The Great Courses

Pray For The Victims

May 21, 2013 at 11:37 AM
5 years ago

may 20, 2013 tornado


It’s an unpopular topic in many circles, but in the aftermath of the devastating tornado that ravaged Moore, Oklahoma (and the countless Facebook posts that have followed), I want to say something on the subject of prayer.

I completely understand why so many people invoke God and prayer during these terrible times. When I was a Christian, it was a reflex, and had I witnessed such destruction and loss of life, I would have undoubtedly encouraged others to pray.

“Pray for the wounded, that they’ll all be found and delivered from harm. Pray for the grieving families, that God will help to heal their broken hearts. Pray for the rescue workers as they navigate dangerous piles of debris in their search for survivors. Pray for the city, as it once again faces a long recovery and rebuilding.”

And of course, whenever a battered but breathing child would be pulled from the splinters, or when a family walked away from a leveled house, or whenever an elderly woman would be reunited with a pet (which is a hugely moving video circulating the web right now, I would say “Thank God. It’s a miracle.”

I understand it. Humans grope to find (to construct) mechanisms of hope and healing, and in our helplessness, we continue to invoke the One who can be the unmovable pillar that supports our wavering hearts. For many, the idea of enduring this terrible moment alone is too frightening to bear.

“Pray for Oklahoma. Thank God it wasn’t worse.”

I watched the elderly woman’s reunion with the dog she had written off as lost only minutes before, and I was deeply touched by the moment, as were so many of you. It was a much-needed interjection of relief and joy into the horror, and it warmed the heart.

woman finds dog

But although you and I would never seek to detract from her ebullience, as agents of reason, we must bring an uncomfortable truth to light.

If the rescue of the dog was indeed God’s divine hand of protection at work and a genuine answer to prayer, that reveals several key things:

1) If God exists, he has the power to miraculously intervene, and he has the will to (at least occasionally) do so.

2) God used his divine powers to rescue a dog while allowing the horrific deaths of human beings, many of them children.

3) God is now receiving the prayers to comfort grieving families whose deceased loved ones enjoyed a lesser level of divine protection than the dog.

We must address this rationally. If God is omniscient, he saw the tragedy in advance and said nothing. If God is omnipotent, he watched the tornado form and did nothing. If God is benevolent, he did not warn his precious children, nor did he see fit to prevent the violent deaths of at least 24 of them by redirecting the tornado or dissipating it into harmless vapor. The Being who spun the cosmos into existence sat on his hands as the structure of Plaza Tower Elementary School collapsed upon the heads of terrified and screaming children.

 So as our Facebook pages fill with pleas to “pray pray pray,” we as rational people lament that so many good people are calling down favors from the very savior-deity that was invisible, inaudible and undetectable only hours before when he was truly needed. 

How can one pray to God for help in grief recovery when God elected to do absolutely nothing to prevent the grieving? Why would a father so uncaring about his children at 6pm be suddenly fervent about helping them at 7pm? And why would any moral person bind his/her allegiance so completely to a God that would allow a tornado to strike an elementary school?

Again, it’s unpopular to say these things in a culture that seeks comfort above all, and I don’t begrudge the faithful for calling out (and up) to their deities in desperate moments. But I am convinced that there’s something alarmingly and terribly broken about this whole scenario, and while my concerns don’t fit as nicely on the posters, the placards, the banners, the ribbons and the mountains of prayer-warrior posts coloring today’s social media, they do have merit and should be considered by those giving up thanks and calling down divine favors.

Finally…one last thought about the dog. As the reporter noticed the traumatized animal under the rubble, you’ll notice human hands reaching down, lifting up the debris, pulling the dog from its trap and holding it close in a gesture of gratitude, relief, love and pure joy.

 Human hands.

As has always been the case in good times and bad, human hands are the things we see in action. They’re the agents of true intervention and rescue. Human hands pull us from the rubble. They bandage our wounds. They carry us to safety. They wipe our tears. They hold us close. And they will again rebuild. 

-Seth Andrews

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