So it happened again. I was home and my wife told me there had been a tornado. I turned on the cable news and watched the screen. A helicopter seemed to be circling a large town and it appeared that every single house was gone, replaced by a pile of lumber and broken walls. one after another. rows and rows of destruction. Just like in New York some months ago where a fire wiped out an entire neighborhood. totally. Just like New Orleans. Just like, just like, just like....
The vastness of the destruction is what is hard to take in. A mile across? I am able to imagine my own homeland in similar straights. I know it is 1.1 miles from my front door to the park where I run. I know how many houses are between my house and that point. I can imagine all of them leveled. It is horrifying. And then the horror went on steroids as the announcer said that they were no longer searching for survivors in the school, they had called in a team to gather up corpses. And as tears came, uncontrollable, I thought of two dozen dead little nine years olds. And then I remembered the shootings and a similar feeling. More tears... O my God in heaven, have mercy on us. Dozens of kids means dozens of families. Parents and siblings, uncles and aunts, grandparents, cousins. Coaches, boy scout leaders, piano teachers. Most of us are connected, deeply, to over a hundred people. Most of us know many more. I could see that web of life, connecting each child to hundreds of others locally, nationally, even globally. Thousands of hearts pierced with the sadness of tragic loss. Thousands of people crying and crying out, "But s/he was only a baby! How can life be crushed out of one so young with so much to live for?" And I wept. I wept and prayed.
What is God's role in the tornado? He created the world, so in the end He is ultimately responsible. But there are so many moving parts in this universe and our brains are so small and limited. We cannot even begin to start to imagine how it all works together. How does divine causality actually unfold in the world, what is the place of active and permissive will, the role of wrath and the part played by mercy? How exactly is God at work? What is left on its own? What is under direct manipulation? We cannot understand and I am not interested in trying. I know that weather is weather and there are good scientific reasons why warm and cold air create high winds. I know that there are many times that those high winds occur in places uninhabited and so they go undetected and unknown. Sometimes the storm hits here, instead of there, and here is where people live. Suddenly the winds mean death and the death means questions and the questions mean anger, doubt and a million other things. In a world where people live in some places and not in others, in a world where nature produces all manner of events, some of which are helpful for life and others which imperil life (and many which do both) that means statistically we will see tragedies like this. I cannot see how a material world could be any other way.
In the end, however, it is still all about the same things: Will you love, serve and worship God? Will you love and serve your fellow human beings?
Sunny days? Rainy days? Peaceful days? Stormy days? When the kids are laughing and at play? When the kids are dressed in tha pretty little dress and laying in a coffin? It does not matter the circumstance, the question is the same: will you love and worship God? Will you love your fellow humans?
The life of Jesus (God incarnate) reminds us that God's answer to tragedy is to share in it and redeem it. Redemption is the key. I do not know how God factors into causality. I do know how God factors into making all things new. The repair work began with incarnation and proceeds through the passion and cross and is renewed by resurrection. Our hope (and joy) is someday He returns to make all things new. Some day every tear is wiped away. How? That, too, is a mystery.
Why did God let this happen? I do not know and neither does anyone else on this planet. (and people who act like they do really tick me off, especially when they do it theologically....)
What difference does it make? That is the question. Does it increase your commitment to help others? Does it lead you to treasure this day and make the most of every moment with your kids and loved ones? Are you more attentive to them right now because you got a tornado sized wake up call that life on planet earth is tenuous and our big houses and schools are just made of sticks with a thin brick veneer? Do you live differently today, conscious of the fact that there is not one single reason why it shouldn't be you interviewed on the news saying, "I have lost everything..."
I pray regularly for God to protect me and mine, but I pray most intensely for God to make me and mine holy. The latter is the primary. If all those children are in glory with Jesus right now then the tragedy is not so bad as it seems. And if the children who were spared grow up to live lives in isolation from God, unloving and never worshipping, then the true tragedy is that those are the lives that are really lost. It is, in the end, about how things end up. Not negating the reality of the storm or the loss. Not minimizing the horror, the sadness or pain. It makes me cry right now to think about it. It terrifies me to the bone to imagine it happening to me. So I am not saying "no big deal." What I am doing is just remembering that there is a bigger perspective. Just remembering that resurrection changes the meaning of the crucifixion. Resurrection, redemption and new creation can take today's tragedy and rework into something beautiful, alive and eternal.
Just remembering and hoping and trusting...