I’m aware that humankind has been trying to explain unexplainable tragedy and suffering since the dawn of time. Earlier this summer our very own North Minneapolis was hit by a F2 tornado on the same day that Joplin, MO was hit by an even more devastating F5 twister. These images reminded me of the images of Japan; which reminded me of images of Haiti; which reminded me of merciless acts of nature like Katrina and the tsunami off the coast of Indonesia. All told, these disasters have really made me think about the human bucket of attempted reason.
It started when one of my amazing RAs invited my whole staff to discuss our thoughts on natural disasters in our weekly staff meeting. I enjoy hearing what my RAs think about life and God and the ups and downs of it all. As we discussed tragedy, my mind turned from being thankful for opportunities to share and express our understandings, processes, and questions, to actually pondering what I think about it all.
Among the ideas shared were those similar to these: “God works out everything for good” or “God had a plan when He brought the tsunami to Japan. I mean how cool that this calamity could bring people to know Christ.” Neither of these ideas do I think are absolutely false, but I think I see it a different way.
Was this natural tragedy all part of God’s plan?
Honestly, I respectfully question this notion. God definitely has the power and the authority to bring about calamity like this, we have to respect it, but it is not my view of Scripture that it was God’s plan to unleash disaster.
Reading Genesis 1, God’s original plan was to create perfection: where the lions played in lush surroundings with lambs, where humans didn’t think of themselves better than one another or better than any part of creation or the creator, where love abounded. All the while shame and despair and disease were foreign concepts.
Adam and Eve knew no shame. [Genesis 2:25]
No one knows the extent of the details of God’s perfectly planned world, because, alas, we have never personally experienced the fullness of such a wonderfully good and perfect place.
Obviously, our world is not like this. We live in a world that sometimes can be good, and sometimes can reflect incomplete remnants of what God’s original plan was. But for the most part, the world we live in today is broken and not good.
All of humanity is to blame for this, not just the ones who seem to be experiencing hardships at any given moment. You can’t sit in your living room and watch Red Cross marketing campaigns for Japan or Haiti or Katrina and think “well, isn’t it interesting that such a sinful region is experiencing such disaster?” Hinting that God brought this upon them as wrath.
Nobody is exempt.
Maybe not everyone has been affected by a flood or natural disaster. But most, if not all, have personal experience with one, if not more, of the following: cancer, gang violence, vehicle accidents, war, heart disease, racism, sexism, bullying, recession, famine, drought, robbery, and/or abuse.
When you lost your job; when your girlfriend dumped you; when you grandma died; did these things happen to you because of God’s wrath?
I’m not saying that sin doesn’t have specific consequences that bring about some kind of death. Sin brings death. But be careful to explain away all tragedy as a way that God is “getting even” with us for our sin.
That’s not how I’ve come to know God to work.
Tragedy entered the world when the world ceased to be perfect. God could have had a continuously perfect world if so desired. God could have controlled it all like a parent sheltering their children from everything outside their home.
But God LOVED us so much that he gave us the one weapon we could use against him:
our desire to go our own way.
It hurt God to see us turn away from the perfect plan God made for us. But we are allowed to do so.
All because God loved us.
Now we live in this imperfect world because once upon a time, we chose it. And we continue to choose it on a daily basis.
Sometimes God intervenes in the wake of calamity, defending us with miracles, signs, and wonders. The tornado jumped over your house, Grandma’s cancer was healed, Dad apologized.
God intervenes because God is good and He wants us to see that He still cares and wants us to see the hope that our broken world can be redeemed and mended to look like God’s original plan.
Yet sometimes God doesn’t intervene.
When this occurs, God walks among the ashes and the rubble and weeps with those who have lost and morns the pain that won’t go away.
But why doesn’t God intervene all the time?
This is unfair, right?
Well, think again about the parent scenario. If there was a parent today who sheltered their children from all pain and suffering, that child wouldn’t grow and mature and develop into a strong adult. Pain and suffering bring about maturity, and they bring about a bond that unites the human race together, to empathize with one another the way God empathizes with us as well. [Hebrews 4:15]
It has been my experience that when one is truly suffering, healing can come when they are allowed to express how they’re feeling, and when they are understood by others. How can we help people if we have not suffered ourselves? If we have no idea what its like to have to give up on dreams or be forced to say good bye to a loved one?
I part with a reiteration of this one final idea. Whenever I see tragedy in the world, I try to let it be a reminder to me that before God gave us salvation, God gave us a very loving gift:
The ability to hurt Him.
In this act of vulnerability, God also showed us the beauty of true relationship: teetering somewhere on the brink of utter danger and rejection and the potential for total acceptance and bliss.
And when I remember this, even in the midst of tragedy, I am reminded of how much God loves me. That doesn’t mean that I immediately turn my frown upside down, but it means I have an ounce of peace to help distract me from the lie that my current reality is utterly hopeless and worth giving up on.
***Note: The image used for this article was taken from the back porch of what was left of our good friend’s Faith and David’s unattached garage in North Minneapolis after the tornado.