It’s been 6 days now since our little corner of the world was turned completely upside down. The initial assessments have been made. Debris is being cleared. Rescue and recovery have been going nonstop. Volunteers have come in by the droves to assist us and help where they can. Water and electric are being restored. Donations are continuing to pour in, and for all of this I am grateful.
This morning, I woke up with heat and lights for the first time since Friday morning. Like so many others, I’m experiencing a certain amount of survivor’s remorse because we were so close to the main path, but relatively unscathed. This has caused no small amount of theological wrestlings and reflection. So, as I’ve done for years, permit me a few minutes to process all this through my keyboard.
Why? Why did the storm track shift a little less than a half mile from what we were expecting? The original track was taking the tornado directly over our house, instead, it came by less than a half mile to our south and east.
How? Surviving this storm was certainly not because of anything I did. No one can stand against winds knocking on 200 plus miles per hour. I did everything I knew to do in order to protect my family, but short of installing an underground bunker, there was really nothing I could do. It seemed to be the luck of the draw, and even typing that makes my stomach turn.
As we listened to tornado rip through neighborhoods and downtown as it passed our house, my first thought was “Thank God. We survived.” It was all I could think to do. Now for the theological reflection.
Paul, writing to the church in Thessalonica told them to give thanks in all things, because that was the will of God. (Paraphrased). We should. Sort of.
A lot of people are struggling with the events of last Friday night, and rightfully so. I’m struggling with it. I do give thanks for many things that did or didn’t happen last weekend, like so many others are right now, and I do believe that there is much, for which, to be thankful. However, there is one phrase I keep hearing that haunts me.
“I’m thankful that God protected me.” I appreciate the sentiment behind statements like that, but I’d like to take a minute to unpack some of the theology in it.
“I’m thankful that God protected me,” alludes to the idea that God picks and chooses who receives protection and who doesn’t. We don’t mean anything by it when we say things like that, other then genuinely offering thanksgiving that we’re still here. I totally get that. I would encourage us to reflect what it says to others, though.
As I came out of our hallway after the immediate threat had passed, I stopped and said “Thank you.” Meanwhile, in the couple minutes it took to pass by us, lives were lost not a half mile away. The thought of that is gut wrenching. If I were to say I was thankful God protected me, it would insinuate a divine hand redirecting the path of the storm away from my house, and directly over others. I can’t serve a God who does that. I just can’t. A god who picks and chooses who survives and doesn’t is not worthy of our worship.
It was just a fluke of nature that I’m even here to write this morning.
That being said, theology is messy. Part of the curse of a theological education is that, in our training, we are forced to recognize and wrestle with things of this very nature. The “Why?” questions. The “How?” questions. And, to do so in a way that honors our God and our fellow humans.
So, for all those who feel this week that God’s hand of protection has been removed, let me assure you that God’s heart is breaking right along with yours this morning. Nature is a brutal force at times, and were God to directly intervene, saving some while others perished, the theological ramifications would be endless.
The sucky part in all this is that there just aren’t any easy answers. A friend of mine said something yesterday that stopped me in my tracks. He said, again paraphrasing, “God wasn’t in the disaster, but lives in the response of the people to the disaster.”
This week I encourage all of us to find something in the aftermath of this storm for which to be thankful. I encourage us to let empathy guide our words and actions.
God is here. Now. With you. With me. With us.