God and the Oklahoma tornado

It’s getting harder and harder to expect journalists to cover disasters without it leading to a storyline about miracles and divine intervention. Theological discussions by journalists, who are in the business of asking questions, should be more complicated than that.

Rev. Wolf Blitzer takes top honors in the “awkward” category for this viral interview of a woman who wasn’t about to conform to the notion that surviving a tornado requires the intervention of the divine.

On a more intelligent level, the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog today asks the question that few seem to want to ask. “Where was God?” However, it approaches the question in response to an intellectual question: If one prays for divine intervention in the aftermath of a tornado, doesn’t that suggest divine intervention was possible in the mere existence of the tornado?


When atheists use natural disasters as a time to rebuke individuals of faith, there may be some indication that their argument against God is more of an emotional objection, rather an intellectual problem. However, with some atheists, it seems to be a genuine intellectual objection that dates back to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and later, David Hume.

Some atheists, following Hume, who are watching natural disasters or experiencing true evil, will often hold that the two statements: “An all-powerful and all-good God exists” and “Evil exists” are logically inconsistent. But other logicians will note that there is not an explicit contradiction in these statements. The atheist is often assuming that if God is all good, then He would prefer to create a world without evil than to create a world in which evil exists.

Tom Cabral, writing on his Faith & Fall River blog raises more questions than answers:


The God of the bible has what are called incommunicable attributes. Those he does not share with us. The bible declares God both omniscient (all knowing) and omnipotent (all powerful). Everything in his universe happens under his rule and reign. He knows the number of hairs on our heads, the days until we die, and the places you will live and whom you’ll live with.

Some claim that God has a multitude of plans and if one doesn’t work out he goes to plan B. That’s not what the scriptures declare. They declare that even the most powerful man’s existence is under the control of an all-powerful God “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Pro 21:1). Either he is fully sovereign or he is NOT sovereign at all. We cannot put God in a box. The first thing we cannot do is say God cannot stop evil.

If that’s true, than we’re back to the beginning of the discussion: why a tornado?

The question cannot be answered, Cabral says, because “we must not become the voice of God and answer.”

  • Disco

    Where was the divine intervention for those seven poor children?

    Oh, I know. It was “God’s plan.”

  • KTN

    My understanding of faith, and this is coming from a life-long atheist, is that events like this, and true evil are the reason for faith. Without the challenge to your faith, how do you move forward, and how do you begin to understand God.

    Challenges to faith can do two things, either make you run for the hills, rebuking your faith, or make it stronger because you have been shaken to your core, and that requires deep contemplation and thought.

  • Robert.moffitt@lungmn.org

    Pity please, the town of Moore.

    A Wolf is waiting at their door.

    His questions strange, his manners odd,

    What does this have to do with God?

  • Katherine

    Oh, for crying out loud, no god caused this tornado or save (or not) people from it any more than “gay marriage.” And, as an atheist, I resent that MPR files a story about a natural disaster under “Religion.”

  • Bob Collins

    // I resent that MPR files a story about a natural disaster under “Religion.”

    This isn’t a “story.” It’s a blog post and it’s a blog post about religion. that’s why it’s filed under religion.

    As with any blog post, it’s open to discussion.

  • Michael Mandsager

    Few people want to ask the question, “Where was God?” As a Lutheran pastor, I can assure you that people ask that question all the time. Where I see God at work is in the all the people providing care for those affected by the disaster.

  • Tim

    The power of prayer is usually confined to things that have some reasonable chance of happening and don’t defy the laws of nature. Praying to survive a tornado or thinking that a metaphysical force spared your life is a denial of statistical probability. If you want to see the true power of prayer, get every believer together and pray for a person with missing limbs to have them regenerated. It won’t happen because it defies the laws of nature. If it does happen, I will gladly convert.

  • Job

    Everybody has faith in something.

    When tornadic winds and other disasters killed Job’s children and destroyed his wealth, Job humbly responded, “The Lord gives and takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

    Listen to this song:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Qp11X6LKYY

    Also, Jesus talked about how bad things happen to everyone: the tower that collapsed, and how good things happen to everyone: like rain and sunshine.

    God Almighty took the worst evil Satan could throw at Him in the death of innocent Jesus on Good Friday and turned it for good.

    Or, look at the life of Joseph in Egypt: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

    The fact is we all deserve the wrath of God for our sinful rebellion, which is infinitely worse than a tornado. But the good news is that Jesus took the hit for us on the cross so that everyone who looks to Him will be spared and instead enjoy God forever.

    Folks, who ya’ gonna trust?

  • JSK

    The question cannot be answered, Cabral says, because “we must not become the voice of God and answer.”

    And yet there are plenty of his followers who are more than willing to be that voice, unfortunately.

  • Bob Collins

    // I can assure you that people ask that question all the time.

    sorry. should’ve indicated, few people in the media want to ask the question.

    So what do you tell them? God is at work in the recovery; I get that. But that doesn’t really answer the intent of the original question, which actually is does God have something to do with the tornado in the first place?

    Insurance companies still refer to these sorts of things as “acts of God,” right?

  • bsimon

    “Where was the divine intervention for those seven poor children?”

    One might ask the same question about the kids in St Paul who fell in the sinkhole.

    We, as a species, turn to God in times of crisis for the same reason we’ve turned to God for millennia – to create an explanation for the unexplainable.

  • XPK

    “Where I see God at work is in the all the people providing care for those affected by the disaster.”

    Yet all those people wouldn’t be providing care were it not for the disaster, so who is responsible for the disaster? If you believe in God then the answer has to be God. Then there are all the other questions that come after that: Why? What are we supposed to learn? Is God punishing us for something? Didn’t I pray enough? Did we do something wrong?

    Futile questions that have easy answers. No reason/random chance. That tornadoes are common in Tornado Alley and sometimes they hit residential areas. No. Prayers really wouldn’t have helped either way though the act of praying might make you feel like you had some sort of control in an uncontrollable situation. No.

    People do the work of providing care for those affected, not God or gods or spirits. Please give praise to those who deserve it.

  • Bob Collins

    I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their religious beliefs, not do I believe it’s proper to question the belief or lack of same. Unless I missed something, nobody on the giant question has an indisputable answer.

    The video the other day about the guy coming out of his shelter, looking around and saying, “the lord giveth and the lord taketh away,” was probably the exception. He didn’t draw any distinction in the course of the events to indicate where divine intervention existed and where it did not.

    I do think, however, that religion becomes a part of these stories and when they are invoked as part of a journalistic exercise, it becomes fair to ask the questions.

    The other morning, for example, CBS This Morning has Twin Citian Ian Punnett on about his new book “How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God: Or Anyone Else for That Matter.” (here’s the video) and I think he hit on the head…. people pray around God and when they post on Twitter “pray for the people of Oklahoma City,” they’re praying around their anger, which goes unstated.

    I tend to think that leaves a lot of people who believe in God, feeling as thought they’re missing something… that their angry while these proclamations suggest people aren’t.

    I don’t really understand why people don’t face that head on… I don’t understand why journalists don’t ask those questions in a story that clearly is allowed to have religious overtones.

    Of course there’s no answer, but just asking the question is important because it’s an acknowledgement that people have it.

    Punnett’s point is a very good one, people try to order the world for other people and insist that it all makes sense. A lot of times it doesn’t. And it should be OK to say it doesn’t make sense to me.

    I think the atheist being on to make her point is a good one too. “I don’t believe in God and I was spared.” Does it prove the existence or non-existence of God. No, but neither does the claims of the woman who lost her dog that she prayed to find her dog. In the rush for these cliche story lines connecting prayer with result, I think it’s an important point to make. An uncomfortable one, perhaps, but an important one nonetheless.

  • Tim Genck

    There is constant suffering going on in the world that makes Oklahoma look like a Shangri La. Where is god on a daily basis? Why do we only question the localized suffering and not the long term suffering of African genocide? Was god too busy trying to stop gay marriage or preventing an entire continent from access to birth control so they can live through the shortest life expectancies on the planet while trying survive a brutal regime?

    Religious view and prayer is the ultimate narcissism in this situation. I prayed and found my car keys! Yet an entire continent with the misfortune of being born not of the Christian faith live in misery. At least you found your keys, I guess.

  • Tim Genck

    Bob-

    Watch the news tomorrow and see how another aspect of religion is completely ignored. We still don’t equate the meaning of terrorism with religion, but to call the London murder strictly “political” would miss the obvious, violent underpinnings of fundamentalist religious views. Honest, thoughtful dialogue about religion is often met with apologists (most of whom are liberal) who don’t feel they should tread on anyone’s religion no matter how their views contribute to suffering in the world.

  • XPK

    Bob,

    “does God have something to do with the tornado in the first place?”

    “Unless I missed something, nobody on the giant question has an indisputable answer.”

    “Of course there’s no answer, but just asking the question is important because it’s an acknowledgement that people have it.”

    There is an answer. Random things happen that we can’t explain. In an attempt to explain them mankind has relied on a history of spirits, gods or otherworldly beings to explain weather, sickness, birth defects, tides, why the world turns etc. None of these things are actually caused by spirits or gods. So probably nothing that happens is caused by spirits or gods. That’s the answer. It really is that simple.

    So “does God have something to do with the tornado in the first place?”

    No. Definitive answer.

    “Does it prove the existence or non-existence of God. No, but neither does the claims of the woman who lost her dog that she prayed to find her dog.”

    The burden of proof rests on the person making the claim “God exists”. If someone claims “God exists” then they are responsible for providing the evidence for that claim. That evidence can then be evaluated in support of that claim. We can’t prove the non-existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn in the garage or God.

  • Bob Collins

    Thanks, Tim, but really has nothing to do with what we’re talking about and only serves to hijack an otherwise intelligent discussion with inflammatorym observations.

    XPK, Nobody has a burden of proof to me unless they’re claiming I have to believe what they believe.

  • Audrey F.

    Can I still get in on this, or did the discussion end at midnight?-Whatever, I feel compelled to throw in my oh-so valuable insigiht in the event that somebody out there might actually read it.

    First let me establish that I am OLD. Really old.

    I have had my share of shattering experiences in my life.

    I am not religious.

    My faith in God is absolute and all-pervasive of my being and my life; As I get even OLDER I find that this becomes more so, consciously and subconsciously, as I work my way through sundry personal issues….

    And there is much I would love to say on this topic ; I am known for my verbosity. But to me it has boiled down to what a classmate of mine at St. Olaf College said:

    “Man so loved himself that he created God in his own image.”

    We define God in the terms of our understanding. That is idiocy. We cannot understand God, because he is God and we are no more on the evolutionary level than …well, fill in the blank.

    We diminish God in our determined attempts to understand…

    ( I once looked skyward and asked “what the hell goes on in your mind, anyway?”0

    I have, somewhere in my bookcase, a textbook from my juio year at St, Olaf titled Let God Be God. Don’t know the author offhand. But you might as well, because He’s gonna to continue to be, anyway, and when we voice our inddignation/dismay over his perceived erros of judgment he says “Did I ask you?..”

  • Audrey F.

    Re: The above

    Huh. Shoulda taken the advice of the editors and proofread that again.

    To anyone reading the above, I embarrassedly submit that typos are one thing, content is another, except in such unfortunate instances when someone hits an exclamation point by mistake and starts World War III or something.

  • Job

    Bob,

    To answer your question, yes, God does have everything to do with the tornado. He is sovereign over every air molecule and weather system of the world. He is also sovereign over every cancer cell. He knows the private thoughts of every politician (and the rest of us). He called Satan’s bluff and let him bring on the windstorm on Job’s kids. He appointed a worm, drought, storm, and a big fish to get Jonah’s attention. The wind and waves obeyed Jesus.

    In the OK tornado, God has more than 10,000 sovereign purposes going on in people’s lives.

    He is also merciful and full of grace. He cares for His creation so much that He launched a plan to save us from the effects of our rebellion.

    So, He is in charge, and He is compassionate. God’s purpose for us is that we would glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

  • Job

    Not only is God sovereign over the weather, He is also all-powerful, righteous, true, and unchanging. Because of His sovereign and loving character, we can hope in God, knowing that He can bring good out of really bad situations. He won’t forget, become unable, or change His mind. He promises to those who love and follow Jesus to bring good out of all situations. Because all creation remains under the curse from the time of Adam and Eve, bad events will happen to everyone. But for those who hope in God, good will ultimately result, if not here, then in Heaven.

  • kennedy

    Belief in God also means belief in the devil. In some ways this question can be boiled down to,” Why does God let evil exist?” Could lead to long discussion. Maybe something for people to talk about as they work together cleaning up the rubble in Oklahoma and rebuilding. Or I suppose they could argue, insult, and refuse to help each other if they have different beliefs.

  • XPK

    Bob,

    “XPK, Nobody has a burden of proof to me unless they’re claiming I have to believe what they believe.”

    You have to know that this isn’t true. I’m pretty sure you have kids. Kids make up stuff all the time. “Oh, this jigsaw puzzle I’m holding is an umbrella? I better hold it over my head.” Does it matter that the puzzle isn’t an actual umbrella while you are playing with your kid? Not really. Do you “have to believe what they believe”? Well, kinda yeah. You eat that delicious ham/cheese/bacon/mustard/onion/turkey/roastbeef/radish/lettuce/ketchup/mayo sandwich made of felt and say it is the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. Will you go outside with your kid on a rainy day with that jigsaw puzzle instead of an umbrella? No. Will you actually eat that felt sandwich? No. Why? Because in reality the jigsaw puzzle is not an umbrella and you can’t actually eat that sandwich, and you know that and your kid knows that.

    When it comes to the real world and how the actual real world operates outside of our individual imaginations/perceptions/experiences/senses we all use the burden of proof to check what can be our incorrect assumptions/perceptions about how the world works.

    There’s a reason we don’t have leech tanks at the doctor’s office.

    No one can definitively prove the non-existence of anything, We can only investigate the positive claims made by individuals to discover if they have merit. As a journalist, the burden of proof is the reason you have a job.

  • Bob Collins

    // You have to know that this isn’t true.

    I’m not sure by what knowledge you’re able to say that a belief I extend to others is or isn’t true.

    Again, the part of this topic that tires me is the underlying assertion that someone else gets to tell me what I can and can’t believe and what courtesies I can and can’t extend.

  • tiredofitall

    How many times does God have to send a tornado through that area before people get the idea to NOT live there?