Acts of God?

Wikimedia Commons Moore, OK Tornado

Wikimedia Commons Moore, OK Tornado

Why are natural disasters called “Acts of God”? Because they, like God, are beyond human comprehension and beyond human ability to effect. This phrase is not suggest that God is evil, but rather that God is the unfathomable everything of the world and universe.

This “God language” does not exclude agnostics or atheists, who stand equally helpless in the face of tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, and volcanic eruptions. This language reflects that there is no one who does not experience or look upon the destruction of the unfathomably fearsome tornado that yesterday struck an elementary school and cut a path 20 miles long and remain unshaken.

We humans are small and fragile. There are actions we can take to avoid tsunamis and other disasters, but there is little warning. Seismologists cannot predict when tectonic plates will shift, and where old or new faults will break open, splitting the earth as we might break an orange into sections.

Above the howling winds and rushing waters, the voice of goodness, or of God, may be heard. The phrase “God is good” also means that God is the essence of goodness. There is no philosophical strain in this parent and writer who sees good in death and destruction. But above the howling, all-consuming ravaging, “a still, small voice” may, at times, be heard.

The voice I remember best from the tsunami 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan is the voice of a young woman. This 25-year-old woman who remained in her watchtower, ceaselessly broadcasting her warnings that people around her move to higher ground immediately. She kept on broadcasting her urgent message, knowing that she herself was unlikely to survive. That is the voice of god or good.

There was in Japan, and will also be in Oklahoma, anger directed at the government, and even victims, for decisions made under duress and in minutes. There could always be higher tsunami walls and stronger bunkers. Complacency is not the answer, as warning systems work well when there is time to respond, but that time is not always given to us.

Another day, I will write about my father’s childhood in Illinois. My father, born in 1930, believed that tornadoes were increasing in force and frequency due to the leveling of the landscape for farming. He held this belief long before most recognized the human impact on storms and weather. Whether or not he was correct is the subject of great debate.

This is not a day to be righteous and correct, but a time to recognize that we are all shaken, to mourn, and for some highly trained individuals, to rescue survivors. Will our donation of blood or money help? Or do we mean these donations as gesture of empathy and solidarity, as we stand, helpless and empty-handed.

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