I was recently asked about how I view what happened in Oklahoma City, if I get excited to see weather of that magnitude or if the seriousness of the situation trumps my excitement. To be honest, the reason I loved the weather was because of a huge storm in Michigan when I was about 7 years old. A funnel cloud went over our sub division and touched down about a mile from our house. The damage wasn’t like OKC, but to a 7 year old what we saw was nothing short of amazing. I remember having to walk through corn fields to find some of our outdoor stuff including a hoppity horse that was 10 rows into the corn. For me, that’s where my amazement with the weather took off and I still am awed by it every day.
But that question is a pretty easy one. The weather really does inspire awe when it reaches that magnitude and it is utterly humbling, but the seriousness of what has happened far outweighs it. We spend a lot of time running around in life with things that are so important, yet in a heartbeat, all of the chasing after stuff, running a million miles an hour, worrying about the smallest of details, suddenly doesn’t matter. In that moment, you know in your heart what matters most, because they are the things that you hope against hope for. In OKC, the stories that are being made known have been interesting and heart wrenching to follow and even from a distance some of them resonate with me too.
As a student of American culture, I am reading and hearing the responses from people who “praise God” for seeing them through this tragedy and who hope in Jesus despite having lost so much and it is awesome to hear and see those testimonies. You hear the remark that the only thing that really matters is the people, because the stuff you can replace. You hear the quiet and not so quiet comments of a growing number of people who don’t believe in a god, but the goodness of people. And of course you hear the loudest question to Christians “If your god is all powerful, where was your god in this?” After which the conversation often turns to a caricature of a god who stands aloof, has a huge ego or has it out for people as he stands in judgment and doles out punishment on the land. Perhaps worse is the shrug of the shoulders and the comment, “what god?” Increasingly the commentary for some in America is that Christian belief is at best unbelievable; at worst it is responsible for all sorts of injustice… “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it”- John Chapter 1.
When tragedy strikes, especially like this, what we hold closest to us becomes clearly focused. One author wrote “Where there is hope for the future, there is power in the present.” For the atheist and humanist who are content to see life with no loving God, it seems as though it is the human will to overcome and to deliver justice as people work to improve life with general claims of the “goodness” of mankind. People find great comfort in knowing that our history includes stories of people who have done seemingly amazing things when they put their minds to it. For 13 million people in America, they will claim to do it without god in their life. They care about their communities, help their neighbors, are good to others and would agree with most of the 10 commandments. In fact, if they didn’t say they were atheist and we didn’t say we were Christians, we may look and sound a lot alike.
When tragedy strikes for the Christian, what we hold onto becomes clearly focused as well does it not? It reveals that all of us are at different places with a maturing faith because it asks us to wrestle with the hard questions of faith. In so many places the bible tells us that we will suffer, sometimes for the sake of Christ, sometimes because we live in a fallen world. Jesus himself tells us that we cannot worry about tomorrow because today has enough concern of its own. We are warned that we will hear of wars and rumors of wars and that the travesties and realities of life in a broken world, broken society and broken people, will be felt by all of us. We will pick up our cross and follow Jesus. So what on earth are we holding onto when it would be so much easier to shake our fists at God and kick the dust off our shoes never to utter a prayer again! Why bother hoping when disappointment is just around the corner?
That’s when we start to come to the awesome, but at times, hard realities about Christian life and Christian faith. Tragedy often shows us that we have made plans for our lives and told God to bless them our way and in our time. Tragedy challenges our notions of needs vs. wants. Tragedy makes us aware of the needs of others, because we often find ourselves in need. For some of us, we are shown humility because we are brought to a place where we can’t do it on our own and that we absolutely need the help of others. We pray for miracles.
More than that, it is ultimately a reality check to what we believe is the purpose of and definition of “life”. Jesus said, “I have come that they (you and I and even those who don’t know him) may have life, and have it to the full.” We will spend a lifetime trying to understand this, but in its simplest terms, it means that Jesus brought us from spiritual death to spiritual life by his death and resurrection. That by pouring out his grace and the Holy Spirit in our life he has given us hearts that can believe this message. That by redeeming us through Jesus he now empowers us to live lives for his glory as his kingdom comes to this generation through his word (the Bible) and sacraments and his will comes through those who make his faithfulness known through all generations (Psalm 89). We begin to see that ours is a life that walks in quiet times in the peacefulness of faith and is sometimes carried through tragedy and joy in this world with Jesus. That we may walk with Jesus with a hope beyond this life in the fullness of life for eternity, even after we have suffered bodily death. For some relationships with people around us, this view of life may be the only thing that separates us; that we believe there is more to life than living and dying and we want people to know that life.
The Christian’s greatest hope in tragedy is Jesus, because we don’t fear death, more than that, even in adversity we can live life and have it to the full. Our greatest prayer is that everyone we know could understand and believe that life is more than overcoming for a time in this world, but that it is acknowledging that in our greatest need, we were rescued from drowning and now get to walk with Jesus as he accomplishes his purposes to save. What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief’s to bear. What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer. O, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pains we bear. All because we do not carry, everything to God I prayer.
See you next time!