On May 20, one of the most devastating natural disasters in American history ripped though the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, killing 24 people, injuring 377 others and causing an estimated 2 billion dollars in property damage. Less than two weeks later on May 31, with clean up efforts still being organized and a state of emergency declaration still in place, a second tornado devastated El Reno, a community about 30 miles west of Moore, killing 9 and injuring 115. The second tornado was the widest in recorded history, measuring 2.6 miles across with wind speeds over 300 mph. These storms literally produced more destructive energy than the atomic bomb that was dropped over Japan in World War II, leaving the OKC metro area scarred and bruised.
That type of power demands serious attention but after the threat is gone and the adrenaline wears off, questions begin to emerge, questions about the source and trustworthiness of that power? What kind of a god would allow such an atrocity? Is this god vindictive or just asleep at the wheel? Questioning his purposes and plans during these tragedies are completely legitimate spiritual launching points, and simultaneously, extremely poor spiritual destinations.
If tornados are only brief, localized bursts of God's overwhelming power, then an equally legitimate question might be who are we to sin against such a God and live? Who are we to accuse him of neglect or malice while enjoying his sunshine the other 364 days a year?
As hard as I try, I cannot dream up a redemptive scenario that justifies the random, brutal death of a child in a natural disaster. But then again, I am woefully under qualified to make that call. And oddly enough, that produces peace. Thankfully, we do not serve a God that is like us and therefore can lean into him fully, without any hesitation or doubt because we are not leaning into another finite creature but an infinite Creator. The prophet Isaiah says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:8-9)
The tornados around Oklahoma City did not create a new spiritual reality for us to deal with; they simply amplified a pre-existing one. One where destruction is real, people die and our efforts are limited. The God we serve is not simply powerful but distant, he's not just present but impotent. The God we serve became a man and moved into our messy, broken, dark aftermath of a neighborhood in order to save the neighborhood. And for a community, a state, a whole world where there is nothing but death tolls and damage assessments, this is good news.
"Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Phil 2:6-8)