Thursday, May 26, 2011

Reflecting on the tragedy in Joplin, MO

A friend complained that people on social media were saying that God was responsible for the deadly tornadoes in Joplin, MO, and elsewhere. They say God sent the storms as judgment.

Meanwhile, others are saying that the storms present proof that God doesn't exist; if God did, why would he permit the tornadoes?

These are two common responses to tragedy. I suppose it's human to try to make sense of something bad in order to live with it. Some efforts at making sense, however, make no sense: tornadoes as God's judgment?

Moreover, in my observation, when bad things happen, those who feel that they have been wronged by God, the church, religious people regard bad things as yet more evidence for holding onto their grievances against God, the church, believers--be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, or other.

No, I don't have a satisfactory explanation for why natural disasters take place in a world that I believe is governed by a God of love and mercy. No definitive answer exists to the Why, God? question, although some tentative answers are sounder than others.

And I wonder, if we found the answer, would it really mitigate the loss, grief, suffering? No.

In the face of such tragedy, then--both on the grand scale of Joplin, MO, and on the smaller scale of the person lamenting a diagnosis of cancer or the loss of a job or a divorce--all I can do is defer the Why question for now and ask the most important question at a time like this: the What question.

What can I do to ease the suffering of my neighbors in Joplin and in many more communities across the Midwest and the South?

Here are a few suggestions:

Send a check to Episcopal Relief and Development and write "tornado response" on the memo line. Mail your check to ERD, The Episcopal Church, 815 Second Ave., New York, N.Y.

If you live in Springfield, bring bottled water, diapers, personal hygiene items to Christ Episcopal Church, 601 East Walnut St., Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm. We're gathering items now and will transport them to Joplin.

And if you believe in God, pray for God to help.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says in the wonderful new film, "I Am," God has only you.

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