As I write this, the death count is 24, happily down from 91, following the massive EF5 tornado that recently ripped through Moore, Okla. Since I used to live in that state, and traveled through that area of Oklahoma City, the video of the devastation was of places I recognized. I mourn the loss of life, the property damage, and the disruption of the lives of those who survived.
Natural calamities like this prompt many questions, many of which cannot be answered, but some of those questions reveal some of our faulty thinking as well. No one can say why God allowed this disaster; no one can say why one person was spared and another was taken. But the fact that questions like this are even asked assumes that we somehow believe that we have a right to live, or, stated conversely, that God has no right to take our lives before we have had the opportunity to live most of our “three score and ten.”
What many in our shallow Christian (probably better stated as post-Christian) society fail to understand is that God is perfectly justified to take any of our lives at any time. That we breathe is a testimony to His grace. We are indebted to Him, we will answer to Him, and He owes us nothing. One of the great old hymns of our faith praises Him with the line, “While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care…” The hymn writer is exactly right: We “borrow” life from Him.
In times like these, many today have learned to echo the question first popularized by Rabbi Harold Kushner, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But the underlying assumption—that we are good people—is wrong. Sound biblical theology teaches that none of us is good. Since our first parents were kicked out of the Garden because of their sin, the bent of our human hearts has always been evil. We may not be as evil as we could be, but we are still evil. There may be many that we can point to as being worse than we are, but we are still evil.
It is always sad to consider the children whose lives have been cut short in a disaster like this, but let us not imagine that, somehow, they are “innocent.” Even if they should have avoided violating the other commandments, it doesn’t take our stuff-saturated world to make them covet, which is a violation of the Law. I am not diminishing the fact that they most likely are closer to being innocent than many others, but they still are not completely innocent. We are all sinners from the time of our conception; it just may take a few months after birth for us to act it out, but every child comes to a place where he defiantly declares his desires should overrule all others.
Some people ask the questions that suggest that they think God’s only purpose for them is to make them happy. It doesn’t occur to them that, just as their parents used to do, God may be trying to wake them up. The fourth chapter of the Old Testament prophet, Amos, lists several things that God did in that day to awaken them to the fact that they had drifted from Him. None of them were designed to make the people feel good and comfortable.
The questions that are raised in times like this really should revolve around the nature and attributes of God. Do we still believe, as the Bible teaches, that He is perfectly and infinitely holy? Do we understand that the slightest failure on our part should properly condemn us to eternal damnation? If we did, perhaps we would hear more preachers speak of the legal aspect of the Substitutionary Sacrifice that Christ made on the Cross (e.g., Isaiah 53) to atone for sin rather than the vague moral example of martyrdom that is popularly preached today.
Interestingly, Jesus was asked the same questions we ask in a remarkably similar context. In Luke 13:1-5, He commented on two disastrous events in His lifetime. One appeared to be a natural calamity, while the other led to the deaths of people who were not guilty of the specific crime their colleagues were being punished for. In both cases, the Lord pointed out that unless they (His audience) repented, they would also perish. And then He told a parable describing how God is running out of patience with their unwillingness to repent (vss. 6-9).
I have lived away from Oklahoma long enough that, to my knowledge, I didn’t know any of the individuals who lost their lives in the May 20 storm, but I am quite sure that I know people who knew some of them. Each of them is being mourned, and I join the mourners. Sadly, though, some of these grieving people are asking the wrong questions.
Dale Crank is pastor of Oak Ridge Alliance Church located at 109 Raleigh Road in Oak Ridge. The church is an accredited church with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a missionary denomination with ministries in more than 80 countries and almost four million people who worship Christ under the banner of the C&MA each week. Pastor Crank is a graduate of Columbia International University in Columbia, S.C. Pastor Crank and his wife, Mary, have three grown children.