This is now the second time in 15 years I have sat by and watched a tornado rip through Moore. The first one I watched from my backyard in Norman. This one I watched on TV with much more horror after spending an hour in our bathroom the previous day waiting for the news to tell me the tornado dropped and I needed to put the mattress on top of my family in the tub.
My perspective has indeed changed.
During difficult times like this, a question comes to the forefront: “Why God?”
This question can take on lots of forms, but it is one I found myself asking this week, and the answer we formulate in the back of our minds has huge implications for the way we live and how we see God.
My “Why God?” question has not only changed over the years, but my answer has too. So I wanted to share a little bit about that.
First of all, while I think it is a natural question, it is one which will almost always go unanswered. Sometimes in life there are just no good answers. And most of the people who think they have a good answer usually give some pretty destructive responses.
I also used to think asking this question might be dangerous. If I followed the trail long enough I might find something I didn’t like. I might find a God I don’t like.
But I think the “Why God?” question can lead us to some healthy places.
After experiencing a near miss Sunday and watching the incredible devastation Monday, I began to ask myself: why am I so lucky? Why do I have near misses? Why do things so often go my way? I don’t wish for tragedy at all, but how is it fair that luck tends to fall my way and not to others. Thinking through this helped me rethink my answer to the question: “Why?”
I cannot answer those “Why?” questions. But there are a few things I do know.
I am still here. I have a family who is safe. I have a home. I have a job. I have money. I know those things.
I also know that there are a lot of people right next to me who do not have those things.
Others do not.
Which means it is time for me to act.
I can spend a lifetime pondering the existential question of why them and not me. But I can take clothes and food to someone who has lost everything tonight. Maybe our “Why God?” questions are often a call to action.
I have also found that the “Why God?” question no longer scares me. Mostly because I am not scared of what kind of a God I will find. I was worried I would find a god who orchestrates tragedy, causes natural disasters, punishes social sins with the deaths of children, or sits idly by with a smug look on his face as humanity suffers.
Much has been said about this God. Many people believe in this God.
I find it horrific. I want nothing to do with a God like that.
Luckily I don’t have to.
In moments of pain and suffering, I think deep theological and existential explanations of God and suffering are not all that helpful. But in the moments when we are not experiencing hurt, thinking about these problems can lead our hearts down some new and healing paths. I find it much easier to not be mad at God during tragedy because of the picture of God I have developed during times when I do not suffer.
Thinking through the issues is not something I want to do during times of loss and pain. But if I have thought through the issues at other points, it sends my heart in a new direction. During these times I push back on God, doubt God, question God, rethink God, and as I do I find myself falling more in love with God. Because when I go through the process of questions and doubt and deep thinking, I like the God I find. Thinking through the issues deepens my trust when I hurt more than I think. Because how I think about and meditate on God shapes my heart and gut reactions towards God.
So I won’t go into the theology here; for some it may not be the time. But I want to say a few words about the God I know and who is in the suffering.
Our God is a God who is with us.
Our God is a God who is for us.
Our God is close to the broken-hearted, suffers with those who suffers, mourns with those who mourn, and aches and longs alongside his children like a mother aches any time even the smallest of wounds is inflicted.
Our God is against pain, suffering, evil, hurt, and loss. The entire movement of Jesus is God’s work in the world to destroy those very things.
Our God is a God of life.
I know this because our God is a God who looks like a man on a cross. God is not distant or passive or vengeful. God meets us in the pain, sin, and hurt. It is not only what God does. It is who God IS.
We need to reject pictures of God that do not look like the cross. Or pictures of God which make God seem monstrous, distant, or uncaring. Because they are not pictures of God at all.
The God I know is the God who is manifested in the self-sacrificial love of the cross working for the redemption and healing of all people.
This is the God working, healing, redeeming, loving, suffering, weeping, and aching WITH Oklahoma.
And with you.
Side note: I want to put this at the bottom because I am not pushing a particular theology, just advocating for a better picture of God. But Greg Boyd is one of the people who has done that for me. If you would like to see some of his work in this area start here. If he is helpful, great. If not, don’t read him. My true hope is that we can find more beautiful and accurate pictures of God to shape our hearts and minds.