After speaking in Vermont at the annual meeting of United Church of Christ churches in my denomination, this small and cash-strapped body of small New England parishes handed me a check for $5,000 to help with tornado relief. So many people have prayed for us and supported us through this extraordinary sadness.
Thank goodness no one suggested that God had anything to do with it.
Unfortunately, some preachers around here have suggested exactly that, claiming the Tornado God is particularly mad these days and is either punishing some societal wickedness (which the preacher thinks God hates as much as he does) or is proving that those who pray are rewarded in a crisis while those who don’t pray get what’s coming to them.
Haven’t we all had enough of this nonsense, what my associate minister at Mayflower, Chris Moore, called “theological malpractice”? Organized religion is in bad enough shape without preachers thinking that God is as mean and partisan as they are.
Tornadoes are spinning clouds, part of the utterly capricious and amoral world of molecules in motion. They are a particularly deadly but completely natural force, the dark side of that Oklahoma wind that “comes sweeping down the plains.” They are neither a punishment for those who die nor proof of some kind of special divine protection for those who survive.
We don’t mean to imply when we claim that God has saved someone in a tragedy that God has therefore chosen not to save someone else, but God also gave us critical thinking skills.
When we claim God as the agent in saving someone, we have established that God is in the selective intervention business.
If God does, in fact, act in this way, then God is responsible for not acting in this way on behalf of others. We can’t have it both ways.
On the Sunday following the Moore tornado, I preached from 1 Kings 19, where Elijah has gone to a cave to find God, disappointed in the behavior of his people and in search of a message from Yahweh. While there, a great wind passes by, but God was not in the wind. Then an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. Then a fire, but God is not in the fire. Then God speaks, but he is not in the natural disasters of life. He is in the still, small voice of love.
We have heard that voice and seen it in action in Oklahoma. A million acts of kindness and generosity are the best argument one can make for God; giving blood, giving hugs, clearing debris, sending money for relief — and just being deeply thankful that someone you know and love survived.
In other words, let’s serve God, not play God. For starters, how about a storm shelter in every school?
Meyers is senior minister of Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ.