I was debating on what to write for tonight.
I thought I might do a 2015 "Year in Review" blog, highlighting some of my more interesting moments and encounters within the last year. I may still do something of the sort next week. But Saturday night, Dec. 26, the corner of Texas where I live was the victim of a horrific outbreak of tornadoes - nine twisters that left eleven people dead, dozens injured, and did tens of millions of dollars in damage. I inadvertently got a first hand view of the devastation on Sunday, when a missed exit forced me to detour right across the storm's path. Businesses and homes shattered and scattered, debris everywhere, cars upended and tossed about like children's toys in a tantrum - it was horrifying and humbling to see the raw power of nature destroy the works of men's hands so quickly and completely.
So where was God in all of this? How could One who loves us allow such carnage, especially at a time of year when we celebrate His supreme gift to us all? Why did those eleven people die while others were spared? Why was one house left standing while its neighbor was leveled to its foundations?
I don't even pretend to have answers for everything. I read my Bible, I pray for my friends, and I do what I can to be a good person and a good neighbor to those in need. But those who reject God always have a field day when events like this roll around - "Where was your God in the midst of the storm? How could He let this happen?" The questions come thick and fast, and our answers may sound hollow in the face of human suffering.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was confronted with a similar question. Here is the story:
"Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” - Luke 13: 1-5 NASB
Was Jesus being callous here? Was he belittling the deaths of these innocents? Or was He making a profound statement about the existence of man in a fallen world?
Whether you regard the story of Adam and Eve as literal truth, mythology, or timeless allegory, it makes a profound statement about the nature of humanity: Death is our lot. We are mortal creatures living in a fallen and imperfect world. All of us are given a span of years, and none of us know how long that span will be. We may say that some are taken "before their time," but that isn't true. They were taken at their time, or they would not have been taken at all. We grieve and rage and weep because they were taken before WE were ready for them to go. Whether someone is killed by a tornado the day after Christmas or dies from the slow ravages of time in a nursing home, the grave is our ultimate fate. Nothing we can do will change that.
That's where faith comes in. Paul told the church at Thessalonica two thousand years ago: "Now I would not have you ignorant, beloved, concerning them that fall asleep, that ye may not grieve as do the rest who have no hope." Without faith, the grave is the end of all things. There is nothing waiting for us beyond, and those we have lost are gone beyond all recovery. I cannot imagine such a hopeless and benighted philosophy - to think that your entire existence is a cosmic accident devoid of meaning or purpose, that we are nothing but hairless apes produced by a long series of meaningless mutations, and that when our life ends, nothing lies waiting.
We who believe have hope. Atheists and agnostics may ridicule us into thinking it's a false hope, but what do they have to offer in its place? An existence that is amoral and meaningless? A life of hedonism, because the pleasures of this life are all we will ever have? No, thank you. I like the promise of Scripture so much better: "Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is."
"We shall behold Him." What a magnificent promise - a promise no tragedy can take away! In the end, faith is the only response that makes any sense in a world that is far too filled with suffering.