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Hurting for Oklahoma: On Bearing the Pains of Those We Don’t Know

oklahoma-tornado

I have been watching the television all night. Though my heart is being torn out and the miserable “Why God?” thoughts run through my mind over and over again, I cannot quit watching. The number of children (twenty-four, at last count) who have lost their lives to something as fearful, tragic, and theologically uncompromising as a tornado is enough to make one lose their faith. As I get to the point of simply banging on Christ’s door, shouting, “Why? Why?!” I am strangely comforted by Christ’s words which suggest that he allows even the elect to come to a breaking point of faith through deception and suffering (Matt. 24:12, 22, 24).  I get there sometimes. If you are honest and thoughtful, so do you.

So far the death toll is up to 51. The destruction is like nothing we have ever seen (even in ’99, when the same area was hit by an F-5). The word is, this may go down in history as the worst tornado recorded history has ever seen in terms of its power and destructiveness. I am humbled by the fact that I had to put on my brakes to miss it. But I cannot say the same for some people I know. Andrew Burkhart, a good friend and pastor of Love and Justice Church in Moore, lost his home . . . No brakes to stop this loss. It is completely gone. I don’t know about his church yet and, although I have yet to talk to him, I hear that he and his family are okay. But the tragic stories will continue to surface and it is not going to get any better. The questions of blame are interesting with tornadoes. The insurance companies, unfortunately, calls these “Acts of God.” I say this is unfortunate because the insurance companies make it sound as if God is hands-off in all other tragedies except those that fall from the sky or rise up from the ground. But that (blame) is not in my thoughts right now. . .

But what about you who are far away, not living in Oklahoma? If you are watching this, you probably feel a deep sense of helplessness. You don’t know what to do. The stress that overcomes your spirit, mind, and body is tremendous. I know. Here I am just a few miles from weeping and pain, and there is little I can do. But when your thoughts turn to “Why God?” my stress increases. We all want to lift the burdens from the shoulders of those in pain, but we know there is no way to do so outside of divine intervention. But here is the problem (and I have said this before): you (those of you who are far distant from this event) are not responsible for this tragedy. I know you know that, but let me put it another way: you have no obligation – much less ability – to carry the spiritual stress of this event. It is not yours to bear. It is ours. This is our community, not yours.

Now, this may be coming off odd, so let me explain what I mean.

Christ said something in Matthew 6 that we rarely find the ability to pull off. It is about stress. It is about burdens. It is about worry. It is about responsibility. It is about the utter weakness of our faith and strength. Christ said for those of you who are far distant from this tragedy to “mind your own business.” Well, not like that. But he did say, in a fatherly way, something like this:

“You don’t have the ability to handle thinking about the distant events in Oklahoma. I did not create you with either the strength, power, or control to carry burdens that are not yours. Pray for those in Oklahoma, give to the Red Cross, but don’t become spiritually depressed about things out of your control. I have it handled. Mind the affairs I have put before you, which are hard enough.”

Here is the actual passage:

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Mat 6:34)

You see, you and I have the tendency to stress about things that are out of our control. With worldwide news and the Internet, we are chronically burdened by the suffering and pain of people we don’t know and will never meet. Christ told people in his day not to place tomorrow’s burdens on their shoulders. Essentially, he was saying that we each have an allotment of trouble right now in our own communities, our own families, and our own time. God has only given us so much strength to deal with pain, whether it be ours or that of our community. When we worry, stress, and get discouraged about the future, we are placing on our shoulders more than God created us to handle. The possible (even likely) troubles of tomorrow not only bring us down, they produce a skewed view of God. By compounding the actual evils we face with the evils that this world may hand us, we lose perspective and hope. Eventually our faith in God lessens.

It is no different, in principle, when we sit hour after hour watching, crying, even praying for the sufferings of those all over the world; it is too much to bear. No one but God is responsible for these things. You are not. This is not your depression to have. You have enough going on in your own families and communities to burden you. When you watch the television and see the carnage of nature and begin to combine this with all the other evils in every community around the world, you are “worrying about tomorrow [things outside your control].” God says, “Stop! You were not made for such a load. I am.”

I think of those who are losing faith because of these events. Not just this one, but how many tragedies have we seen in our nation over the last year? I speak as a violator of this principle. When the children were killed in Newtown not too long ago, I fell apart. Many of you did too. When similar tragedies occurred this year, we all sat glued to our televisions, questioning the nature of such evil. Our faith suffered as tomorrow’s pains drained us of perspective. We morn with the nation when it suffers, but we rarely celebrate with the nation when it rejoices. If we are to have a balanced view of God’s world, shouldn’t we bear the pleasure of the world’s joys to the same degree we share the burden of their pain? Shouldn’t we rejoice with all the families who did not lose their children? Shouldn’t we see interviews of those whose houses never burned down? Shouldn’t we enter the classrooms where enlightenment is happening, without danger, every day? Shouldn’t we see when fathers and mothers bring their children up in a responsible loving way? But such balance, I understand, is not likely. Suffering is more interesting than happiness. So the news is not likely to change.

I am not saying this to keep us from joining in caring for this community. Those of you who are able to display your care and concern through prayers and financial gifts to the relief organizations, please do so. Please join with us as a nation to care for a national tragedy. Lift up holy hands to God for those who have lost their children and homes. But if this wound of ours is acting like an infectious disease, and you find darkness toward God growing in your heart, back off. You are going too far. If you find your faith suffering from a skewed view of Christ, this is the unintentional fault of media that lives or dies by the blood of others. Turn the TV off. If you find yourself screaming, “Why God?” please keep in perspective that you have enough “Why God”s on your plate. We need you to deal with today’s troubles in your own life. We need your faith to stay strong, as you do ours.

If you find yourself at a breaking point, please know that we all often do. God, for some reason or another, allows his elect to get to that terrible line. But this does not always have to be the case. The biggest lies the media produces often come from the subtle reporting of the countless “tomorrows” we cannot bear. Sufficient for the day is the trouble in our own lives.

14 Responses to “Hurting for Oklahoma: On Bearing the Pains of Those We Don’t Know”

  1. This is a good piece of conventional wisdom. Christians often loose sight of our joy because we are not in the habit of the pursuit of joy. It is something that we all want, but most of us have no idea about how to go about getting it. When you consider that it is a joyful thing to delight in the simple provisions that God abundantly provides, it’s all good. That is how we apply the words of Jesus in Mat 6:25-24 which is His instruction on how to cure anxiety. The apostles really embraced the concept of joy. Trial, tribulation, disaster, persecution, ridicule and a host of other negative connotations are what God uses to shape our character and focus our love for Him. We tend to focus on all of the negatives in life, especially in the popular media. That is not what we were designed for. I embrace the concept of “hedonistic Christianity” for the purpose of finding my joy amidst all of the calamity on this side of Heaven. The hope, the promise of Scripture, our struggles, are His design for us to seek our joy. A way has been made, it is up to us to stay on that path for the joy and the love of Jesus Christ.

  2. Typo correction: Mat 6:25-34.

  3. The day before the storm our pastor preached on Psalms 30. David was praising God for healing BEFORE the healing occurred. He had an understanding that whether he woke up healed or woke up with ultimate healing in Heaven with God, he was blessed either way. I keep telling myself that those sweet babies in OK who did not wake up ok after the storm are in the blessed arms of Jesus right now.

  4. Been reading a book the past few weeks by Frederick Buechner called “Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale” and it’s interesting that was described in the book in the section of tragedy and the role of a pastor watching the news and sharing the gospel is like watching the news with the sound off, because the reality of life is apparant that darkness still rolls over the land at times and no reporter or speaker could make suffering more palatable. Watching the sound off you get a glimpse of life, the creation that groans. He says, quoting King Lear I believe, that as pastors and as Christians often times we need “to say what we feel, not what we ought to say”

    Thank you for sharing how this makes you feel and for the proper perspective.

    “The preacher must somehow himself present this silence and mystery of truth by speaking what he feels, not what he ought to say, by speaking forth not only the light and the hope of it but the darkness as well, all of it, because the Gospel has to do with all of it … let him take heart, he is called not to be an actor, a magician, in the pulpit. He is called to be himself. He is called to tell the truth as he has experienced it. He is called to be human.”

    May our Father who is in heaven, be your Father in the community that feels as though they are in hell.

  5. Why God has to drown 7 children in a basement shelter to bring glory to Himself is a difficult concept. I have learned that as a Christian we should not verbalize such thoughts, but I grow weary of the game. We should not close our eyes to how God works in this world. Don’t shelter me from the sufferring and pain which He permits. If I only am permitted to see my pain I may never understand the extend of the sufferring God permits or indeed causes in this world and I may never come to grips with His true nature. If I see tragedy from afar perhaps one day I will have thought about it enough to deal with it from a position of understanding when it happens to me. I do not mean to sound cold or combative. What is happening and what happens everyday around the world is real. We like to protect ourselves from reality. We have built for ourselves many defenses to gaurd ourselves against the pain that many in this world experience. If images of suffering destroy our faith than perhaps it is a faith built on castles in the sky and not anchored in reality.

  6. John, I do think some people can handle more keeping a balanced perspective. But I think the principles of Christ here are applicable. This is not everyone’s burden to carry. We were not made for such.

  7. Michael,

    I appreciate what you are trying to say in this article. However, I have to wonder if the way you are applying the Scripture in Matthew 6 isn’t really taking it out of context and in fact misapplying it. What Jesus is telling us in those verses is not to be anxious for ourselves, what we shall eat, drink, or wear, etc. It really is not saying anything at all about our concern for other people in other places.

    Am I missing something here?

  8. Well, it’s called the hermeneutical funnel. You go to far down and you are too narrow. Go to far up and you are too broad. The option you present is very narrow and I don’t think I can go there. It would suggest an allowance for anxiousness about the food and clothes of others, just not ourselves. In other words, these things are in Gods hands when it comes to yourself, but they are in your hands when it comes to those in your family and/or community. You see what I am saying?

    Once the exegetical theory is proposed and you don’t know how far up the funnel is justified, you turn to the analogy of scripture. By comparing your thesis with other scriptures, I think we find this idea, both in precept, principle, and example found throughout the Scriptures.

  9. Hi Michael,

    I am certainly not saying the principle about anxiousness is not found elsewhere in Scripture. It certainly is. It was just using this particular Scripture in this way that I was questioning.

    Thanks for your explanation. I appreciate it.

  10. I like that play on words, Michael.
    Funnel!

  11. It was a good question Cheryl. It is not always easy to discern how broad one may apply a discovered principle.

  12. Truth Unites... and Divides 2013-05-22 at 11:44 am

    Mike (aka CMP),

    Wow. Your post totally threw me off-guard. You head-faked me, and went in for the sweet lay-up. I could only turn around and marvel at the beautiful dexterous ability that enabled you to score.

    I have not read (ever, ever!) any account of helping Christians to cope with the suffering from a national catastrophe (Newtown, OKC tornado, 9/11, etc…) like your post today.

    It’s extremely difficult to meld blogging with pastoral ministry, but I believe you just pulled it off.

    I tip my hat off to you, Mike. Your post helped me a lot.

    Thanks brother.

  13. I shared some of my reflections and feelings about “theologizing” tragedies like this one. Hope the self-promotion is ok. If not, please delete this comment.

    Thank you.

    “Al Mohler and Cerebral Evangelicalism”: http://meandmythoughts.com/?p=97

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