Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tornadoes' destruction raises theological questions

Yesterday's deadly tornadoes in grabbed America's attention away from the still-stagnant economy, the latest scandals in Washington and the turmoil overseas. At the gym after work yesterday, I pumped away on the elliptical trainer for a half hour as I watched and listened to the reports of the horrific destruction. Images of devastation filled the little TV screen as emotional reporters tried to find words for the tragedy. First responders shuffled through the wreckage, listening for cries of help and seeking some signs of life.

Several reporters I heard described seeing people wandering aimlessly with a dazed expression on their faces. Such monumental destruction is more than our senses can process. Whenever we see such scenes, we wonder how we would react, how we would cope with the loss of loved ones or homes. Two years ago, I got a taste of that emotion when I was called back from an out-of-town trip to help with the recovery from a tornado that had hit Wilson. On the 75-minute drive, we worried that we might find our home or our whole neighborhood ripped apart, but we were fortunate. Our home suffered little or no damage, and the neighborhood was largely unscathed. In the coming days, I was able to see some of the destruction and to look into the blank faces of tornado victims.

Soon afterward, I wrote this blog post about the theological questions that such devastation rouses in us. Why did God create tornadoes, whose path of destruction — demolishing one house while leaving the one next door unharmed or killing one child while those around him survived — seems unjustly random or arbitrary? Like most of the big theological questions, this one still has no satisfactory answers.

But one minister I heard being interviewed yesterday had one response. When the reporter asked him how he felt about the destruction of his church, the pastor replied, "We'll be fine. ... Everything I have and everything I am belongs to Him. ... We'll be fine." Or, as Saint Paul said, "Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's."

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