Archived Story

Why does God allow tornadoes?

Published 11:05am Friday, May 27, 2011

By the Rev. Tom Biatek
United Methodist Church

A frightening tornado swept through Missouri this past weekend and destroyed hundreds of homes and took hundreds of lives. Another tornado, part of the same storm system, swept through Minneapolis and caused great damage. Amidst the damage and rubble, as people are searching for the means to repair and rebuild their lives, a question is being asked that is as old as the Book of Job — why would God allow this terrible thing to happen?

It is a good question.

In the aftermath of the Minneapolis tornado, a man walked about the streets making a video of the damage and he posted the video on the Internet. In it, you can see people picking through the rubble of houses, using chainsaws to clear fallen trees and you can hear neighbors talking with one another. In the middle of the street is a young man with a bullhorn preaching to the people of this damaged neighborhood. “This is a sign,” he shouts. “Jesus wants you to repent!” Obviously this man thinks that God causes bad things to happen so that we will turn to God and know God better. I personally think this young man could be a better help if he pulled on a pair of work gloves and pitched in to clear the fallen trees. I do not believe that God causes suffering to get attention. The God I know is a loving and compassionate God, not a God that attacks, destroys and kills to get noticed.

When storms swept across the southern United States about a month ago, some preachers were saying that the people were “getting what they deserved” from God for some misbehavior or slight they had given to God. Some said that our nation had become too liberal and so God was punishing these people for the misdeeds of the nation. Others were saying that the South had become too conservative and God was angry toward them for having hardened hearts. In this theological construct, the preachers believe that God causes pain and suffering because God’s feelings are hurt and that our God is a punishing god. The God I know is a forgiving and loving God, not a bully or a god that would attack people to punish them. The God I know does not act like a spoiled child who did not get their way and so shouts for attention. My God does not throw temper tantrums.

As families are searching the rubble in Joplin, Mo., organizations like the Red Cross, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Salvation Army and a host of Lutheran agencies are coming into the city with food, clothing, counselors, money, chain saws and equipment to assist and help. I have heard that the local Humanist and Atheist communities are helping out as well. Offers of help to this stricken city have poured in from people of faith and people who have no faith. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Churches are being transformed from houses of worship into homeless shelters. City buildings are being used to care for the wounded and the lost. Believers and non-believers are reaching out to one another and doing what they can to address an overwhelming need for aid and compassion.

It is in this sharing, in the name of God or simply out of human decency, that I think we can see the hand of God at work. God is found where love is expressed. Where families are grieving the loss of loved ones and homesteads, God is revealed in the many kindnesses and acts of love that bring comfort. Where bodies are broken and wounded, God is revealed in the skill of first responders, rescue workers, nurses and doctors that work endless hours to heal. Most of the people who offer love and aid in the midst of disaster are probably not aware that they are the hands of God in that moment, but they are. God, I believe, does not cause a natural disaster but God calls each of us to respond with love when people suffer. When we act, God is made real. The tornadoes are caused by natural forces colliding together to create a horrible storm. Tornadoes are not the hand of God. God’s place, in such times, is found in how we find hope and new life in the midst of such trying times. God is the light in darkness, the comfort in times of stress, healing when we are broken and hope when we are afraid. God is the spirit that reminds us that we are not alone. God is with us.