Almost every time there is a natural disaster there is a Christian leader who tries to explain it as God’s punishment for whatever region it befalls. Last Friday there was a historic outbreak of tornadoes and severe weather that claimed 39 lives and countless homes and businesses. Today mega-church pastor and “theologian” John Piper posted a reaction to these storms on his blog. There he described these tornadoes as God dragging his “fierce fingers across rural America.” Piper asks the question “If God has a quarrel with America, wouldn’t Washington, D.C., or Las Vegas, or Minneapolis, or Hollywood be a more likely place to show his displeasure?” I guess Piper believes that God’s wrath is better directed at the godless sodomites of Hollywood or the liberals of Washington. Piper then uses a handful of verses to proof-text his point that God caused the tornadoes of last Friday for some reason we will never understand. That’s always a good cop-out. When someone asks why God does these horrible things the response is “I don’t know, God only knows.” Instead of trying to deal with the real theology of the problem, Piper quotes a handful of verses about God and wind and then answers the question of why with God only knows. However, the part of Piper’s post that bother me the most is when he said “But before Jesus took any life in rural America, he gave his own on the rugged cross.” The idea that Jesus takes anyone’s life in the form of a tornado, an earthquake, or a cancerous tumor is disturbing and just wrong. Christ came to give life and not to take it. Christ came that we might have life eternally, not to take lives at his whim.
I do not believe that God sends tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, or any other natural disaster as a message, punishment, or for any other reason. Tornadoes are natural phenomenon caused by the collision of warm and cold air, position of the jet stream, and many other factors. The frequency of all these factors have increased over the last few years. That is not to say that God did not create the natural systems of weather, plate tectonics, etc on this planet, but I do not believe that God pushes a button and sends a twister to Alabama, or an earthquake to Haiti, or wildfires to California.
So where was God on Friday during these storms? Was God uncaring and aloof, ignoring the cries of his children? No. That would be equally disturbing and wrong. I believe with my whole heart that God was with those people as the wind howled and their worlds came crashing in on them. God was with them as they huddled in basements, closets, and bathrooms. God was with them as their children were ripped from their arms. And God is still with them as they recover. God is with them as they pick through the pieces. God is with them as their neighbors come to lend a helping hand in his name.
Tornadoes can miss one house and destroy the house next door. They can carve a path of destruction seemingly without any clear rhyme or reason and this leads to the question of why? Why me and not my neighbor? Why the little community of Harvest, AL, hit twice in less than a year, and not my town less that an hour’s drive away? The real answer to those questions is I don’t know. However, I do trust in this. God does not cause us harm. God does not send storms as punishment. God is with us as the winds blow and they skies darken. God is with us when our lives come apart in the aftermath. God is with us.