While I cannot speak for anyone but myself, I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who is terribly saddened, even to the point of (at least for me, non-clinical) depression from the news of yet another disaster resulting in trauma, tragedy and tears. Such is the case with this week’s reports of the devastating tornado that hit Moore, Okla., this past Monday, May 20.
At the time this article is being written, 24 deaths were reported, including a number of children. Hundreds were injured and others may still be missing. Those numbers may well have changed by the time you read this article.
Hospitals and schools were destroyed. Entire subdivisions were obliterated. Property damage is unfathomable. Loss of a lifetime of possessions is unimaginable. Human life is irreplaceable.
One report, written by former Concordia Seminary (St. Louis) student Bill Trowbridge, noted observations of a helicopter pilot surveying the area: … large, entire neighborhoods were swept clean–no homes, no trees, just scabs on the ground … Bill’s entire communication, with his permission, is posted below my signature.
Questions always arise at a time like this. For me and many others, the biggest one is Why does God allow natural disasters? This question haunts thinking and feeling people of faith and stirs greater doubt in people for whom faith is a huge challenge, even when peace and normality exist.
In Natural Disasters: A Biblical Perspective (http://www.ucg.org/news-and-prophecy/natural-disasters-biblical-perspective/) Tom Robinson lists 16 points to keep in mind concerning the biblical perspective on tragedies, regardless of their scale or circumstances. While it would be difficult for a Lutheran Christian to agree with all 16 points, several are worthy of mention:
- God has said in Bible prophecy that natural disasters would grow in frequency and intensity as the end of the age approaches—to shake people out of their complacency and lead them to seek Him (Matt. 24:7; Luke 21:25-26; Rev. 6:12; 11:13; 16:18).
- Those who die in accidents or natural disasters are not necessarily greater sinners than those who survive (Luke 13:1-5).
- Natural disasters or accidents should humble us, helping us to see our dependence on God to sustain and deliver us (Rev. 16:8-11).
- We don’t know all the reasons God brings or permits specific calamities or why particular people are made to suffer by them, but we should trust that in God’s omniscience and ultimate wisdom He knows how to work out what is best for everyone in the end (Rom. 8:28; 1 Tim. 2:4).
The observer noted above described the Oklahoma storm as … one hour of total wrath, with no escape. Then he adds: Of course, I wonder how many truly had no hope. No knowledge of their Saviour. No promise that, no matter what this day may have brought, He would be with them.
Through the pain, the anguish, the loss, and, yes, the death, His promise is sure. No matter how much it seems that you have been forsaken, or punished, He was forsaken by the Father, and He took the burden of your sin to the Cross, that you would have eternal life with Him. His promise. The promise of God. Unshakeable. Irreversible. Definitely promised to all in Oklahoma this day.
Especially this week, my heart is with those who used to live in neighborhoods that were swept clean–no homes, no trees, just scabs on the ground. Those scabs on the ground were left by a horrendous storm that devastated property and destroyed possessions. Yet God’s people are still precious to Him. Much more than scabs on the ground, we are His priceless children!
May the peace of our Lord Jesus be with you always! And may that peace be with our friends in Oklahoma and others for whom peace is seemingly, at least for the moment, an elusive dream.
Appendix—Letter from Bill Trowbridge
In May of 1999, Moore, Oklahoma was devastated by an F5 tornado. A south suburb of Oklahoma City, they rebuilt, and learned from their tragedy. For the last hour and a half, I have been witness to another tragedy that makes 1999 look tame by comparison.
Since we here in St. Louis are waiting for the severe storms that are forecast for tonight, I thought I’d check out the Weather Channel, and see what the atmosphere was doing. To my surprise, I was seeing a live helicopter feed from Oklahoma, and the amazing coverage of the origin of a funnel cloud that was just beginning to form. Over the next few minutes, the funnel touched ground in a rural area and began to grow. Fascinating, but troubling, it slowly began to stabilize and head east, as it destroyed farms and outbuildings. As it continued to grow and widen, it became obvious that major population areas were in its path.
The television stations began to realize that this was a major disaster unfolding, as the tornado slowed to a meager 20 miles per hour and continued to widen, now clearly headed for Moore. The monster began to cloak itself in an ever-widening debris field and rain curtain, and headed into populated areas. The helicopter pilot, who has family in Moore, became understandably shaken, but maintained his professionalism. As the debris curtain widened to an astounding 2 miles wide, the pilot had to back off from the carnage, as he reported being drawn in towards the storm by a strong inflow of wind. Camera zoom still allowed me to see debris, thousands of feet in the air, as the slow, grinding storm and debris took its toll. As it crossed I-35, the reporters said that the local police were able to close the interstate moments before, to help lessen the potential toll.
Now totally hidden by debris and rain, two miles wide, I could only pray and wait, as the announcers debated the strength of the storm and damage, and the network of storm chasers and spotters did what they could to inform the viewers. The helicopter pilot, intimately knowledgeable of the streets and structures, kept hollering out intersections, and an occasional,”Oh, my God, it’s heading for the high school!!” I continued to pray, and began to weep.
The storm crossed more large swaths of neighborhoods and businesses and left behind the most populated areas, still moving very slowly for such a massive storm, and the reporters began to give live feeds of the total devastation behind the storm. The tornado stopped and turned directly toward the helicopter, causing him to change course. As it headed towards the Air Force base, it turned some more, and began to pick up speed. It was more visible now, as the debris began to diminish. In the matter of a minute, it totally vanished, as amazingly as it had formed. It spent one hour on the ground, creating total devastation in its path.
By now, the pilot had been informed that his family was okay, and you could hear the change in his voice, but he continued to focus in on the damage left by the storm. Storm spotters on I-35 began to show live feed of dozens of cars and trucks, twisted and mangled, and scattered all over the roadside. The path of the damage was obvious, and the pilot zoomed in on the two schools, nearly totally devastated. A close-up of one showed students running from the debris toward police cars arriving on the scene. The other school had no evidence of movement at all. As the helicopter camera zoomed down the damage path, large, entire neighborhoods were swept clean–no homes, no trees, just scabs on the ground, as the pilot called out street names for the viewers. Back to one of the schools, as many rescue teams had now arrived and were frantically combing through the debris. Many businesses that the pilot named as he flew over the remains. And on and on and on. And a sudden shift back to the Doppler radar, as the Weather Channel issued a Tornado Warning for Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I was reminded of the Joplin tornado, here in Missouri, as I looked over the damage. This was much worse, as far as the acreage of total destruction, but similar, in that no one could have survived unless they got underground. No interior walls or bathtubs would give one a safe haven. One hour of total wrath, with no escape.
And then, of course, I wonder how many truly had no hope. No knowledge of their Saviour. No promise that, no matter what this day may have brought, He would be with them. Through the pain, the anguish, the loss, and, yes, the death, His promise is sure. No matter how much it seems that you have been forsaken, or punished, He was forsaken by the Father, and He took the burden of your sin to the Cross, that you would have eternal life with Him. His promise. The promise of God. Unshakeable. Irreversable. Definitely promised to all in Oklahoma this day.
We will all hear and see the devastation on the news for weeks, maybe months to come. We will witness the recovery of Moore once again, as we have seen the people of Joplin recover. We will hear the stories of heroism, and marvel at the healing of the injured. And we will hear of the dead and dying, and the testimonies of miracles. And some of us will turn it off and go about our daily routines. I hope that you will hug your kids with a extra bit of love tonight. And hug each other. And call a loved one and talk about real life for a change.
But, most of all, I hope that you pray for Moore, for the Church and especially for the lost, that we can all remember Christ’s wish that all would be saved. May He bless you all, in your successes and in your hardships.