If you live in the South, chances are you spent a good deal of last night sitting up and monitoring the news – either online or on TV or, if you’re old school, on the radio. The terrifying storm system that swept across the lower half of the U.S. was of such magnitude that it commanded people to pay attention. I posted on Facebook this morning, it’s like Sherman marched through the South again, only this time he had control of the weather.
There’s nothing much to laugh at. The region is grim this morning, with over 200 confirmed dead between Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Reports are only beginning to really trickle in because we’ve only just been able to accurately assess the damage under the light of day. But I know, because I’m human, and because I asked this question myself, that people everywhere in the South are asking, “Where was God last night?”
And I’m not just talking about those people who don’t believe in God, or have a grudge against Him. I’m talking about people who have spent the majority of their lives worshiping or praising Him. I’m talking about grown men and women who have seen trouble come and go, and younger men and women who’ve never known a moment’s distress. Our sincerity in our faith tends to go out the window when an EF5 roars through town picking up cherished landmarks and turning them into memories before we can blink.
I can only offer the light answer that God was in control last night. He was present in the storm and saw every house that blew away, every car that flipped, every river that broke its banks and raced into a home or business. He was present in the destruction of malls and gas stations and Milo’s Hamburgers and was there when roofs caved in and walls collapsed. He was, without question, there.
And that presence makes us angry. If He was there, why didn’t He prevent this? If He was there, why didn’t He answer my prayer for my house to be saved? If He was there, then why is my grandmother still missing? Why is my daughter not answering her phone? Why is my church a heap of unrecognizable rubble?
Why? It’s the cry of the human heart.
And I can’t offer you an answer, at least not one that will satisfy in the mere seconds after grief. Answers of that magnitude, unfortunately for our hurting hearts, are only ascertained through the passage of time. I can’t tell you why God was present but your house was destroyed. I can’t explain why the compassionate God didn’t intervene in the moment you cried out to Him, any more than I can explain how He stood on a stormy lake and called out, “Peace! Be still!” and the storm obeyed Him.
But I can offer you this, even though it won’t restore what you’ve lost: there are reports of people who survived when logic and physics dictate that they shouldn’t have. I read a note on Facebook last night of a woman and her husband who pulled beneath a gas station shelter, only to watch as a swirling cloud of debris and lightning overtook their car but passed by leaving them unharmed. I saw pictures this morning of people who took refuge in a building that completely collapsed on them from every angle, but who crawled to safety without a scratch on them. I’ve read stories and seen video of people who watched or videotaped as a tornado raged through their town but who never felt so much as a breeze. There are people who came through this night of destruction only because, as one “act of God” devastated some places, another act of God kept them safe where they were.
Why? It’s a question we ask, but usually only when we feel like we’ve been the victim of cosmic unfairness. We feel slighted, betrayed, and I can’t deny those feelings are real because I’ve felt them myself.
But I suppose the thing I’ve learned is this: if you can still ask why, even if it seems like all is lost, that the road ahead is impossible to travel, if you can still ask why, then you’ve been blessed. Because there are over 200 people today who aren’t here to ask that question, because asking “Why?” requires that we draw breath and live.
Where was God? Present, active, and merciful in the storm. May the strength of His grace overpower your grief and offer you hope wherever you are today.