During recent days all of our hearts have gone out to the victims of the devastating tornadoes that ripped through Alabama and Georgia. We have been amazed at the power of those storms and have continued to mourn with and pray for those affected.
Last I heard, 23 lives were lost and multiple people had either lost their homes or their homes were severely damaged. And as the helping agencies advise, numbers of us stand ready to assist financially or otherwise in the tedious process of restoration.
Now, when tragedies like this occur, the question of “Where was God?” often arises. While much of this kind of occurrence remains a confounding mystery, today I want to focus a little while on the tragedies of life.
Some years back, when the “death of God” theology was a fad, there was a bumper sticker that read, “My God is not dead, sorry about yours.” But if I had a bumper sticker today more than likely it would read, “My God is not cruel, sorry about yours.”
My first thought is that God does not send the tragedies. It is important that we people of faith be clear that human tragedy is not the will of God.
As someone else put it, “Tragedy happened because life happens.” Consequently, some tragedies are caused by bad luck, some tragedies are caused by bad people, some are the inevitable results of our being mortal and living in a world of very inflexible laws. And still, other tragedies are just a mystery.
“Why do good people suffer?” is the age-old question. And there is no complete answer to this question. However, there is an equally age-old observation: “The children of God have always been able to come through suffering triumphantly.”
Why? Because they have experienced God through Jesus, who always brings life and healing and comfort. The God of Jesus Christ, our loving Heavenly Father, does not bring tragedies upon his people.
My second thought is that God is with us in our tragedy. The prophet Isaiah said, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you,” (Isaiah 43:2). Jesus stated, “I am with you always to the close of the age,” (Matthew 28:20).
The late Dr. William Sloane Coffin Jr. was a former pastor of Riverside Church of New York. His son, Alex, was killed when his car skidded off the highway and into Boston Harbor. In his first sermon after Alex’s death, Coffin said he was infuriated by well intentioned folks who said it must have been the will of God.
After saying some other things, Dr. Coffin stated, “My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex died; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.”
To me, Dr. Coffin was saying that he was comforted because God was with him in his tragedy.
And my third thought is that God is the last word concerning our tragedy.
At the center of the Christian faith is the message of hope — that God brings life out of tragedy or death. The God who had the first word will also have the last word. As the scripture makes clear, “After the evening, the morning,” (Genesis 1:5), and after the crucifixion, the resurrection (Mark 16:6).
Here, I’m talking about Easter and Easter people. Because of Easter, every one of us has the power for new life, to begin again, to overcome, to rebuild, to care for others, to experience new meaning and regain hope. That’s the last word.
We continue to keep those affected by the tornadoes in our prayers and actions.
The Rev. Hal Brady is an ordained United Methodist minister and executive director of Hal Brady Ministries, based in Atlanta. You can watch him preach every week on the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters TV channel Thursdays at 8 p.m.