“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” — David in Psalm 42:11
The Rev. David Rivers felt his stomach churn when the weather forecast sounded eerily familiar on Monday.
As senior pastor of a Bridge Creek congregation that experienced the devastation of the May 3, 1999, tornado, Rivers said he knows all too well what many victims of recent twisters are feeling.
“You still have that thought in the back of your mind when the winds pick up,” he said. “We know that bad things happen real fast.”
The minister said not only is anxiety a familiar emotion these days, but questions about God's role in times of natural disasters also strike a familiar chord.
Why did a loving God allow such a deadly storm?
Why did some people survive and others perish?
Are the fatal twisters a result of God's wrath?
Rivers, 50, and local spiritual leaders said such queries are normal during times of tragedy and despair.
“I think if we're all honest, we all wrestle with these questions,” he said.
“I don't know what that answer is.”
Good God; bad storm.
The Rev. Bill Pruett, pastor of St. James the Greater Catholic Church, said the answers to questions about God's hand in the midst of natural disasters hinge on seeing Him as the loving and faithful Lord He is.
“The divine role is always a sustaining role. God is never the one who causes suffering and disasters,” Pruett said.
He said the Old Testament may hold several examples of God unleashing His anger upon a sinful world, “but evil seems to be a function of a flawed universe. It is the shadow side of human choice — You can't blame God because of the choices people make, and you can't blame God because the laws of nature are what they are.”
Pruett said: “It is the natural process of humanity to look for the bad guy, somebody with moral failure, but Jesus didn't do that. We do that,” he said.
“God is not out to settle scores.”
The Rev. Justin Lindstrom, dean of the St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, echoed Pruett's sentiments.
The Lord, he said, isn't vengeful.
“That's not the way God works,” Lindstrom said.
“I think the victims in this instance were victims of circumstance — they lived in a place where a tornado happened.”
Rivers said at Ridgecrest Baptist on Sunday, his sermon will include the topic of recent storm and the way such adversity often compel individuals to seek out the Lord.
“I think the worst thing we can do is abandon God at this point because that's when we need Him the most,” Rivers said. “We should continue to worship Him despite what has happened.”
Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, leader of the Chabad Jewish Center of Oklahoma City, said community members should ask themselves how they need to respond to this crisis at hand.
“The real question is not ‘why did God do this' or ‘did God do this.' The real question is what does God want me to do now with this tragedy that is unfolding in front of my eyes,” he said.
“It is a gift to be able to respond.”
Seeking comfort in God
Pruett said the answers to some of the most difficult life questions are mysteries that the Bible says are beyond human understanding.
The priest, along with Rivers and Lindstrom, said they encourage people to seek God out during times of fear and doubt and suffering.
“In these times of tragedy and crisis, we should draw closer to God and draw solace — not run from God,” Lindstrom said.
And Lindstrom said Oklahomans should look at the overwhelming support being poured upon tornado victims as a symbol of the Lord, not the storm.
“To see people serve and give and reach out to neighbors they may not even know, to see churches, regardless of denomination, come together to serve — that is absolutely amazing. That's where God is in the community,” he said.
Rivers, who also is an Oklahoma City police officer, said the worst circumstances can bring out the best in people, with God's help.
“That overshadows negativity,” he said.
He said times of crisis and tragedy are opportunities to trust in God and His faithfulness. Rivers said that faithfulness sparks hope when answers to troubling questions aren't there.
“James says count it all joy when trials comes. That's when perseverance comes,” Rivers said.
“People experiencing this have an opportunity and insight on who God is because they are trusting in Him from day to day.”