It’s been a tough week, and we are once again reminded just how small we are. Colorado Springs has burned. My wife and I have friends and family in that city, and some evacuated, and some lost their homes. I’m from West Virginia, and most of my family lives there, and has been without electricity in the middle of this crazy heat wave. A friend who drove through West Virginia the day after the storm said it was like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. People lined up at gas stations that had no gas, and if you were really lucky, your Wal-Mart still had power. Things are not good, and it doesn’t look like it is going to get any better for at least a week.
At times like these we see the best and worst of humanity. We see our weakness and frailty. I’ve heard stories of looters stealing generators meant for the elderly to keep them cool, and possibly alive, during the heat wave. We see our dependence on technology, and how easily things fall apart. Yes, my farmer friends make a good point that we need more self-sufficiency. We also see people with tremendous compassion. I have friends who still have power and water open their homes to those who don’t. We see people doing what they can to help others and honoring God in the process.
But I’m waiting. I’m waiting for some pastor or theologian somewhere to tell us why this has happened. I’m waiting to hear that God is mad at the country over Obamacare. I’m waiting to hear that someone, somewhere has sinned greatly, and these disasters are God’s way of punishing us. I know this sounds ridiculous, but we have a deep desire to know why bad things happen. We are certain there is purpose for everything and we’re pretty certain we can figure out that purpose, but is this true? Let’s be honest, we can’t truly discern the purpose for everything that happens, and I think it is profoundly arrogant to think we can. There is a pastor in Minneapolis who seems to have a thing with tornadoes. He likes to tell others why tornadoes have struck their town. Interestingly, I haven’t heard anything from him about the Colorado fires, or the big storm. Perhaps God only speaks through tornadoes?
So what do we do with these tragedies, and what do they mean? Those with a more Reformed theological bent would say that if God is truly sovereign, then everything that happens is ultimately caused (or at least allowed) by God. If God didn’t cause something, then that event lacks purpose because it is just random. Arminians argue that this line of thinking makes God the author of evil which is something we definitely don’t want to say. Some would say that no event is purely random because we live in a broken world, and all events are ultimately linked to it. I believe that God does allow all sorts of things as a result of living in a fallen, broken world. This does not take away from His sovereignty because he has sovereignly chosen to allow some things to happen. I also believe God does directly cause some things to occur, but I have no idea how to discern the difference, particularly when it comes to discerning why things happen to other people.
I get the feeling that this conversation is really above everyone’s pay grade. Do we really think that we can perceive the mind of God and find the purpose behind every event as it applies to other people or even to ourselves? Really? I don’t think so, but I do think that every follower of Jesus can look at the events of his life and learn from them. God can and does use tragedy to draw people to himself. Suffering is part of this world, and we know that it is for the Christian’s greatest benefit even though it is horrible in the moment.
So what lesson does God want to teach my friends and family in Colorado and West Virginia? I could make a guess, but that is all it would be. I do know that God wants them attentive, and to look for him in the midst of the difficulty. He wants a response of faith, and for us to take moments like this to look at our lives, priorities, and the health of our relationship with Christ. God wants us to use difficulty as an opportunity for growth and not despair.
For those of us on the outside, we lift up those who suffer in prayer. We asked that God would hold them close, and grow them in grace and faith. We do not, and can’t, make a claim about why this has happened.