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Jim Bratt is away today. We thank Angie Mabry-Nauta for blogging today.
“Dear God?” nine-year-old Sophia petitioned. Her voice was more purposeful last night than it usually is when she says her bedtime prayers.
“Please help the people in Oklahoma,” she continued. “I know that there are seven mothers who are very sad because they lost their children in the tornado. There are also many other mothers who are rejoicing because their children were found alive. Whether the mothers are sad or happy, please be with everyone in [Moore] because everything that they have was destroyed by that huge twister. Please, God. Please be with the people of Oklahoma. Amen.”
She gets to ask one question after we have prayed. Anything she is curious about is fair game. I waited with baited breath.
The theodicy question is coming, I thought. She will ask why God let the tornado come and hurt so many people.
She didn’t. Sophia asked something about our family schedule tomorrow.
My first born didn’t ask why. But the local Christian radio station does — several times a day, as a matter of fact. They recorded a short segment that asks listeners to pray for the people of Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City, as they work to put their lives back together. “During those times when we just want to know why …” it says, “Pray. Pray for our friends in Oklahoma.”
Whoever wrote the segment was wise not to attempt answering why, almost as wise as my daughter was for not asking in the first place. And yet, it’s unavoidable. We can’t help but ask. When television images show weeping residents, sad, but determined rescue workers, flattened buildings, an influx of American Red Cross volunteers, and rubble as far as the eye can see, how can we not ask why?
Why all the suffering, God?
And the doozie: does God cause the suffering?
The witness of Scripture seems to say that God does. Think the flood, the ten plagues of Egypt, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Assyrian exile of Israel, and the Babylonian exile of Judah, and the visions of John in Revelation.
As a Reformed Christian, Scripture has authority over my life and faith. I struggle with the “why” question as much as anyone else. I also chew on the aforementioned texts for their theological significance, and question the divinely-caused calamity. So God used world events and destruction in the past. I’m not convinced that this necessarily means that God has done it since that time, nor that God continues to do so.
Reformed folk confess to the providence of God, but I do not subscribe to the belief that God brings about destruction and suffering. I will say that God is in control, but I will not say that God uses such awful events like natural disasters, war, and disease outbreak to punish or even send a message to humanity. The farthest I’ll go with that line of thought is to say that God allows such things. Even then, I hold steadfastly that God does this to bring us back, closer and/or to a new level of wholeness in Christ.
I certainly do not profess to understand, or even like this. I am confused and bothered by the presence of suffering in this world that God Almighty created and reigns over. I question and cry out to God as much as everyone else. Why, God? and What are you doing?!?! fall from my lips in prayers of lament quite often.
I don’t have all the answers, or really any, for that matter. Quite frankly, neither does anyone else. No one, absolutely no human being, is able to grasp the mind and purpose of God. To claim otherwise is naïve and idolatrous.
As much as it might stink, the most faithful answer to the question about the problem of suffering and the righteousness of God is I don’t know. (Even Job, who probably comes the closest to being entitled to seek an explanation from God about all of the bad things that befell him, never gets a direct answer.)
Following that, appropriate responses are cries and prayers of lament (there are some good ones in the Psalms); trusting God who sees what we cannot (see Isaiah 55: 8-9); and offering the ministry of presence to our neighbors in the midst and aftermath of tragedy.
Earlier today Sophia saw that our community is doing a supply drive for tornado victims. She didn’t skip a beat.
“Can we donate, Mama? Can we?” I took a breath to respond, but Sophia jumped right back in. “We have to give what we can, Mama. Those people need us. It’s what God would want us to do.”
No question of why. Just trust, and compassion and ministry in God’s name. This is the Lord’s doing; and it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118:23).
Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America. She served as a solo pastor for six years. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Angie blogs at “Woman, in Progress…”. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.