People have developed better safe places with storm shelters and basements becoming more popular than they were in the mid-50's when the Ruskin Heights tornado tore apart my aunt and uncle's house. Technology continues to improve, helping to create earlier warnings and alerts. Systems and organizations of response (such as the DOC's Week of Compassion!) have become better organized and quicker at responding, saving lives and drawing together communities from around the world. Yet we still continue to operate with poor, immature and sometimes downright awful theology as we strive to understand the "why" of it all when the proverbial and actual dust has settled from such a force of nature.
Don't get me wrong, its essential that we try to make sense of it all, especially as faithful people. However, in our instant gratification world we are far too quick to jump to easy (and bad) explanations, because that's well, EASIER than working through a complex set of questions that sometimes may never get fully answered. Most of us aren't even jumping to the same (horrendous) conclusions of Pat Robertson, or Westboro Baptist Church, blaming an act of nature and complex weather systems on a few people who don't pray enough or individuals who support an openly gay athlete, but we still listen to the bad theology happening inside our head on a daily basis.
Just two years ago Joplin, MO was ravaged by a similarly horrible tornado, tearing apart the town. One young woman left Joplin and eventually arrived in Moore, OK for work - and survived THIS tornado in 2013 as well! I want to think that she was "living right," because, seriously, who lives through TWO F5 tornadoes in two years? Or we want to say that "God only gives [her] what [she] can handle" (or some equally awful cliche). However, deep down, deep down... we know that's not right. Those are just the easy answers, the cheap theology that sits at the top of our brain to spout off when we don't want to, or feel incapable of digging deeper into the parts that might not have the answers we want (at best) or have answers at all (this sucks).
I can't help but think of Job in this story - and the eternal question of "why bad things happen to good people". Job was "living right," a wealthy, honest man with plenty of sheep, camels, cattle, donkeys, a means of livelihood and a huge family of children from his beautiful wife to support. Like us, (not all the time, but often enough) Job's friends blame his disease, loss of family and poverty on sin, some way Job has ticked off God, or something HE has done wrong and for a moment Job begins to believe them. However, the beauty of the story is that it corrects this ancient misunderstanding that suffering MUST BE GOD'S PUNISHMENT or that OUR FAITH IS CONTINGENT upon Divine blessing and/or a lack of bad occasions and circumstances.
I don't believe in a god that created a tornado as a form of punishment, for anyone. I don't believe in a god that set certain people in particular locations so as to survive the storm because they were more deserving than those that didn't survive. I don't believe in a god that only sends blessings in ways we can "measure," a nice house, or a successful career, or a house two blocks away from the path of the tornado. And if I'm truly a follower of the crucified and resurrected Christ who redeems and brings us all back to oneness with the Divine, then I don't believe in a god that punishes at all.
I believe in God who created a world and universe often beyond our imagination that includes unpredictable and uncontrollable forces of nature in which we find our being and source of life. I believe in God who created the most amazing pieces of nature that are capable of inexplicable beauty and devastating loss all at the same time; pieces that do not exist without the other. I believe in God who sat with every single woman, child, man, teenager, grandparent, baby and the like as the storm raged, sitting with them and us as Christ sat with humanity on the storm of the cross. I believe in God who works in and through the many, many people who immediately acted, racing to save lives regardless of age, gender, nationality, economic status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, race, or even species. I believe in God who rejoices with those who survived and are reunited, but mourns and grieves, and cries right along with those who must face the loss of a loved one. I believe in God who is alive and well within the multitudes of people working together as one to bring life, wholeness and hope back to this community. I believe in God who will continue this Spirit of life for each and every one of us, eternally, throughout this life and even beyond what we can imagine.