So, I was thinking that not to speak in the face of the devastation of the most recent disaster in Oklahoma is well, unthinkable. What I share here is in part, some of a letter shared with the congregation – so pardon any redundancy.
The pictures of the devastation wrought by the huge and protracted tornado are heart breaking and even beyond comprehension. The fact that our own area has listened to sirens warning us of the possibility of similar threats over the last two days brings the destruction closer to home, even if only in our imaginations. “What if….?” What if I were the one trying to imagine where my house used to be. What if this town was being featured on the news feed. We might even utter “Thank God it was not here” knowing immediately that our thanks is not really gratitude, but relief. The images and the possibility of such an event happening means that fear becomes a companion in times like this.
Reminds me of a story you may know:
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:22-25)
Who is this Jesus; this sleeping presence and stiller of storms? None other than the God who over and over says to us, “Do not be afraid.” But letting go of the fear can be hard. Especially when we wonder if it isn’t precisely this God who somehow allows, or even causes these disasters and storms.
I am thinking that soon, if not already, some morally upright, emotionally uptight, self-proclaimed proclaimer of “truth” will announce that this disaster was God’s punishment for something or another. Listen: No matter what anyone tells you, the God revealed in Jesus Christ and worshiped as the Holy Trinity does NOT punish people with tornadoes — or disease, or earthquake, or any other such thing. This God does not have a “plan” that called for a tornado to strike Oklahoma yesterday to serve some mysterious purpose. It is true that tornadoes and earthquakes and such all happen within the order of creation, within the providence of the God who orders all things. But that does not mean God points a divine magic wand to conjure up the tragedies of life. They happen as part of the natural course of things. Tornadoes happen because rain falls; cancer happens because cells grow and sometimes, do so out of control. The God I have met in Jesus Christ does not inflict such things, but bears them instead. You see?
So, where is God in this disaster? Look at the cross — God is on the cross, suffering, bearing the brokenness and crying out for mercy. Look to the devastation itself to find God in Oklahoma. God is in the rubble, in the cries of the broken and grieving. The God of the cross is present in the one who races into the rubble to find the person wailing for help and in that very wail. God is already working to bring new life and resurrection from this disaster – and every other incidence of suffering, pain, grief that happens this day – even if it never makes the news. God is with you as you tremble with fear and draw your kids close. God is with the people and working through the people.
God be with all who weep and mourn and clean-up today and in all the days ahead. God be with us as we battle fear and seek faith.
Pastor Tim Olson