A terrible tornado has leveled portions of Moore, Oklahoma, violently ending the lives of scores of people in their own homes, as well as many bright-eyed children in their elementary school classrooms. Many moving scenes are being constantly projected through first-hand coverage by TV reporters. It’s a kaleidoscope of tragic human dramas.
Among the accounts, there are some wonderful tales of heroic rescues and human sensitivity to each others’ struggles. And there are some stories of miraculous escapes. One striking testimony of deliverance came from an older couple who laid down together on the floor and committed themselves in prayer to God. The tornado lifted and blew away their house and their furniture, leaving only them lying together on the floor, unscathed. In the TV coverage, the man profusely thanked God for answering their prayer and saving them.
Of course, he was right to thank God for their personal deliverance. Why then was I, a Christian minister, recoiling from his words of thanksgiving? My reaction surprised me. As I thought about it, I realized that my problem was with the image of God selectively answering the prayers of these old folks and turning a deaf ear to the cries of the school children calling out for help just before the storm winds snatched them up and tossed them away like yesterday’s trash. It’s my job as a minister to explain God to the people around me. The truth is, I had no answers I could give to my own questions, let alone explain God to others.
This same tension is acknowledged in the Bible, and no easy answer is given. Many of the Psalms are cries of anguish from faithful believers in God who keep begging for a deliverance that never seems to come. Jesus wept as he looked over the sea of suffering lost souls in the city of Jerusalem, but he didn’t just cure all their diseases, free them from their oppressors, raise up their loved ones during their funeral services. Why?
Any serious believer in the God of the Bible has experienced questions similar to mine. There is no formula that will guarantee that you will be among the ones God miraculously saves or delivers. Furthermore, it doesn’t take much insight to realize that there are more believers who are not cured of cancer after the healer prays for them than those who are. In fact, it might be that the percentages of surprising (“miraculous”) recovery is about the same among those who pray for deliverance as among those who don’t. The difference is that believers thank God for answering their prayers, while unbelievers think they’re either pretty smart or pretty lucky.
There’s another difference, and it’s very important: believers always seem to learn important lessons through unanswered prayers. ABCer Julie Eby-McKenzie shared an article via the church’s Facebook page, entitled “When God Doesn’t Heal,” and it’s really worth reading: http://www.prodigalmagazine.com/when-god-doesnt-heal/ The author, a young woman named Tanya Marlow, after years of struggling with a chronic incurable illness, concludes:
“This is my story: I have cried. I have thrown spiritual tantrums. I have ignored God. I have submitted to God. I have yelled at God. I have begged Him to bless me. I am not the paralyzed man, now walking and leaping. I am the opposite. I am Jacob, the one who wrestles and struggles. I am walking through it all, but with a limp. My faith is bruised, but still I cling to Him. Like Jacob, sometimes you wrestle with God all night, and all He gives you is a limp and a new name. I am learning to call it ‘blessing.'”
This morning I watched TV images of people in Oklahoma combing through the wreckage of their flattened homes, carefully moving pieces of wood or plaster, hoping to find some treasure to connect them with their lives before the tornado. I realized I was visioning a parable of people of faith, after one of life’s devastating storms, picking through the broken pieces of their view of God as their faithful friend, their loving father, their protector from all evil. People without faith may already have left town to live in some more hospitable place, imagining that they can find a way to spend the rest of their lives storm-free. People of faith, by contrast, realize that here on earth there is “no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14), and that storms are part of life wherever we are. They sort through the wreckage, looking for treasures from the past. They salvage the timbers and other building materials, because they are already planning the layout of their new house of faith, which they will, in time, rebuild on the same spot. Their new and improved image of God is already being constructed on the old foundation, right there amid the rubble. It’s a stronger, clearer, less fragile understanding of who God is and what his promises of salvation mean in the context of the rich, full life he intends for each of us.
Like Tanya, we may. in time, learn to call the storm that threatens to crush us a blessing.
— Pastor George Van Alstine