One of Mike Horton's nephews in the wreckage of his home

One of Mike Horton’s nephews in the wreckage of his home

No matter how many times it’s been asked–and answers offered–the perennial question is provoked by fresh wounds: “How could a good and all-powerful God allow such a tragedy?”  The massive 2-mile-wide tornado that leveled much of Moore, Oklahoma, exposes the fragility of life—but also the apparent contradiction between a God who is good and all-powerful.

Receiving the news, my heart raced as I thought about my brother, sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, and cousins in Moore.  My parents were from there.  It was a place I’ve known well since childhood, visiting extended family.  So I scanned the local OKC TV stations for updates.  I knew by the description of the devastated area that the home of my brother and sister-in-law was in its path.

Finally, late at night I received an answer to my text-messages and talked to my brother by phone.  “It’s all in God’s hands,” he said.  It was from him that I first heard the doctrines of grace.  He and Linda are enthralled with the God of grace and glory who has revealed himself in his Son.  We don’t know why, but he does—and that’s enough.  It’s one thing coming from me, and another thing hearing it from my brother just after he and his wife had lost every material treasure they had.

His wife was away for the afternoon, beyond the range of the tornado.  Their children were just out of its path.  Waiting it out at home, my brother—a veteran of “Tornado Alley”—changed his mind when he heard it was a Category 4 or 5.  Climbing into his truck with debris already falling, he drove off for several miles until he saw the twister pass his neighborhood.  Returning only 5 minutes later, he found only a heap of rubble.  Yet there they are, extending a helping hand to neighbors.  Why?  Because life is meaningless and “sympathy” is just an expression of self-interest?

Without answers, we are faced with senseless tragedy.  Arbitrary, meaningless, random.  We search for answers—to make some sense of things—because our hearts and minds are not satisfied by this shrug.  It’s not an easy thing to affirm faith in a good God who could have restrained this ferocious storm but didn’t.  But it’s more offensive both to reason and to life itself to imagine that we live in a world where there is no ultimate meaning or purpose.  The only thing worse than losing a loved one in such a tragedy is believing that their death—and their life—had no transcendent purpose.

I noticed that evangelists of atheism—mainly from other parts of the country—quickly appeared in chat rooms.  “If a god who allowed this does exist, we would have to call him evil,” said one.  It’s struck me that this person lives in a world as simplistic as any radical fundamentalist claiming to read God’s mind.  For both, the answers are clear.  For both, God is not hidden and he does everything directly and immediately.  Both imagine a God who sends natural disasters like Zeus throwing thunderbolts from Olympus, either for sadistic pleasure or for specific judgments.

The nihilistic shrug is not an answer—even a partial one.  It’s not a comfort at all.  It has absolutely nothing to say in a situation like this.  “Stuff happens” is the only response consistent with a naturalistic worldview.  But the emptiness spreads.  It’s not just the bad things, but the good ones, that are reduced to meaningless trivia.  It also means that the love that has been overflowing in extravagant generosity shown not only to but even among victims of the tornado themselves is meaningless.

Out of darkness, light is already emerging.  And instead of turning on God, like many of the faraway critics, they are turning to God for comfort, even as God sends his people to tend to their temporal needs.

This is in no way to treat lightly the tremendous loss incurred.  The amazing spectacle of victims who have lost much extending a helping hand to neighbors who have lost more is a testament to the fact that there must be something more to life than making up meaning as we go along.  Yet it doesn’t assuage the grief over losing a loved one.

The choice is between placing our confidence in a God who is both good and sovereign despite the moral and natural evils—even when we don’t have all the answers, and giving up on any transcendent meaning for love as well as suffering.

And that choice isn’t arbitrary.  How can we be so sure?  Perhaps it might have been, except for the fact that the Triune God revealed in Scripture has fulfilled every one of his promises in history.  Most conclusively, he has sent his Son to rescue sinners by his life, death, and resurrection.  Who knew what God was doing at the cross?  Jesus’ disciples fled, the Romans jeered, and his own people judged him cursed by God.  By the look of things, Good Friday yielded only one of two choices: a God who doesn’t care or a “Savior” who was a fraud.  Because Christ has been raised in history, our lives are no longer “the show about nothing.”  We have come from somewhere grand and although we have fallen from it, we are being taken far beyond that glorious beginning, in the train of the Conqueror who has defeated death and hell.

If you want to help victims of the Moore tornado, please consider donating one of these organizations:

The American Red Cross

The Presbyterian Church in America Disaster Relief

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Disaster Relief Fund