Tornadoes in Joplin, and a Loving God

I have friends in Joplin, Missouri, but I’m one of the lucky ones. My friends survived. Two of them lost their home. Another was at his church on Sunday night, and the church was close to the path of the EF5 twister which ravaged a city of 50,000, but it missed them by a few blocks.  Unfortunately, one friend of mine did lose her grandfather in the storm, and some friends of friends were killed as well.  One died while heroically trying to save someone else.  Stories and memories that will live on with us.

Facebook helped many of us keep tabs on each other and when cell phones occasionally worked, we contacted each other that way, too. It’s not my first experience with feeling close to an EF5. I received my last tetanus shot on the sidewalk in Greensburg, Kansas courtesy of a friendly lady from the Red Cross. I believe Greensburg was the last EF5 to hit before this year although I might be wrong. I’ve read that generally those monsters develop and touch down about once every four years. With four EF5 tornadoes this year alone, we’re definitely above the average. The crazy weather combined with all the other disasters and unrest around the world has people talking about Bible Prophecy, but sometimes the questions are more personal.

Why would God allow a high school senior returning from a graduation ceremony to get sucked out of the sunroof of his SUV where he was riding with his father? Why didn’t God miraculously keep him from being hurt like God kept others safe? Why didn’t God at least let the family find him after it happened?  It took days to discover his body in a pond.  Another 15-month old was found at a morgue.  Many other bodies took weeks to identify and families had to wait those weeks to officially discover a loved one’s fate.  Quite often, the happy miraculous ending we would hope for, didn’t happen.

Why would God allow moms and toddlers and college students and people shopping in Home Depot to get killed by a tornado, seemingly at random? Some people ask these questions as an accusation against believing in God, but for most of us, it’s just a question.  A real one. We believe, but we’d sure like to discover the sense behind the madness. It’d be nice to know why, or at least, know how it fits in the big scheme of things, and how it fits with a loving God that oversees it all.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
-John 11:25-26

Interesting way Jesus put that.  The person who believes in Jesus will live -even though he dies. If we were in charge we’d be fixing the whole dying in the first place wouldn’t we?  But Jesus promised life while accepting the current reality.  You’ll live He said, even though you die.

I think Rob Bell recently spoke for a lot of people in his book “Love Wins” when he argued against focusing so much on the afterlife, when we ought to be focusing more on this life.  He argued that God was focused on this one, and that people who talked the most about the life to come, usually were the most callous to the suffering in this life, this world.

What unsubstantiated hogwash.

It’s the very belief in the life to come, the very belief that a person “will live, even though he dies,” that gives people the fearlessness to journey into the darkest, most dangerous recesses of the world to ease that suffering.  This week alone, three young ladies from my church are heading around the world for just that reason.  One is on the way to Thailand to help rescue girls caught in human trafficking, another is headed on a medical mission to mountains of Central America, and another is off to Africa to work there.   Each one travels with the idea of not only helping the people they meet, but to give them hope.    Hope that there is a God who cares about them.  Hope that suffering in this life is only temporary. Hope that this life is not all there is.

Callous indeed.

After all, doesn’t the mere fact that this life eventually ends -no matter what- demonstrate the problem with arguing that an eternal God must make this life easy and safe?  Even if He did, wouldn’t we die eventually?  In fact, every person Jesus raised from the dead, died again later.  The reality of this life, that it is short, finite, difficult, et al… is precisely why people look to the next.  As a wise king once said:

 He (God) has also set eternity in the hearts of men -Ecclesiastes 3:11

And it’s there, in that eternity, in the life that dwarfs the size of this one, where God has already promised to remove the suffering and tragedy.  As our own lives are temporary, so also God has promised this present world is temporary, and at a day in the future and He will step in and remove sorrow, pain, tears, death, and suffering of all kinds.  In the meantime,  God has already come into our world, died in the midst of this mess, and promised to stay with us through everything that we go through.

Yes this world is unfair and harsh, but hasn’t God promised that while we are suffering, He’ll be right there, helping us get through this difficult and temporary time?  Some of the last words of Jesus were “I will be with you, until the very end of the age.”  And yes, if God was loving He’d put an end to suffering, but hasn’t God promised to do exactly that?  Yep.  He has. Revelation 21 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.”  That’ll be a good day.

And isn’t what we see God doing in Africa, Thailand, Central America and Joplin, among many other places, as His people sacrifice their time and safety to help others, part of God’s promise to be with us through all these terrible things?  Isn’t their work also part of God’s work as He shines some hope in a dark place?

I think so at least.  And I’ll be in Joplin in a few weeks with a bunch of teenagers for a few days of working to help the recovery.  We’ll be there because we sincerely believe that’s where God wants us to be.  In fact, I think the hope of God is shining in Joplin today, promising that anyone who believes in Him can find real life, and real hope, and a real promise…

A promise that says there is life, even in the midst of death.

3 thoughts on “Tornadoes in Joplin, and a Loving God

  1. Sharon McElwrath

    Those questions were ones I asked at one point myself, they were asked bitterly though with great dislike for God. I have to admit, sometimes the questions like to wriggle their way into my head again but God shows me that He is in control. The answers you give are great, I will have to remember them because we all know that as Christians, we will always be asked them.

  2. David Goff

    Thanks Brian for using scripture as reference and taking time to explain this all so well. I pray I can remember some of this when confronted by some of the “Why did God do that” questions I run into from time to time. I have one relative in particular that uses this questions as his main defense. Hopefully, I will remember some of this next time he gives me an opening.

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