Those who died in the Oklahoma tornado were not sinners in the hands of an angry God (sadly, this implication was tweeted by a Christian leader). If mile-wide whirlwinds were God’s favorite way of dealing with wickedness, most of us reading these words would have been swept up long ago.
Those who survived the tornado were not the righteous rewarded for lives of virtue (sadly, this implication was written in some online evangelical comments). It is the height of hubris to believe that I lived while others died because they are bad and I am good.
“I don’t know” is the best answer to the question, “How could this happen?” (Don’t even attempt to unravel the theological complexities behind that question.)
“I’m so sorry” is the best response to the statement, “I’ve lost everything.” (Don’t even think of minimizing their suffering or trying put it into “perspective.”)
In fact, as one evangelical leader recently tweeted, “In deep pain, people don’t need logic, advice, encouragement, or even Scripture. They just need you to show up and shut up.”
“God suffers with us.” This is the bedrock biblical truth under-girding every faith-full response to tragedy. When he took on flesh, God experienced our pain at a personal level. He lost a close friend. He was abandoned by his family. He was murdered in the name of God. We have a God who has suffered with us. He’s walked miles in our excruciating shoes. And he still stands by us in our darkest moments. God’s good people are his hands and feet as they dig through debris and reconstruct homes. God’s Spirit and Word are his voice when we have no words of our own. He suffers with us.
“God suffers for us.” This is the great hope offered by biblical faith. God’s suffering was redeemed for good purposes. Jesus’ death and resurrection were the initial death-blow to a world wrecked with cancer, crime and catastrophes. They were the birth-pains of a world to-be that will have health and happiness.