This past week, the heartland of our country was devastated by a series of 90 tornadoes that cut a wide swath of death and destruction-- 39 people dead, entire families killed and some small towns almost completely destroyed. The country’s attention was captured by a toddler who had been dropped alive into the middle of a cornfield after her entire family had been killed, but sadly 15 month old Angel Babcock later died from her injuries. There were other “miracle” stories (like the mother who lost both legs protecting her kids), but there wasn't one for little Angel. Why? Why do such tragedies happen? Why didn't God step into prevent such loss and heartache?
Sometimes the best thing we can say in the face of disaster and pain and heartache is nothing. Sadly, too many Christian “experts” were much too quick to speak up and say something. Not only were their words not helpful; they were hurtful.
John Piper, a leading Calvinist preacher and scholar, suggests that God sent the storms for his own purposes. He wrote, “If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.” He quotes several passages in the Bible where God used winds, and then suggests that God used the tornadoes to bring death and suffering in rural America to teach a lesson to the rest America. “Jesus rules the wind. The tornadoes were his.”
Pat Robertson took a different tact in dealing with the storms. He said that God is not to blame for the storms… people are. God set up an orderly world with certain metrological laws that act as “release mechanisms” that show themselves in storms like tornadoes and hurricanes. People are hurt by these storms because “people decide they want to build their houses on the edge of an ocean. It’s their fault, not God’s fault.”Neither of these statements is helpful. Sure, God did sometimes use winds in the Bible to accomplish His will, but that does mean that every wind comes from Him. The tornado that blew down the house that killed Job’s children came from Satan, not God. Jesus said “The wind blows wherever it pleases” (John 3:8). Ecclesiastes sees the blowing of the wind as proof that the world is random and “meaningless” (Eccl 1:6). To attribute every wind that blows to the direct and intentional will of God is simply wrong.
It’s also both wrong-- and heartless-- to suggest that the people in places like Maryville, Indiana are somehow to blame because they chose to live in the path of the storm. Storms happen. Where in world can one live to never at risk of suffering the “wrath of nature” in some form? To dismiss suffering by suggesting that the sufferers brought in on themselves is certainly not the heart of Jesus!
Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing. We can’t always understand why bad things happen. We don’t know why God chooses to answer some prayers and not answer others... or rather, to answer them by saying “No." All we can do is to move close to the ones who are suffering and do what we can to help. Anything we say in times of suffering is likely to be the wrong thing. Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing.