In a recent news article about the role faith and churches are playing in the aftermath of the deadly tornadoes in Granbury, one resident stated that his last-minute decision to take his wife and children to church that night saved their lives, as their home was destroyed 30 minutes later. He said, “That proves right there that going to church can literally save your life.”
He also mentioned that because of all the gifts of cash, clothes and food that he found renewed faith in friends, family and God, very sure that he was under God’s protecting hand.
Now I read this on Sunday, and even then asked, “How about those who were killed? Were they left out somehow of this miracle of protection?”
And then, Moore, Okla., happened. Late Monday afternoon, I noticed a bunch of Facebook friends had posted concerns about something happening near Oklahoma City.
I found a live news source and sat there, horrified.
Schools with children still in them were totally destroyed. Entire neighborhoods wiped out. As I watched, the first deaths were confirmed — a mother and her 7-month-old baby crushed under the weight of her collapsed house.
By Tuesday morning, the death toll was 24 with hundreds more injured. Too many people, including children, yet unaccounted for. The work of surveying and estimating damage to hundreds of homes and businesses will take a far back burner as trained first responders keep up a frantic search for survivors.
Powerful stories of those whose lives were spared are leaking out. I would guess that many, just like the Granbury tornado survivor above, will affirm confidently, “God protected me.”
I say, “Let’s just stop saying that. Please.”
Yes, there will be miracles both of excellent preparation and simple good luck. There are the wise ones who had access to storm shelters and huddled there, listening to their houses collapse around them. I’ve read one wonderful story of instructors at a preschool who gathered all their students in an interior bathroom, covered them, waited out the storm, and emerged with all unharmed but with the structure totally destroyed.
I say, “Thanks be to God!” for that.
But some have died, and many have been seriously injured. Perhaps some were foolish, hearing warnings and not believing them. Perhaps some were so fascinated by the approaching storm that they went out to watch it, not knowing that flying debris turns normally innocuous objects into lethal weapons. And perhaps some were in an old, structurally unsound school building and took the best safety measures available.
Where was God then? Why were they not protected?
That question will be asked by both people of faith and those who want to make a mockery of people of faith.
And as long as we insist on using language like, “Well, my God would not let that happen,” and therefore making over God in our own image and insisting that the Holy One be our personal caretaker, we’re going to be stuck here, unprepared to deal with tragedy, death and loss.
Where was God? Well, right now, God is present in the hands and feet of those who are looking for survivors, tending the wounded, binding up the brokenhearted, providing food, clothing and shelter to the devastated.
Where was God when the tornadoes hit or when the fertilizer plant blew up or when the brothers in Boston decided to see how many innocent they could injure by their hard and evil hearts?
Fully present. Accompanying people through the valley of the shadow of death. Before them and behind them in both terror and hope. Calling on the rest of us to stay the course, steady our souls, offer help where possible, and acknowledge the impermanence of this life and human structures.
The Scriptures remind us that we are like grass, here today and burned in the fire tomorrow. Let us make each “here today” holy and beautiful.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. She can be reached at 940-482-3482 or firstname.lastname@example.org .