By Steven Norris
One of the more heart-breaking and touching experiences I had over the past week was a conversation between two neighbors. Their respective houses were only yards apart, yet one had been flattened by an uprooted tree, while the other sat virtually untouched.
Both neighbors were people of deep faith. Both were active in their local church — one in the nursery, the other in the women’s ministry. I feel confident that both of them had prayed for protection from the storm. Yet, one was spared and the other was not.
“Why did I get so lucky? Why is my neighbor’s house gone and mine is just fine? Why did God answer my prayer and not my neighbors?” These are the questions that haunt us in the aftermath of disasters like the one our community experienced two weeks ago. They are the natural response of those seeking to make sense of what we would all agree has been an altogether horrific storm.
Too often, confident “preachers” and so-called “prophets” are quick to offer definitive answers as they speak “a word from God.”
“This happened as God’s judgement on those who were not living right.”
“Everything happens for a reason, so this is just part of God’s plan.”
“God made the world and the weather patterns. While God put it all in place, God rarely steps in and directly intervenes in the world like that.”
I don’t think that they mean to be hurtful, but none of these explanations satisfies the nagging questions that lie deep within my own heart. At times, Jesus isn’t much more helpful. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states, “God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” In Luke 13, Jesus refuses to make a direct connection between sinfulness and suffering the way that these preachers have attempted to do.
As a pastor, I want to give more definitive answers. However, in the face of tragedy and these neighbor’s questions, I can only muster a humble, “I don’t know.” This is the most honest answer that I know how to give.
“I don’t know,” is not the only word, however. If we agree that Jesus is the clearest and fullest revelation of God to humanity, we are left with this truth: we were never meant to fully know God’s mind, but Jesus reveals to us God’s heart. “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only son…”
If we are looking for evidence of God’s presence in the midst of this storm, we will find it in concrete acts of love and compassion. It may not be the clear-cut answer to our questions of “why” but it certainly points us in the direction of “where” God is present.
After sharing their story with me, the one neighbor said to the other, “Do you want to come inside for a cup of coffee? We don’t have power, but the gas is still on and I’ll be happy to share what I have.” I do not know why this storm happened to our community, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt where God is at work.