who does the working, not the circumstances. So, let us continue to pray and give and seek to be kinder to the people who are around us. And while we are it, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to examine our own lives to root out any attitudes that aren’t pleasing to Him.
Despite being criticized for any number of things, faith-based communities can really step in and offer relief and comfort in times like these. Our missions partners, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the American Baptist Churches (USA), are learning what their churches can do to offer aid. The need will be present for a long time to come.