I wanted to take a break from my discussion on 1 Peter to comment on the devastating tornado that occurred in Moore, Oklahoma on last week. I know that I am probably one of the last people to comment on this situation, but I believe that tragedies are not the time to give gut reactions or Twitter commentaries. When a tragedy such as this occurs, I believe that it is proper to take the proper time to meditate and to respond in a thoughtful and God-glorifying way. After processing this, I have four basic points:
First, grieving is the appropriate response for this situation. I cannot personally comprehend the pain that many parents have gone through who have lost their children in this tragedy. Having a one-year old daughter, I cannot imagine the flood of emotions that must come, realizing that your child is snatched away from you in one day. I cannot fathom the pain of the teachers at Plaza Towers Elementary School who saw the death of their students as the tornado collapsed the walls of the school. Many families lost their homes, lost their livelihood, and lost any sense of normalcy associated with their lives. So, we grieve with those who grieve (cf. Romans 12:15). We do not treat this callously by detaching ourselves from this tragedy or by stating that they should not have built houses in Oklahoma because of the high likelihood of tornadoes. These are real events that affect real people so we truly empathize with these families. Grieving and sorrow is the appropriate response, but as believers, we do not grieve as those without hope (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Second, we must start with God before we address any sort of tragedy. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where many people live with a functional agnosticism, but whenever a tragedy occurs, the first question that is posed is: “Where is your God?” All too often, Christians get duped into trying to save God’s reputation by claiming that God has nothing to do with tragedy. Unknowingly, these are the type of statements from Christians that supports the functional agnosticism in our culture and robs families of any source of hope. If God had nothing to do with this tragedy, this essentially means that this tragedy has no purpose whatsoever and that the tornado is a completely random act of nature. This is a deistic view of God where God sets up physical laws in the universe and lets these laws run without His guidance. If we try to give hope to others based on this view of God, then we are asking people to believe in a god that allows random, purposeless tragedies to occur and then has to react and respond to his creation to help them. In my view, this is an indictment on the omniscience, wisdom, and sovereignty of God. The Triune God of Scripture is sovereign over all things, including tragedy. Consider the following passages.
Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? Amos 3:6
I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:7
Job is the perfect case study for tragedy. In the story of Job, we learn that the calamity that comes upon Job is not due to his sinfulness nor is it a punishment from God. In particular one of Job’s servants reported to him saying
Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you. Job 1:18-19
Job’s response to this is vitally important. He did not try to remove God from his series of tragedies because Job knows that God ultimately ordained these events to occur. Thus, we read
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job 1:20-21
Job deeply grieved over his losses, but Job did not hide from or circumvent God’s sovereignty; rather, Job fully embraced it. If we are to understand anything about why tragedies happen, we must begin with the fact that God is sovereign over all things and since He works all things according to the counsel of His own will, there is a purpose behind it. So when the culture says “Where is your God?” we can respond confidently by saying “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” (cf. Psalm 115:3). Our God is in the heavens during times when the nations ignore Him and He is still in the heavens when tragedy occurs.
Third, our hope in the midst of tragedy is based upon our confidence in the character of God. Again, Job is a great example of this point. Throughout the book of Job, it is clear that Job is continuing to grieve over his calamities and is confused on why calamity has struck him. However, in the midst of his grieving, Job comforts himself based on the character of God. Consider the words of Job:
Though He slay me, I will hope in Him Job 13:15
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last, He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. Job 19:25-27
In tragedy, we don’t rob God of His glory by robbing Him of His sovereignty, but we trust in His sovereignty. Our hope is built on the promises of God’s character in the Word. We trust in the God who causes all things to work together for the good for those who love Him (cf. Romans 8:28). When God causes tragedies to occur, we trust that He has a purpose in it and that He can cause even great loss to be for our good. We trust that even tragedy cannot separate us from the love of Christ (cf. Romans 8:35-39); therefore, God’s love is still lavished on us, even in tragedy. We trust that the sufferings that are produced by tragedies produce hope in us that will be fulfilled at the coming of Christ (cf. Romans 5:3-4). We trust that the sufferings of this present time, no matter how horrific they are, are not worth comparing to our future glory in Christ (cf. Romans 8:18).
As humans, we realize that we have a partial understanding of this world and we see things as through a glass dimly. This is especially the case in tragedies that we may consider as unfair. However, we know that God is perfectly wise and has exhaustive knowledge of everything that occurs, not because He has passive foreknowledge of future events, but because He has planned and decreed it from eternity past. We comfort those grieving through tragedy by reminding them that He works all things according to the counsel of His will. We serve the God that “declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (cf. Isaiah 46:10). We serve the God that will accomplish all of His purposes. Therefore, if God declares to us that He will work all things together for the good, then we have a full assurance of hope that He will accomplish His purpose.
Finally, we have confidence in God in the midst of tragedy because Christ is a forerunner in all of these matters. In the incarnation of Christ, we have the perfect example of love. The God of Scripture is not so transcendent that He cannot relate to us, but through the incarnation, God demonstrated His love to us by entering to His own creation in Christ Jesus. The Son of God was made like us in every respect. In the gospels, we don’t have a picture of Jesus who is unaffected by human suffering because He is God. Rather, we see Jesus being filled with compassion for the multitudes (cf. Matthew 9:35-36). When Jesus raises Lazarus, He does not perform this miracle while being emotionally detached. Rather, Jesus allowed Himself to be moved in His spirit demonstrating his love towards Lazarus (cf. John 11:33-44). When we encounter tragedy, we place our hope in God, knowing that Christ is a forerunner. He has seen suffering, grief, and death by lay His own life down. He has gone ahead of us to demonstrate that there is hope beyond death and tragedy. He is the source of all of our hope because He is the One who upholds all things by the Word of His power (cf. Hebrews 1:3).
Therefore, in response to the tornado that ravaged Moore, Oklahoma, we grieve with those who have had their lives completely changed by this tragedy. Yet, we grieve with hope, knowing that God has a purpose in this tragedy even when it is unclear now or difficult to accept. Our God is still in the heavens and our hope is in Christ who causes all things to work together for the good for those who love Him.