Did God Bless Tuscaloosa? (or where was God on 4/27?)


A year ago I was scheduled to work a 10 to 6 shift and when the nearby weather siren went off at 5:30 am, I cussed and started to roll back over with a pillow over my head. Dutifully I got up and checked the TV, storms coming in but nothing unusual forAlabamain April. An hour later I woke again startled by a loud popping sound which I had never heard before or since. I listened as it sounded like a team of men stomped along our roof and every chair on the deck went sliding by my window. I was still sleepy, mad and just wanting to get another 2 hours of sleep before work called. Then the power went off, and my mother panicked. Cussing I managed to fall back in the netherworld with the sounds of frantic pacing in the hallway. At 7:30 am I gave up and rose in the dark house. Looking outside I was amazed at the debris littering my yard, and two hours later I would be further surprised when a cop insisted I turn my car around as the entrance to the neighborhood was blocked by downed electrical wires, and two rather large trees.

I would flee the neighborhood around 11:30 am, and make it in for my shift. The worse was over (or so we thought). Sitting in McDonalds for lunch that afternoon, I learned about another storm to the South working its way up I-459 and threatening to pass over my store. Around 3 pm the panicked texts starting arriving first at several others phones and finally a picture of a tornado on mine (screen-shot from 33/40 ofTuscaloosathe caption read). That is huge I thought. A few bad jokes later I walked out of work, and headed home. The roads looked rough and only as I walked in to our home (which was being powered by a generator at the time) and looked at the news did I realize what had happened to my home state. To say that it looked like a bomb had destroyed large parts of the state would be an understatement.

The insurance companies call this “an act of God,” and from the news it looked like the big guy was pissed. Although considering that the horrendous HB 56 was then currently working its way through our legislature, I couldn’t blame him for being a little mad at our state. I mean He did say to Jeremiah:

“Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place…. But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.”[1]

Our house was OK[2], but much of my state was a desolation. Of course within days a sign was posted in the rubble ofTuscaloosa saying, “God Bless Tuscaloosa.” This pissed off my atheist friends (particularly one T-town native who likes to refer to himself as a tornado survivor). In fact all of us have hearsed and rehearsed the stories of where we were and what the storms of 4/27 were like for us. These stories often beg a more pressing question:

“Where was God on 4/27? Did He care about Tuscaloosa? Was this some kind of blessing (or a curse for something)?”

Not to fall into some insipid cliché but if God was not the cause of the storm,[3] He was still there protecting, guiding, and inspiring. Neighbors who had not said one word to me in a year helped out and passed on news. Blacks, whites, and browns joined together to clear the rubble and donate needed goods for the homeless. Rich and poor joined hands to rebuild our fields and schools. Churches joined together to show the love of God in real tangible ways. Stories of houses skipped and lives spared rang out throughout the community. Many who lost everything found a peace, and strength they had never before felt.

I can hear my atheist friends cussing every bit as much as I did that morning as they read my hopelessly naïve and irrationally positive take on this crisis. A strong God could have stopped this day from happening. A good God would have wanted to stop this day from happening. Since the day happened could it be that God is either weak or not good (or even better nonexistent, a mere figment of an inspired imagination seeking order where only chaos exists).

Now, I do not have a direct line to the big guy. Nor am I one who can even bother to stand in judgment of the creator of the universe. I have not spoken with His press secretary or seen his day-planner for that dark day. One hates to default to mystery, but as with much of this life, we can only see it as through a glass dimly. As a Christian, I believe we live in an evil-stained world: a world in which the adversary is alive and well and doing as much damage as he can; a world in which humanity’s sinfulness and selfishness have destroyed the ozone layer and created a pressure cooker of an atmosphere which is most likely causing more and larger storms; a world in which rain falls on the just and the unjust.

We, fallen human beings that we are, have taken this world and molded it into our own image: broken, frustrating, and banal. In the turmoil which erupts onto the scene from time to time, we often get the world we deserve. Yet that is not the end of the story. The world did not end on 4/27. The sun rose on 4/28 and 4/29. The power and water began flowing again. Comcast strung new lines. Insurance agencies funded repairs. True the repair work continues and much work is left to be done. Most will come back. Most will survive. All of us will have stories for our kids and grandkids about that day and the days that followed.

I cannot help but see my state as a picture of life as it truly is. Crisis erupts. Disaster strikes. Yet life carries on. This is the true blessing that despite the worst we can do or have done to us, we can survive; we can move on. We have hope that the God who saw us through this crisis, will be with us in the next. We have this hope because of a bad Friday some 2000 years ago when all appeared lost, when hope, itself, died before our eyes. Evil did its worst. Yet 48 hours later evil and the grave were violated. Hope arose like the sun on 4/28. And in that auspicious moment a down payment was offered.

“This world may do its worst, now. Yet one day soon the clouds will part, the seas will calm, the beasts’ hunger will abate, and justice will be restored,”

Our God spoke to us through the resurrection of His Son. What a great and glorious day it will be when He returns to set all things to right, when lion will lie down with lamb, when this world gets such a facelift that it can only be referred to as a new Earth. Then we will feast together, those quick and dead. Then we will step into the lives and roles designed for us from the foundation of the world. Then sorrow will be vanquished. Then death will be destroyed. Then justice will roll down like waters.

“Bah, humbug. Such foolishness from such an otherwise nice and smart guy,” I hear you thinking. But I like my story, it gets me up in the morning (even or especially when the weather siren goes off at 5:30 a.m.). It propels me throughout my day. It makes life better and sweeter. It makes a better man of me. As I watch the lives of my friends and neighbors it seems to bear fruit in their lives as well. Perhaps this story is just that a story. Perhaps it is some mass distortion. But even if it were, this story will have made my life better and gotten me up and dressed. Perhaps more of us ought to ask just what it is that drives you to better and more fulfilled life. Perhaps we all ought to ask just how we can survive the inevitable 4/27’s and make it to the 4/28’s.

FOR A MUCH BETTER THEODICY:

Blocher, Henri. Evil and the Cross: An Analytical Look at the Problem of Pain.

Plantiga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil.

Stackhouse, Jr., John G. Can God Be Trusted?: Faith and the Challenge of Evil.

Wright, N.T. Evil and the Justice of God.


[1] I’m just saying. If Pat Robertson can blame every tragedy that strikes the world on the gays… well, turn around is fair play, right (and I actually have a Bible verse backing my play which is more that Pat usually does).

[2] Some limbs down. Power was out for a week. Cable / Internet was out for a month. I had to go to the library to turn in papers for a class. I had to go to the local coffee shop for wifi to attend class. I even had to make runs to the sports bar to watch the Bulls playoff games. But these were minor grievances compared to most, and I cannot complain.

[3] And contrary to Pat Robertson and big insurance I do not believe God is acting within the storms of life. The God of scripture is never the author of evil. Evil exists (kinda- to be philosophically sound it is technically the absence of good and does not have a form per se). Evils compound evil (see my catechesis for a technical discussion of evil and evils).

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