I don’t know about you, but devastating tornadoes occurring so quickly on the heels of the Boston Marathon bombings do not soothe my soul. They force me into a mental corner where I must take time to think, deeply, about God and what I believe about him.
The first thing that leaps to my mind when I hear about tornadoes is, of course, Dorothy and Toto in Kansas, but the second thing is actually the book of Job, from the Bible. Are you familiar with this book? It’s strange. It tells the story of a pretty good guy who had lots of kids and money, but nevertheless a guy who God apparently allows Satan to “test”. God allows Satan to test Job by letting fire, neighboring warriors, and eventually a tornado destroy every earthly possession Job has–including his children. Oh, and then as if that isn’t enough, God lets Job’s health fall to pieces.
Whoops. I just told you about one of the worst stories in the Bible. Or is it?
The majority of the book of Job involves Job himself desperately trying to figure out why God would let these terrible things happen to him. Wasn’t he a good enough person? Shouldn’t God have spared him from pain because of all the good things–or at least lack of bad things–he had done? And we find ourselves reading about Job and demanding the same answer from God–why? Why Job? And why, for the love, the good people of Oklahoma?
When God finally reveals himself and answers Job’s questions–thirty-some chapters later–he appears and speaks to him from a tornado. Huh. And what he says isn’t this: “Job, remember that one time you sinned and forgot to repent? That’s why I punished you.” He also doesn’t say this: “Actually, Job, Satan asked if he could test you, so I let him. I knew you’d pull through. It’s just a game Satan and I play.” No, only the reader knows about the deal God made with Satan at the beginning of the book. Job’s questions–like ours, in the wake of horrific life events–go largely unanswered.
What God finally reveals about himself to Job, over the course of five chapters at the end of the book, is basically I AM. He points to creation, it’s beauty, its general orderliness and thriving animals. He takes credit, as he should, for creating and sustaining this universe. And he tells Job, in so many words, not to question him. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” (Job 40:2)
Now, the question that arises most often in the midst of troubling circumstances is this: How can I even believe in God in the first place when bad things like tornadoes and bombings continue to happen?
Here’s what I have to say about that: we don’t believe or not believe in God because of natural disasters or the lack thereof. I believe in God because I’m sitting on a couch looking into the beautiful green of my backyard. There’s a heart beating inside my body that’s even more complex in design than the machine I’m typing on. I’m writing about God, so either I created him or him me…and I know for sure I didn’t make him. Big bang/evolution/young vs. old earth, doesn’t matter, there is a God. Something can’t come from nothing. I’m not a scientist, but neither are scientists theologians, and we all know enough to know that science has not disproven God.
What I completely understand is people who get angry and turn that anger toward the God they do or don’t believe in when tornadoes drown seven children in the basement of an elementary school. Are you joking? I’d be wrecked if that happened to my kids. I’m wrecked that it happened at all. Job lamented his circumstances, too, and basically gave up life and sat around asking why? why? why? Anger, or questioning of what exactly God is like are natural responses to tragedy and suffering of any kind.
But it seems to me that if God made all of this, he owns all of this. And ownership demands respect. Whether I like what’s happening on earth or not, the one who made me demands my awe and respect. And that’s basically what God tells Job at the end of the book–right before he graciously, lovingly, generously restores all of Job’s earthly possessions–going above and beyond what Job had before he endured crisis.
That’s right. The respect God demands simply by being God and creating the universe isn’t the end of the story. And so it turns out that this might not be the worst story in the Bible–but the best story of all.
While God does demand our respect, he also graciously displayed his love for us when he sent his son Jesus to earth, in human form, to brutally die in our place on a cross.
The book of Job is a microcosm for life. There is a cosmic battle going on in the heavenly realms, of which we are not privy to more than a mere glimpse. But we are enduring the effects of this battle, and while we cannot completely understand it, it often hurts like hell. One important question we must ask, the one God is literally dying to answer is not why is this happening to me? but Who is God? Furthermore, how can we not cling to God when events like this occur? Something is obviously, desperately wrong with our universe–where else are we going to go but towards the one and only God who created it, and who speaks out of tornados?