Saturday, May 25, 2013

The God of Moore, OK

Immediately following the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, an elderly woman was being interviewed by a reporter amidst the ruins. Recounting the frightful moments of the natural disaster, she humbly accepted the loss of her house but had wondered out loud where her dog had gone. Up to that moment, the dog had not been found yet. Moreover, her four legged companion seemed to be the only thing that could console her. At that moment, the reporter and the elderly woman heard a dog whimpering. They both turned around and then followed the sound to a crevice in the pile of rubble. It was her dog. Miraculously, he was okay.

However, in God’s providence, not every creature was spared death. In fact, the tornado claimed the lives of 24 people, 7 of them children. Plaza Towers Elementary School took a big hit. Two little girls who attended that school, Antonio and Emily, died holding each other. It was said that they were close friends. And in Antonio’s obituary, it read: "They were inseparable, even in their last moments, they held on to one another and followed each other into Heaven and they will never be alone." It is faith, more certain than empirical knowledge, which leads us to believe that the friendship of Antonio and Emily continues in the presence of God. That’s right. There are playgrounds in heaven.

As for the victims who remain in town of Moore, how does faith process the devastation? As the Plaza Towers Elementary School was being torn to pieces by the 200 plus mile per hour winds, a teacher called 911 for help. In the background of the audio you can hear children screaming while the teacher was trying to assure her students that they were going to be okay. Thankfully, the teacher made good on her promise. Still, according to a CNN report, 24 people died and 10,000 people were directly affected by the tornado. In addition, 2,400 homes were damaged or destroyed. Second to losing a loved one, losing a house- something so bound up with family memories and a sense of security –can cause quite a trauma to a family. Indeed, when your whole neighborhood has been leveled to the ground, the feeling of helplessness is acute. But God is not indifferent to such devastation.

The Lord, even prior to the Incarnation and the Passion of Christ, had entered into the human emotion of being utterly distressed and overwhelmed with loss. God chose, as an instrumentation of communicating his Word, these unwelcomed experiences of men. For instance, the prophet Habakkuk had witnessed the man-made destruction of his city, Jerusalem. He cried out: “Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me…” (1:3) And in Psalm 18, we discover the sacred writer recollecting his terror: “The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction terrified me.” (Psalm 18:5) His prophets, much like the survivors in Moore, had walked through the valley of death. They too were overcome with the devastation they saw.

The most famous of all cries to God- the cry of feeling abandoned by him -is taken from Psalm 22. In fact, Our Lord who, while dying on the Cross, quoted it in his own anguish when he said, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” But the same Psalm continues as if to register a complaint to the Lord: “Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief.” (Psalm 22: 2-3) In other words, “God, I know you to be good. Throughout my life you have been faithful. At every turn, you provided for my needs. But this pain and devastation has the appearance of being inconsistent with your goodness.” The question of “why?” is, ironically enough, based on faith in God’s providence.

Nevertheless, as if to see beyond the pain and the devastation, the same Psalm gives glory to God by exclaiming: “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the glory of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you rescued them.” The same God who was trustworthy and good in the past, is equally trustworthy and good amid painful and perplexing circumstances. And although the aftermath of the tornado in the town of Moore left its victims utterly confounded and destitute, they too can trust that God is still good, loving and wise. As difficult as it sounds, the Lord in his infinite love and wisdom can easily redeem the loss and compensate for the pain. There is a reason, a reason that escapes us, but a reason nonetheless, why he allows such bad things to happen.

This is why the best answer to devastation and loss is the gift of faith. It alone points us beyond the sheer devastation our senses perceive. Faith is a theological virtue that assures that for every thorn that causes us to bleed on the outside, a beautiful rose will bloom and yield its scent from within. And it is these roses that will not only make life worth living, with all of its trials, but they serve as a foretaste of heaven. God allows pain but the consolation and strength he offers as a result is much greater. To be sure, it is the latter that carries us through the difficulties of life and onward towards heaven.

In the book, Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence, St. Claude de la Colombiere and Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, gives us a glimpse as to what kind of light a person’s faith can shed in times of great difficulty:

“We ought to conform to God's will in all public calamities such as war, famine and pestilence, and reverence and adore His judgments with deep humility in the firm belief that, however severe they may seem, the God of infinite goodness would not send such disasters unless some great good were to result from them. Consider how many souls may be saved through tribulation which would otherwise be lost, how many persons through affliction are converted to God and die with sincere repentance for their sins. What may appear a scourge and punishment is often a sign of great grace and mercy…Let us therefore hasten to accept from His hand all that He sends us, and as a result of our trustful surrender He will either cause us to gain the greatest advantages from our misfortunes or else spare us them altogether….If we could discover the designs of Providence it is certain we would ardently long for the evils we are now so unwilling to suffer. We would rush forward to accept them with the utmost gratitude if we had a little faith and realized how much God loves us and has our interests at heart."

Through the gift of faith we can affirm, with the survivors, that God is still the God of Moore, OK; perhaps, even more so. After all, there are at least 10,000 people who need him now more than ever. And, as hard as it is to believe it, this same God will bring good out of this devastation. In the meantime, however, we just need to believe that the God of life is more powerful than the tornado that took away so many lives and so many homes. His providence is still to be trusted.