Monday, May 20, 2013

What makes God good in a world of tornadoes?

This morning I read an old book by a theologian who has been dead for thousands of years and titled the post "What makes God good?" The post describes how ancient Christians thought long and hard about how to affirm God's goodness in a world where suffering is real and terrible. It also highlights the danger of ill-formed answers to difficult questions. I ended the post with the question that originally caught my attention while reading the ancient theologian's words, "What makes God good?"

Roughly four hours after I published the post I was alerted to the massive Tornado that ravaged Moore, Oklahoma this afternoon, killing 51 people and injuring at least an additional 120.  CNN is reporting that 20 or more of those killed were children. The Tornado comes just shy of the two year anniversary of the May 22, 2011 Joplin Tornado. The horrific effects of which I witnessed firsthand. These natural disasters are keen reminders that asking the question, "What makes God good?" is much more than an academic exercise. When tornadoes churn death, tragedies kill, and diseases devastate, theological arguments often sound petty, detached, and even blasphemous. The words of a brilliant, long-dead theologian seem like hair-splitting minutia, lifeless and empty.

A boy rescued from beneath at collapsed wall
at the elementary school in Moore, OK where
the EF4 tornado hit 5/20/2013
(AP Photo by Sue Ogrocki)
Found here.
A wise and honest friend commented on a link to my earlier post:
"I think that when sweet children get killed by violent storms people are looking for answers and not questions."
I once drove to the door of parents morning the inexplicable death of their child. I hoped and prayed every second of that drive that God would give me answers for them. When the door swung open we embraced and prayed together. I had no answers to why their daughter was dead. I had no logical explanation that would make the pain go away. I still don't. 

But the Christian God is not aloof from our suffering. He is not distant or ignorant or uncaring. I do not believe that God orchestrates all suffering to teach us a lesson or to work a mysterious plan that cannot be understood by the human mind. I think, rather, that God is just as appalled by evil as anyone. In fact, I think he's more appalled by it, he's righteously appalled. He hates it with a perfect hatred. He hates sin and death so much that he has gone to great lengths to rescue the world from it. This is the Christian answer to the problem of evil-- the cross and resurrection. Christians believe that the world is not as it should be and at the same time we believe that God has decisively acted to rescue us from the evil of the world. Now he has called and commissioned us to participate in his new creation. In this new creation the old order of things has passed away, and God wipes every tear from our eyes, and there is no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain.

We believe that one day our perishable bodies will be raised and clothed in immortality and we will shout:
Death is swallowed up in victory! Where, O Death, is your victory? Where o death is your sting? (1 Cor 15:54-55)
On days like today we feel the sting of death. But we trust that God will condemn sin, suffering, and death, fully and finally at the resurrection.

So what do we do until then? 

We do the work of people who believe that God created the whole world and is at work redeeming it through his church. We pray, we serve, we rebuild, we wait for resurrection with a joyful resilience because we have caught a glimpse of how the story ends. 

Teacher embraces a child at an elementary
hit by the Tornado on 5/20/2013.
(AP photo by Paul Hellstern)
Found here.

After a lengthy description of resurrection hope, St. Paul encourages:
Be steadfast, immovable, always overflowing in the work of the Lord knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:48).