Turning to God After Natural Disasters

Leaning on God for hope and comfort after a tragedy doesn’t ignore what has taken place; it helps us recover and rebuild.

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Posted in , May 23, 2013

Mysterious Ways blogger Adam Hunter

The massive tornadoes that ravaged Oklahoma have shattered lives and given the rest of us nightmarish images of nature’s destructive power. Whenever a tragedy of this magnitude takes place, we often encounter a struggle with our faith. I wrote about this struggle after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.

But there are those who insist such events are proof that God doesn’t exist. Some even say that belief in God, in the power of prayer and miracles, actually makes things worse.

As journalist Mark Joseph Stern writes in “Don’t Pray for Oklahoma” on Slate.com, “Any God powerful and attentive enough to save survivors’ lives should also be powerful and attentive enough to stop the catastrophe in the first place. It’s insulting, futile and distracting from the reality of natural disasters to inject your god into a calamity like Oklahoma’s.”

Insulting, futile and distracting? He bases his argument around this CNN clip, which has made its way around the Web primarily because reporter Wolf Blitzer gets flustered when he discovers the woman he’s interviewing is an atheist:

Stern calls Blitzer’s behavior “startlingly condescending, insensitive and mawkish.” Then Stern proceeds to write 900 words that are startlingly condescending, insensitive and mawkish to believers.

And his argument is dead wrong.

Leaning on God for hope, comfort and strength after a tragedy doesn’t ignore the realities of what has happened. It doesn’t lessen the tragedy. But it does help us recover and rebuild.

Stern points this out himself, in a backhanded way, when he notes that “Governor Mary Fallin requested ‘lots of prayers.’ (Fortunately for the survivors, she wasn’t too busy praying to set up an actual disaster relief fund.)”

Prayer is not a substitute for action. When people pray, they rarely pray alone in their rooms, locked up tight. You might say that prayer is the original social network, connecting people and bringing them together in a tragedy. Prayer chains rarely exist without a call to arms—with people donating food, supplies, money and a helping hand to those in need. And unlike the 24-hour news cycle, faith communities don’t forget. They don’t pack up their cameras and go home when the next big story comes along.

I recently interviewed a woman in the small Mennonite community of Pinecraft, Florida. While Stern and other reporters seem to have forgotten about the earthquake three years ago that devastated Haiti, this small community of devoted believers still hosts benefit dinners to raise money for the people there.

The moments of God’s grace that people draw strength from may not make sense to people without faith. But they do give very real hope to many others. In Mysterious Ways, we’ve shared the story of a light that helped a man find his wife and kids after a tornado in rural Ohio. And the family who believed they avoided a tornado’s violent path by a strangely shaped rock in their yard. Not so long ago, our Editor-in-Chief recalled one of his favorite Mysterious Ways stories, about how an inexplicable phone call helped put a mother at ease after a twister hit her child’s school.

Stern is right, not everyone has these experiences. But for those who do, and for the great many of us who hear about them, these moments we call “God’s love” reveal that there are things that keep us safe and secure even when things appear hopeless.

These stories keep us from succumbing to darkness. They keep us looking up.

Please help those in need in Oklahoma. And keep them in your prayers. As the very friendly atheist woman in the above video tells Wolf Blitzer, “We are here, and I don’t blame anybody for thanking the Lord.”

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