In the past month or so, we have seen major earthquakes in Japan, with a tsunami that overcame the seawalls meant to protect some cities. It was followed by the problems with the nuclear plant. Closer to home, in recent days, there have been many tornadoes, one of which caused major damage to the airport in St. Louis. A friend of mine, who lives in another city not too far away was just happy to have missed that one. Yet in a blog, I read where one person, having read that some folks were praising God because the tornado skipped their houses, posted a list of questions on line. I think they basically boil down to, how can God protect one person and not protect the next?
I have to admit, I don’t really have the answers. I don’t have a good explanation for why God allows one family to suffer loss, and another is spared. Honestly, in my 40 years walking with God, I have seldom gotten an answer to the why questions. Sometimes, I have gotten a partial answer, but even then it is often after some time, when you can begin to see some of the ways He worked good out of the evil that came into your life. I do think we should be careful not to simply blame God, as if there were not an evil presence taking aim at us in the hope of making us ineffective in our Christian walk. Weather happens, earthquakes happen, accidents happen. If we blame God, evil wins, if only for a time.
But how should we respond when something awful happens? Well, it won’t change anything if we get angry at God for allowing it. With earthquakes and tsunamis we open our wallets to those entities able to provide help on the ground. And we pray for the help to arrive in a timely manner and for God to turn evil into good. In the Haiti earthquake, it seemed that the churches and christian charities were able to respond more quickly than the governmental relief efforts, often despite damage to their own facilities. And this turned the people toward God. He turns evil into good. Who knows if something like that will happen in Japan? I sure pray that it will.
So, what if you live in the midwest and you pray for protection from the tornado? If you are spared, you thank God and try to help your neighbors. If your home is leveled but no one is harmed, you thank God and try to figure out what to do next. If you should lose someone, you grieve and lean on God for the strength to go on putting one foot in front of the other. If you are angry, you tell God you are mad at him for taking your loved one and leaving you to go on without them. God is able to handle your anger and your grief. He is the only one who can say He will never leave you or forsake you.
Why on earth would we only look to God in the good things? In fact, I suspect that if we only got good things and never suffered, perhaps we would not even learn to be thankful to Him. We surely would not learn to trust Him the way we do when He is all we have to depend on. Turn that around though, and you find people who turn to God when life falls apart, but turn away when they think they can handle things. I can’t see how God would like that.
On the other hand, it makes little sense to think that God would not protect His own. I’ve read stories from Christians who were caught up in wars and were forced to travel in unprotected territory with bullets whizzing all around them. Yet they were not harmed. Was it because they prayed for protection, or simply that God had further plans for them? We are not privileged to know that. But I would think that God would be a lot happier with those who bothered to ask.
Who among us knows what is really happening in the spiritual realm? I suspect that God is more often responding to spiritual realities than physical ones. He can do as He pleases though. I had friends who once had their house catch fire. They lost a lot of things, but some photo albums and other items with much sentimental value to them were saved. The fire investigators after the fact, mentioned that the burn pattern was very unusual. God did not prevent the fire, but they were saved and some of their possessions as well. It was a difficult time, but their faith in God never wavered.
I had an experience last year that may also be apropos. I was heading to church early one Sunday morning and went through a green light, only to total my car on a red light runner. Now I thanked God that I was okay, though I told Him I would rather He had kept me out of harm’s way entirely. I struggled somewhat because God had told me to slow down, and I had been obedient. I think that is why it was a survivable accident. But for whatever reason, God protected me but not my car. Essentially, I decided that my stuff is not important to Him. He actually made a way for me to get a smaller vehicle better suited to my current needs through that.
Okay, so the person I referred to above, who asked all the questions had issues with prosperity gospel. I sure would never say God wants everyone to be rich. But for heaven’s sake, is it okay for us to be thankful for what He has given us? God has given me a home and a family and we have 3 cars and 4 computers. I think it’s appropriate to be thankful for that, just as my friend is thankful for her apartment, one car and one computer. God provides, sometimes generously, and sometimes not. We are supposed to be thankful to him regardless of where we fall in the spectrum.