- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Two old codgers from Kansas decided to make a trip to California. On the way, they stopped at the Grand Canyon. Staring down at the Colorado River 6,000 feet below, gazing at the far side of the Canyon 18 miles away, awestruck by the canyon’s multi-colored layers of rock, the two men stood speechless. Finally, one drawled, “Sumpum musta happened here.”
Yep. It took several million years, but something indeed happened there. And it’s a beautiful display, many would say, of God’s handiwork in nature.
If you could have flown several hundred feet over Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Joplin, Mo., or Monson, Mass., the day after tornadoes struck their cities with devastating force, you could have joined the old timer’s declaration of the obvious: “Something must have happened here.”
But unlike the gradual formation of the awe-inspiring beauty of the Grand Canyon, it took only a few minutes to wreak havoc in Tuscaloosa, Joplin, and Monson. And it was horrible.
We observe the creation of the Grand Canyon and stand amazed at how God put it together; we look at the tornado’s destructive path and wonder if God went to sleep on the clock.
Tornadoes descend from the sky with strike force efficiency, destroying hospitals, high schools, and homes.
And houses of worship, too.
Harmony Heights Baptist Church in Joplin was hit by the tornado on Sunday, May 22, killing three women. Pastor Charlie Burnett believes it could have been much worse. “It has to be from God,” Burnett said. Fifty people walked away from the church “when it looked like they should have died.”
More than one church was hit by the tornado that trounced Alabama on April 27. Among those churches was the First Assembly of God in Pleasant Grove. Pastor Lamar Jacks tried to make some sense of it. “I don’t understand it,” Jacks said. “If I try to tell you I understand it, I’m lying. God’s saying to us, do you trust me? Don’t lean on our own knowledge. Just trust in him. God can take the bad and the hurts and lift up his name.”
And in Monson, Mass., Pastor Robert Marrone, on June 5, the Sunday morning after the storm hit his community, was also trying to make sense of it all. In his sermon, he asked where God was during the storm, “Did he take a break between 4 and 6?” - the time the tornado struck Massachusetts. It knocked down the steeple and severely damaged the historic church he pastors. But, Marrone saw evidence of God at work shortly after the storm. People began checking on and helping each other.
The technical term for these explanations is a theodicy - an attempt to defend the goodness and justice of God in the face of evil and suffering. If God is good, why does he allow tornadoes to strike buildings with people in them? It’s one thing for him to permit a gradual transformation in creating something beautiful like the Grand Canyon. But what to do with a Tuscaloosa, a Joplin, or a Monson?
Somewhere between a view that attributes all suffering to a capricious God who uses natural tragedies as a way of punishing people - a God who destroys one house while leaving another intact, a God who grabs one baby from one mother’s arms while leaving another alone - somewhere between that and the view that pain and suffering is somehow an area God didn’t quite “fix” in his universe, lie the words of Jesus, who himself, although he never turned down someone in need of help, including healing, did not rush in, constantly intervening in the course of natural laws.
In speaking of who is responsible for tragedies, either from the hands of ruthless rulers or in construction accidents, Jesus made it clear it was not the result of wrongdoing on the part of the victims. Then warning his audience, Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you too will likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
In other words, make sure you are straight with God, for you know not when the steeple may fall in your life.
So maybe we don’t need to defend God. After all, he doesn’t explain himself. And if he did, who of us could comprehend it all? Rather than giving an explanation, God gives himself.
Whether it’s in the breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon or the heart-wrenching tragedy of destroyed buildings and lost lives, God is somehow there - in us - helping us respond to the beauty of the canyons or the beast of the calamities.
When steeples fall, he is there.
Even when words are beyond explaining how or why.
Editor’s note: Email David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website, www.davidbwhitlock.com.