Many of you are aware of the recent outbreak of violent tornadoes in the middle of the United States in late May of this year. Three tornadoes struck extremely close to home for me. The first took out my wife's parents' place, and the other two (one being the EF4 on the 20th) was about one mile from our house. As I drive to work every day, I see the physical devastation. When I speak with my in-laws, I see the emotional devastation. When I heard the news of the children who lost their lives...there just are not words to describe the pain and emotions of that news. When we experience tragedies such as these, it is sometimes difficult to see that a loving God, who has our best interest in mind, could cause or allow this level of agony. The Friday after the first tornado outbreak a peculiar series of events took place that eventually ended in God making the answer to my questions very real to me.
Of Flat Tires and Frustrations
Thursday we had rented a carpet shampooer from the local hardware store, and I was elected to return it Friday morning on my way to work. As it turns out, on my way to the store, one of my tires blew. I thank God that it was less than a mile from our house because my jack's "wrench" kept slipping on the lug nuts. After fooling with it for about ten minutes, I decided to walk home (in the humid heat and professional dress clothes) to get the other vehicle and drive to Walmart to pick up a real lug wrench. After stopping by my car to swap the tire, I had to drive back home in the other car and walk back to my original car. By this time, I'm already an hour late for work and still needed to take the shampooer back to the store AND get the tire fixed. As you can imagine, my frustration kept building during this whole time, but on my walk back to my car, I figured that there HAD to be a purpose for all this. Ultimately, that purpose was to be realized in about 20 minutes and resulted in this blog post.
...And God's Purpose For My Frustration?
When I finally got to the hardware store, I had to wait for the clerk to help someone else that was taking quite a bit of time. That is when the purpose for all my trouble began to unfold. In came an older lady (Sherry) who needed to talk. She had lost her home and everything she owned in the EF4 tornado that hit Moore Monday. We talked for about 30 minutes while the clerk helped the other customer. She said that she has never been so dependent on others in her life. She described how horrifying the experience was and how devastating it is to lose everything. However, she saw it as a blessing with a purpose- to refocus on what is important. She mentioned that recently she had dealt with cancer, which turned out to be a blessing then, and that is the attitude she has towards this experience. She emphasized that these experiences assured her that everything physical can be taken away from her, but Jesus Christ's love and sacrifice can never be taken away from her. She also emphasized that God had a purpose for allowing this tragedy in her life- even though she didn't know it right now. He has proven that He has purposes in previous tragedies in her life, so she trusts that He has purposes for this one.
First-Hand Testimony and Expanding God's Kingdom
As with all Christians' testimony of God delivering them from something or being there for them or whatever else, this testimony will be used by God for three general purposes:
- To bring the individual who suffered closer to Him
- To encourage other Christians when they experience similar tragedies
- To bring more people into His Kingdom to spend eternity with their Creator and Savior
Exponential Growth of Purposes
As more people come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior as a result of this tragedy, they will witness also, bringing even more into a right relationship with the Creator and encouraging more Christians. The purposes have multiple levels that cause the total number of purposes with eternal consequences to increase exponentially as time goes on.
Going The Other Direction
What Sherry communicated to me so far was God's purpose going one direction- from victim of this tragedy to other people. She then explained God's purposes flowing the other direction- from other people to the victim of this tragedy. The purposes are the same. She said that the love, support, comfort, and encouragement that she had received from others was overwhelming. Others, some who had similar experiences and some who didn't, came to her rescue. She could see that God was working through His Church- not only for support of victims in the Church, but also to show God's love to the unsaved when they lost everything. I describe this much more in the post "Solving the Problem of Evil".
The Problems of Evil
In dealing with the logical problem of evil, recognition of a greater purpose is key to the solution. A greater purpose makes a tragic event perfectly compatible with a loving God. When we understand tragedy with the perspective of ultimate and eternal purposes, we can easily see an answer to the logical problem of evil. If God can accomplish even one eternal purpose at the cost of any number of finite tragedies, the scale is tipped in favor of the eternal purpose, but if He accomplishes numerous eternal purposes that may even outnumber the finite tragedies, the logical problem of evil becomes a feeble attempt to hide something deeper with something extremely shallow. That deeper issue often comes from the emotional problem of evil- the experience of all the pain and suffering. We often ask why we must endure such pain- is there a significance to and purpose for it?
In dealing with the emotional problem of evil, recognition of a greater purpose is key to answering the question of whether our suffering is in vain. A purpose doesn't make the pain go away, but it does give it value. The immediate value (as with Sherry) comes with her personal faith and testimony. Her knowing that there is a purpose behind her painful experience (based on previous purposes for tragedies in her life) has given her more reasons to trust Jesus Christ. Her testimony is strengthened by giving her one more event to point to when she tells people what Christ has done for her and can do for them also.
Like most people, when faced with tragedy, I am compelled to ask "why?". The temptation to believe that the immense suffering is solid evidence that either God doesn't love me (or anyone else in pain) or doesn't exist at all is overwhelming.
It is amazing to me how God can use an inconvenience in my day to really drive home reasons that a real tragedy took place. As an apologist who spends much time in my mind focusing on theological, philosophical, and scientific issues, it is utterly fantastic to see the astounding work, wisdom and power of the God about whom I think and blog and will worship for eternity.
It is only in our weak times that God's voice can be heard so clearly. It is in tragedy that God makes Himself known personally to people. If God did not love us the way He does or He did not exist, He would be completely silent in tragedy- no person would respond to our cries for help, no comfort would come in any form, and ultimately the tragedy would have no purpose and truly be in vain and gratuitous.