Images and videos from Monday’s EF-5 tornado in Oklahoma are mind-boggling. Trying to imagine the pain, anguish and stress the victims are going through is mind numbing. To those questioning God, what is the benefit we gain by not praying and not having hope? It’s moments like these that cause us to look inward and reflect. And it’s in those moments that we find faith, act with purpose and look forward to tomorrow.
Surely you weep along with us, O God, at yet another tragedy that has struck your beloved children. And so we pray to you because we do not know what else to do. We pray that You might comfort those who need comfort; That You might empower all who are able to reach out with compassion and aid. And that you might discomfort those who search for easy answers to such tragedies. So hear our sadness; hear our loss; hear our cries; And then, be God: The Source of wholeness, the font of healing, and the one who can turn despair into hope, mourning into joy, and even death into life. Amen.
Nothing has wounded me spiritually like the pain of parents, surviving their children. The pain seems to be unmatched and indescribable, no matter the age of the deceased offspring or the circumstances, whether merciless murder, accident, act of war or “Act of God.” Everyone is someone’s “child.” The farther we are from the center of the loss, the more healing work there is to do. Spirit wounds heal slowly. Calling all healers!
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.
The beauty of the Christian life is that God has made provision for us in life and eternal life. Many ask, “What happens to young children when they die?” The simple answer is that they are ushered into the perfect presence of Christ in heaven. The same Jesus who told His disciples to allow the children to come to Him while on this earth, has also provided for their eternal well-being. As tragic as the loss of life is, it is good news that God has made a way for us through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
With 26 people killed in Newtown, 20 of whom were children, and 24 people killed in Moore, nine of whom were children, the irrepressible question is, “Lord, where were you when calamity struck these two communities?”
The psalmist is helpful in a time like this because we can find expression and release for our innermost feelings in his own outpourings of emotion during hard and painful experiences.
Repeatedly throughout the Psalms, he complains about the absence of God. Why have you abandoned your people? Why don’t you wake up and act in behalf of your people? Why don’t you respond to our prayers for deliverance? Why do you allow bad things to happen to good people?
Yet in his outcries something redemptive happens. For just as he repeatedly vents his feelings over his sense of God’s absence, he repeatedly remembers the times God was obviously present, acting to help and save. So that, even in seemingly godless situations, the psalmist can nevertheless voice belief that God remains with the weak and the needy, and, in so confessing, regain hope
The Psalms of lament can serve us well as we wrestle with our emotions in the aftermath of Newtown and Moore. For from them, we learn that we can rightfully bring to God whatever we feel about him, and that the very act of venting our frustration and despair can lead to the restoration of perspective and renewal of faith.
When natural disasters strike with the accompanying loss of life and property, we either turn to God or turn from God. Our answer should always be to turn to the Light because even in the darkest of days, the Light is prevalent. In modern revelation, the Lord has told us that “if we are prepared, we need not fear.” One of the chief purposes of our earthly existence is to prepare ourselves spiritually so that we are not shaken by turbulent storms or other adversity that enters our life.
The recent tragedy in Oklahoma brings back to me memories of April 19, 1995, the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City by American terrorists. I was working then for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and was invited to conduct healing services in Oklahoma City in the days after that terrible incident. The Eucharist as the Bread of Eternal Life meant so much to the families of the victims. Then, as now, the heroism of so many people inspired all of us across the nation, and brought our nation together.
Great tragedies, like the ones in Newtown, Conn., and Moore, Okla., where so many children’s lives are taken, are impossible for us to understand fully. We must grieve with and pray for and share with those who suffer loss, and, at the same time, we, like Job in the Bible, must trust the Lord, who sovereignly and graciously rules over all of history and whose ways are higher than ours. We must remember that God sent His Son to suffer death on the cross in our place, so that we may one day be delivered completely from everything that harms or destroys. One Day we shall see clearly that God is both infinitely powerful and also infinitely good.
At the moment, we are still too disoriented to “accept” or be resigned to what has happened in Newtown or Moore. We are certainly a long way from seeing these Oklahoma deaths as a motivation or incentive to create a brighter future. My greatest grief teachers are parents whose children have died. One writes: “The good news is that healthy grieving does result, at the time right for each of us, in an experience of integration. We take stock and say: I am changed by this loss, and my life has changed as a result of my loss…but in time I can and will feel alive again…probably wiser, maybe quieter, certainly full of gratitude and a desire to contribute from what we have been through.”