Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tornadoes and Theology

Yesterday a tornado devastated Moore, Oklahoma. Leaving 51 dead, with nearly half of that number being children. Events like this leave those effected with a myriad of questions and a flood of emotions. One article I read described survivors as in a zombie-like state.

What would you say to those grieving in Oklahoma?

Mostly nothing. There is a time and a season for everything. This is not the season to theologize. At present we weep with them. Job’s friends were good counselors until they opened their mouths and tried to give an answer to Job’s questions. In the midst of a sorrowing event, heeding James 1:19 is a necessity. Slow to speak and quick to hear.

Those directly affected by these storms will experience a range of emotions. These emotions will be expressed within a whole range of theological positions. Ranging from this to varying atheistic expressions. In times like this one of the best things that we can do is direct people to use the Psalms to give words to the emotions of their hearts.

And just be there. Give a shoulder to cry on or a shoulder to punch. There might be a time to teach and help with theology…that is probably not today.

But there are also those that are not directly effected by the Oklahoma tragedies. We grieve. We weep with them. We ask questions as well. And at times events like this trigger our own pain. But we are in a much different position in regards to teaching. Our emotions are not as raw. Thinking through events like this will assist us in times when we are the ones with tears streaming down our face, filled with raw emotion.

What do you say to those watching the events in Oklahoma?

In Torn to Heal, I present a bare bones biblical theology of suffering.

  1. God is not evil and does not do evil.
  2. God is executing his long-term plan to eradicate all evil.
  3. God is sovereign, and everything that happens comes from his hand (whether directly or indirectly).
  4. As autonomous human beings we are personally responsible for our own evil acts (that is, we cannot evade responsibility for our actions by claiming they
    were caused by God, Satan, circumstances, our past, our limitations, or other people).
  5. God ultimately does all things for his glory.
  6. God is ever working all things together for the greatest good of his adopted children (and this redounds to his glory).
  7. Ultimately, our greatest good is conformity to Christ, which gives us the capacity for an eternal enjoyment of God himself.

I respond to that biblical theology of suffering by saying this:

To be honest, not everything in this list makes me theologically comfortable. It’s hard for me to see how these pieces combine into a picture that is both complete and fully coherent. But that’s okay; the Bible was not written to make us theologically comfortable or satisfy our curiosity. The Scriptures exist for a far more important purpose—to point us to the living God who provides eternal comfort. This God, after all, is infinitely beyond our ability to fully comprehend. That’s one reason eternity will be endlessly revelatory and fascinating. So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the God who is about the business of working out our redemption can, in our fallen and limited sensibilities, sometimes make us uncomfortable.

The truth is I don’t know specific answers to what God is doing in Moore, Oklahoma. As Samuel Rutherford once said from his prison cell, “I see not the other side of my cross, or what my Lord will bring out of it”. All we can say is that the Lord is good and the Lord is sovereign. Denying either of those is not helpful. I agree with Sam Storms that “it will not accomplish anything good to deny what Scripture so clearly asserts, that God is absolutely sovereign over all of nature”.

We must boldly assert everything that Scriptures say about suffering and evil and pain. Therefore we can say that God is sovereign and He is good. Somehow the events of Moore, Oklahoma will work together for the good of His children and to the furtherance of His glory. But we are not wise enough to connect the dots. Any pontificating about “why” this happened is likely foolish.

Someday we will no longer have tornados. Today we do. May we trust Him with the mystery that is in between.


One of the things that we can do in the “in-between” is give and serve. One of the best organizations as far as responding to disasters is the SBC Disaster Relief. You can donate here.

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