Tornadoes, Tsunamis, and the Mystery of Suffering and Sovereignty
This article regarding the tragedy in Oklahoma is by Sam Storms, Pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City and hopefully will help you to think through this topic and explain it well to your children. Sam writes:
I’m inclined to think the best way to respond to the tragedy that struck our community today is simply to say nothing. I have little patience for those who feel the need to theologize about such events, as if anyone possessed sufficient wisdom to discern God’s purpose. On the other hand, people will inevitably ask questions and are looking for encouragement and comfort. So how best do we love and pastor those who have suffered so terribly?
I’m not certain I have the answer to that question, and I write the following with considerable hesitation. I can only pray that what I say is grounded in God’s Word and is received in the spirit in which it is intended.
I first put my thoughts together on this subject when the tsunami hit Japan a couple of years ago. Now, in the aftermath of the tornado that struck Moore and other areas surrounding Oklahoma City, I pray that those same truths will prove helpful to some. Allow me to make seven observations.
(1) It will not accomplish anything good to deny what Scripture so clearly asserts, that God is absolutely sovereign over all of nature. He can himself send devastation. Or he may permit Satan to wreak havoc in the earth. Yes he can, if he chooses, intervene and prevent a tornado, a tsunami, and all other natural disasters. In the end, we do not know why he makes one choice and not another. In the end, we must, like Job, join the apostle Paul and say: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).
(2) God is sovereign, not Satan. Whether or to what extent Satan may have had a hand in what occurred we can never know. What we can know and must proclaim is that he can do nothing apart from God’s sovereign permission. Satan is not ultimately sovereign. God alone is.
(3) Great natural disasters such as this tell us nothing about the comparative sinfulness of those who are its victims. Please do not conclude that the residents of Moore, Oklahoma, are more sinful than any other city that has not as yet experienced such devastation. Please do not conclude that we are more righteous than they because God has thus far spared us from such events. The Bible simply won’t let us draw either conclusion. What the Bible does say is that we all continue to live and flourish not because we deserve it but solely because of the mercy and longsuffering of God. Life is on loan from God. He does not owe us existence and what he has mercifully given he can take back at any time and in any way he sees fit.
(4) Events such as this should remind us that no place on earth is safe and that we will all one day die (unless Jesus returns first). Whether by a peaceful natural death at the age of 90, or by a sudden heart attack at 50, or in a car accident at 15, or by a slow battle with cancer at virtually any age, we will all likewise die. We are not immortal. The only ultimately and eternally safe place to be is in the arms of our heavenly Father from which no tornado or earthquake or tsunami or cancer or car wreck can ever snatch us or wrench us free.
(5) We should not look upon such events and conclude that the Second Coming of Christ and the end of history are at hand, but neither should we conclude that the Second Coming of Christ and the end of history are not at hand. What we should do is humble ourselves before the Lord and prepare our hearts for the day of his return, whenever that may be, whether in our lifetime or some distant date centuries from now.
(6) We must learn to weep with those who weep. We must pray for them, serve them, help them, give to them, and do all within our power to alleviate their suffering (even if their suffering is caused by God). We do not have to agree with them religiously or politically to shower them with the love of Christ. Jesus calls upon us to show mercy to those who suffer, even if they do not deserve it. The fact is, none of us deserves it. That’s why the Bible calls it mercy: it is undeserved kindness. Remember Luke 6:27 where Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
(7) Pray that God will use such an event to open the hearts and eyes of a city and a state immersed in unbelief and idolatry (and I have in mind not merely Oklahoma, but also America as a whole), to see the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and turn in faith to him, lest something infinitely worse than a tornado befall them: Eternal condemnation. Eternal suffering.