On Sunday a storm ripped through Central Illinois leaving a wake of destruction in its path. Homes in several communities were destroyed by tornados. The hardest hit community was the quiet town of Washington that was decimated by an EF4 tornado, unleashing winds of up to 190 m.p.h.

Of course, in the wake of the destruction we search for answers to hard questions: Why this house and not the other? Why this town and not the next? And in response to hard questions, Christians are saying things that are at best trite and at worst insidious. Let me address some of the things I’ve heard in the last couple of days: Washington IL Tornado Damage 2013

“The tornado came at a time where all the Christian-folk were in church. See, God was protecting his people.”  I’ve heard several variations of this statement but if you push on it just a little bit, it doesn’t even begin to stand up to scrutiny. To be more accurate, one should say “all the Christian-folk who go to church at 11pm and didn’t catch the early or Saturday night service, or who were well enough to go to church that day were in church.” And this says nothing about the people of Indiana who got the same storm & their own tornadoes later in the afternoon. Frankly, I think this God-likes-Christians-more-than-everyone-else thinking is simply tribalism and is a gross misunderstanding of the Good News that God loves everyone equally.

In response to why tragedies happen, “it’s all because of Adam & Eve’s sin.” Huh? The person saying this apparently believes that in the Garden of Eden there were no earthquakes, hurricanes, seasons, etc. I’m sorry, this just doesn’t make any sense to me. A tornado is amoral. It happens when a cold air mass collides with a warm air mass. It’s just as natural as a sunny day, a light rain shower, a full moon and a beautiful snow. The tragedy is not that there was a tornado. The tragedy is that there was a town in the path of a tornado.

“God sent this to unify the communities of Central Illinois.” Does God want communities to do good for each other? Absolutely, without question. Does God destroy communities in order for them to do so. I don’t think so. Does God use the raw, ugly material of life to call his people to do good? A thousand times yes. I’m just dubious of “God sent this…” language.

“God sent the tornado as a judgment on the rich.” Yup. Someone actually said this to a friend of mine. And yes, there are places in the Bible you can point and say, “see, God sends natural tragedies.” But first, the prophets are often speaking in hyperbole and we need to make sure we disentangle the exegetical issues. Furthermore, prophets claim to be working out of a knowledge given to them directly by God. If we’re going to declare a natural disaster as God’s judgment, we ought to make clear that we’ve heard directly from God. Otherwise, we’re simply projecting our own issues onto God. The problem with this kind of line of thinking is that we arbitrarily choose a sin that we think thousands of people are collectively guilty of, and we arbitrarily decided that God is angered about this particular sin more than he’s angered about my sins.

To my dear friends, neighbors, fellow congregants in Washington, Pekin & East Peoria who stand at the edge of rubble piles holding back your tears:

I don’t believe for one second that God was out to get you on Sunday afternoon. I don’t believe God was judging you. I believe nature happened. The weather was the optimal condition and houses were in the way. I don’t believe God sits in heaven playing with us in such sadistic ways. God did not put his finger down and wipe out your home. Nor do I believe that God was saving some people and neglecting some to suffer. Last I checked everyone – Christian or not – whose home was in the path lost. I do not believe God plays a cosmic games of “duck, duck, duck cancer/tornado/hurricane,” arbitrarily dishing out human tragedies.

What I do believe -with every fiber of my being – is that in our tragedies God weeps with us. Just like Jesus stood at the grave of his friend Lazarus and wept. And in these moments – like every moment of every day – God is calling us to do good to the people around us – to be God’s agents in the world, to be God’s hands, to face the darkness head on, refusing to explain it away or minimize the suffering with tired clichés. Every day people are losing homes, dying of cancer, losing jobs. Every day there are opportunities to do good if we only open our eyes and seek out the dark places.

[photo credit]

27 thoughts on “Duck…Duck…Duck…Tornado.

    • Eric:

      (Replying here because there’s no button under your other comment).

      I think it is safer to extrapolate from Scripture that things were vastly different in the “normal scientific operation” of Creation pre-fall vs. post fall. To assume that anything worked identically to what we can measure today in the post fall world in the pre-fall garden.

      It didn’t rain before the flood (which is hundreds of years post-fall). If it didn’t rain in the garden, it seems that other now “natural” occurrences didn’t occur then either. So gravity? Probably there and similar to today, maybe even identical. Or maybe not. Thermodynamics? I don’t think it’s likely it worked like it does today. The Garden is a picture of what heaven will be like, and people in the new heavens and the new earth will fall down and not be hurt. Jesus, in his new body, walked through a wall. Things will not be as they are, though we will see the similarity because Creation retains the character of the original though marred by sin.

      And I’m sorry that I seem to have implied that God’s sovereignty and natural causes are somehow antithetical. I merely want to make clear that I see the Bible as teaching that no matter how ordinary an event is (gravity, for example), God isn’t detached from it working the way it does.

      I’m going to bow out now unless there are any questions, but I agree with some of the thrust of Pastor Dean’s post here, but think the conclusions he’s drawing cannot be reconciled with the Scriptures and will cause (possibly) as much harm as the misstatements he’s frustrated with.

      God protects and shelters His people. For someone to say after a storm, “God protected me” gives glory to God. It doesn’t mean that God was punishing someone who wasn’t protected.

      Thank you for the interaction.


  1. Thank you for expressing this so well. To say that “God sent this because…, or God protected me because…” seems to indulge in the sin of pride. Better that we see these tragedies as an opportunity to help others rather than sit in judgement upon them.


  2. Hi Charlie, Enjoyed reading your reflections. I found it interesting what you say in regards to the garden and the state of nature. I’ve never heard that take before and am curious how you got there. I’m on staff a St. Mark’s Lutheran in Washington and can imagine having these kind of chats with folks who working through their situation. Patrick Jenkins


    • Thanks Patrick!

      I’m just trying to say that natural events aren’t moral/immoral. They are simply just part of what is. For example, we know that hurricanes happen when dry heat blows off the Saharan plain across the Atlantic and forms into a storm. Is this “evil?” Did this only start happening after the fall?

      The tragedy is death. The tragedy is the loss of life that happens.

      Does that help?


      • I’ve never considered that before and appreciate your sharing. I’m one who has always seen disasters as part of ‘the way things are after the fall’, it’s how I make sense of harshness of reality. What you share is a helpful voice in the conversation. Thanks.


  3. While I share your frustration with many of the quotes you list, I find it very concerning that you display such an uninvolved and impotent God. Is God so out of control that tragedies like this happen outside of His will? I think Ephesians 1 and Romans 8-9 are clear that this is not that case.

    I find it equally puzzling that you think that there were tornadoes and hurricanes in the garden. This beautiful creation, which God pronounced “good” did not contain death and destruction until man brought sin into it. Creation itself is marred by the sin of man, and Jesus brings redemption to sinners like you and me, but also to the whole of creation.

    Is it helpful to note that destruction is rooted in original sin? Not always, but I think at times it is. It is comforting to know that when Jesus restores all things in the New Heavens and the New Earth that there will be no more of this.

    Our God is powerful and controls every molecule and atom in creation…there is not one stray electron in this world. And through the work of His Son and His Spirit He is over time putting all things right and will destroy every enemy including death.

    I applaud your desire to ensure the watching world does not see God as displaying a sadistic favoritism, but to display God instead as an impotent overlord who couldn’t do anything about those weather conditions or uncaringly decided not to do anything about it is just as wrong as the careless use of cliches.


    • First, I appreciate the graciousness of your email. I suspect that we disagree substantially on issues of sovereignty. But that’s okay. You’re tone is good.

      I wasn’t trying to say that I believe God is impotent, only that he chooses to allow nature to run it’s course. Could God suspend the laws of nature? Sure. But most of the time, no. I don’t believe that God stirs the molecules to form a tornado to destroy a small town for some arbitrary reason.

      As for the garden… I don’t believe tornados and hurricanes are “evil.” They are simply part of the raw material of nature. Was there also no decomposition in the garden?


      • Actually, yes, since decomposition is a part of death, which Scripture says came through the sin of man, I believe there was no decomposition in the garden. Nor death. Nor destruction. Much like it will be in the New Heavens and the New Earth where sorrow and morning will flee away.

        If God were a God who allowed nature to run its course, that seems antithetical to a God who sees man dead in sin, and who sends His son as a substitutionary sacrifice for that sin, breaking the whole of the momentum of history and turning it around.

        What do you do with passages like Ephesians 1 and Romans 8-9 where God’s power and intimate control are, from my reading, clearly elucidated? And what of encouraging us to pray for rain and for blessings? If nature simply runs its course, and rain isn’t a blessing from God, irrespective of the sovereignty doctrine, then doesn’t that undermine even more Scripture?

        Tonight at family worship we prayed for my daughter’s rose bush to grow. I think there is clear scriptural warrant and encouragement to do so. Would you see those as wasted words because nature will be nature and the bush will grow or not, but God doesn’t interact with it at all? Should the people who were in their basements with the tornado going overhead have refrained from praying because God had nothing to do with it? These are real questions, pastor, that grow out of what you are espousing, not attempts at being argumentative.

        God’s sovereignty is an amazing, wonderful comfort in a world that is tainted by sin. When Joseph is able to say to his brothers, “what you meant for evil, God worked for good”, he displays the practical reasons and the real comfort that exists in knowing that God is not only all-powerful and transcendent, but He is personal and imminent and cares deeply for each and every one of us…cares enough not to just weep but to call us forth from death to life as Jesus displayed with Lazarus.


      • I can’t reply directly to James’ comment but I wanted to make a small scientific note on decomposition in Eden.
        If there was no decomposition or death, then there was no dinner or digestion. Plants still die when harvested and consumed, as do the bacteria and enzymes that allow us to digest them.

        “If God were a God who allowed nature to run its course, that seems antithetical to a God who sees man dead in sin, and who sends His son as a substitutionary sacrifice for that sin, breaking the whole of the momentum of history and turning it around.”

        I’m not seeing how God allowing the natural laws (which he made) to run their course undermines His sovereignty, let alone the Gospel. Did gravity exist in Eden? Thermodynamics?


  4. This world before the fall of man was perfect. This world since then hasn’t been and never will be perfect. There is no promise that things will always go right when you believe in God. Not even close. The point is that things are going to go wrong as a result of that first sin and it doesn’t mean it’s because we did anything…case in point, tornadoes. This wasn’t punishment on a select group of people for their particular sins. It’s just part of the fallen world, just like terrorist bombings, people having cancer, and anything else that causes death. Death and bad things like awful tornadoes don’t happen as punishment to individual people for what they have done in their life. They happen because we live in a broken world that will never be made perfect again until Jesus comes back to it. Which leads me to the point of all of it, in that God wants us to believe in Him and trust Him so that when this stuff does happen – and it always will here on Earth in various fashions – that we cling to the promise of a better place and rely fully on Him. Without that faith, we are just wandering aimlessly on a planet that is full of death, destruction, and hopelessness. With that faith, the worst things that could possibly happen in life are ultimately manageable because of the promise of Heaven, God’s perfect peace, and eternal life.

    Prayers being said for all of the victims of this terrible tragedy. I know some of them and have met countless others since it happened. Believe in better days in the near future and a much better place when this life is over. God loves His people and He makes all things work for the good of those who love Him. Even something like this, as hard as it may be to believe.


  5. Charlie & James, I would love to argue with both of you. I agree with both of you on some points, and disagree with each of you on other points, but right now, our focus should be on comforting those who have lost not only property, but photographs and other treasures of the heart. The town will be rebuilt. Our job as Christians, is to find a way to create good from evil. Encourage, give, and come along side those who are suffering with empathy and strong backs.


    • Yes. David. And the reason for this post is that it is not comforting for those who are facing loss to be told that “God spared our group because we were at church at a particular time,” or other such nonsense. Good word. Thanks.


      • A family from our church lost their home, and nearly their lives on Sunday. The mom was at work. Dad was home with 4 kids. Grandma and Grandpa were at our church. Dad and the 4 kids were in the basement when the tornado brought their home down around them. Another family in our church also lost their home. The husband was at church with us and his father. His wife and son were home. They got into the basement in time and survived as the tornado demolished their home and farm. Both of these families have been in the news quite a lot.

        Take the narrative that “God spared our group because we are at church at a particular time” and apply that to these families. So the family members that were at church were sparred by God but those who remained home, for reasons unknown (perhaps because it is hard to get 4 kids under 8 anywhere), were subject to trauma – and the possibility of death – that will be with them for some time and impact them in ways that are unknown today?

        In those two cases you can see, from a pastoral perspective, how the message of “God sparred those who were in church” can be less than helpful. Many times, in our attempts to praise God or make meaning out of difficult circumstances, we actually say things that do more harm than good. In my opinion, bad theology compounds tragedy. The four comments you tackled are bad theology in my view.

        If a tornado rips through Metamora on a Friday night in the Fall and happens to miss the football stadium a lot of lives will be sparred, too. Does that mean God is a football fan or that football saves people? Not at all. It can be dangerous to move from effect to cause where God is concerned – even a cursory read of Job should tell us that.

        Thanks for tackling this subject. I’m sure you are getting a lot of attention today over your comments last night on 1470 as well. Grace and peace.


    • Thank you, David! I was wondering when someone would say something productive. I find that the majority of the Christian community is not saying most of these things anyway. And the ones who are……well, hopefully, they are few. Let’s get to work!


  6. If “god” is in control, why did he let it hit in the first place? God is all powerful, he should be able to stop such things from happening. If he is able, but is not willing…what does that make him? If “god” see’s everything, and he see’s a man raping a child, and does nothing to stop it…he must like it. Right? I will worship no god that allows a man to rape a child, because he obviously does not love that child.


    • Oh, come on Charlie…why not discuss it here? Are you afraid that the others on this page might switch “sides”? Are you trying to keep the good christians from losing their religion and becoming a self-thinking, rational individual? I think others would benefit from our conversation.


      • I think your questions are good and valid and should be wrestled with. And I completely agree that too often religion is used a shield against good, rational thought and often because religious people are afraid.

        But at the same time, when you set up an argument by suggesting that God likes rape, I’m not completely sure whether we’re pursuing truth together, or just lobbing flaming rhetorical grenades.

        I love this kind of discourse, and at the same time, I hate everything that I see on the cable news channels, where people scream, yell, intentionally misunderstand their opponent, etc.

        If that’s not what you intended, I apologize for assuming such. (The interwebs are full of trolls, and without context, it’s sometimes hard to know what is a real dialogue and what is not.)

        Having said all that, my quick answer to your original post, is that there are other options to the question, “if God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he stop evil,” than God likes rape. But first, we need to distinguish some things. In the original post, I was talking about the tendency some Christians have (and you saw it in the comments) to describe natural events as “evil,” and I simply don’t agree.

        But when it comes to personal evil – humans harming other humans – I believe that God honors us so much that God grants us freedom – even when it’s ugly. God doesn’t like rape. I believe God abhors it even more deeply than you or I. And yet God honors our freedom, including the freedom to reject God.

        Sorry that this is so long. This is probably another post.


  7. What’s interesting to me is that, according to my interpretation, Jesus addressed a very similar situation in Luke 13:4: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” The context is a larger discussion of righteousness and guilt. I think, though, that we can take this to mean that whenever any apparently random act of destruction occurs, it is very likely not a method of divine judgment.


  8. Pingback: For The Lord God Omniopotent Reigneth…Hallelujah! | Changing Horses Midstream

  9. Pingback: Avoiding a Cosmic Snowball | Charlie Dean

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