There’s nothing like a natural disaster to remind this human just how small and powerless she is in the scope of the universe. I thought I’d say something about the Oklahoma tornadoes that cut down so many lives last week, because there’s a connection to my novel Afloat—an epic kind of flood that first kills and then demands an accounting of belief and behavior from everyone who survives it.
Your life has just been cataclysmically altered: what will you do?
But somehow, using the Moore tornado as a springboard to talk about my work of fiction seems inexcusable. (So I won’t do it.) The nonfiction is so terribly, horrifically, morbidly devastating. I imagine the lives that were in the path of that tornado are still in shock. They shouldn’t be required to do anything. The grieving is all-consuming.
Yet from afar I have seen them sort through ruins, rescue pets and memories and maybe a functional pair of boots, and even help their neighbors. They hold each other up. They feed each other food and love. They remind me of the widow who gave her very last penny to the temple. Such people are stunningly beautiful for their ability to give to one another out of their poverty rather than their wealth.
The temptation of course is to try to make sense of what happened. As if such moments can be understood this side of eternity. The problem with natural disasters is that it’s hard to find someone to blame for them. We can’t blame a person or a government, as we might in the case of crime. We can’t blame bad genes or a bad mood or a bad decision for this particular kind of trouble. It seems that God alone is responsible. And if he is, the logic goes, he can only be cruel and unfair.
In an effort to combat this fear that God is the antithesis of love, some of us who are Christians try to take our limited sense-making even farther beyond our limits. We tend to believe there is not only a who behind the crisis but also a why—as the Pharaoh’s men drowned because God hardened his heart; as Job suffered because God and the devil made a deal; as Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead because they lied.
We should stop this.
Maybe there is a why behind the Moore tornado that our small human brains could understand. Maybe there isn’t. The older I get the less inclined I am to believe that any tragedy can be so blithely explained away. I’ll let God do the explaining when he sees fit. As for me, I know nothing. I need perspective. An eternal perspective that I probably will not get in the here and now. It isn’t my job to explain this. I would be so bold as to say it isn’t any human’s job. So please, if you’re tempted to tell those broken people why their lives have been turned upside down, just shut up.
What is our job? I believe it is to show compassion to the shell-shocked. I have always used the word compassion in a literal sense: passion = to suffer, com = with. We suffer with them by giving out of our own poverty. We do not understand. We do not know why. We have no pat answers to ease their pain. We have only love and two hands and the ability to come alongside to do whatever they can’t do alone. And we have this kind of loving mercy only because God has so generously given it to us.
Answers, after all, might not be the things we humans need most in a time like this.