Sunday, February 24, 2008

I've often wondered myself (Deaths of 58 in tornadoes is baffling if a God exists)

I'm sure many of you that read this blog will chastise me either publicly or privately but hey this is designed to make you think. I have often wondered why it is that many praise GOD if someone survives a tragedy such as a flood, tornado, hurricane, wildfire, or earthquake, and yet they don't fault GOD for creating the disaster in the first place. I used to think I was the only one who thought in that manner until I was able to read the following in today's Springfield News Leader.

The dozens of tornadoes that ripped through a handful of southeastern states during the night of Feb. 5 claimed 58 lives and wreaked hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage. But the news surrounding this extreme weather event was not uniformly gloomy.
In the wake of a tornado that ravaged the rural community of Castalian Springs, Tenn., an emergency worker was searching for survivors in a field littered with dolls. Imagine his shock when he saw, in his words, the "little butt cheeks move" on what he had supposed was just another toy! Instead, it was 11-month-old Kyson Stowell. The tornado had hurled him the length of a football field from his home, left in ruins. Amazingly, he suffered only minor injuries.
Headlines around the world celebrated his story. "Miracle baby found in twister's wake," proclaimed Australia's Sydney Morning Herald. "Miracle baby Kyson Stowell alive after tornado whisks him away," trumpeted Britain's Times Online. While Kyson's story was the most widely reported, there were other wonders as well.
A tornado that swept across the campus of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., laid waste to the dormitories, but none of the estimated 1,200 students in them was killed. Many people of faith gave thanks to God for these "miracles." "We've had some divine intervention," declared Kyson's maternal grandfather. And Union University professor Michael Chute insisted, "It's a miracle of the Lord more people weren't injured" on his campus.
Such statements are deeply puzzling. They seem predicated on a conception of God as a kind of gallant knight who rides onto a battlefield to protect the innocent against forces of destruction. Just as we would lavish praise and gratitude onto such a knight, we should, on this conception, praise and give thanks to God for his benevolent protection. The trouble with the analogy is twofold.
First, the gallant knight did not create the forces of destruction. God did, if he exists; he created the universe and everything in it.
Second, the knight does everything in his power to save as many innocents as he can. Given God's omnipotence, and the tens of thousands of deaths around the world every year due to natural disasters, God obviously does not. If the "miraculous" survival of Kyson and the Union University students is in fact owing to divine intervention, the apt analogy is not with a gallant knight, but with a powerful tyrant who presides over a mass killing but capriciously decides to spare a few lucky souls. "Killing?" you ask incredulously. Yes. To kill is to cause death. God, assuming he exists, is the creator of the universe, so he caused the tornadoes. And the tornadoes caused the deaths of the 58. God may not have directly killed, but neither does an arsonist who foresees the fatal consequences of his action. "Capricious sparing of lives?" Yes. If God spared Kyson and the Union University students without caprice, this means he had a good reason for letting the 58 tornado victims die. But what could such a reason have been? Were all the victims especially bad people who were deserving of an early demise? Not likely. One woman drove a school bus for special-needs children and, according to newspaper reports, "was very well-liked." Kyson's unfortunate mother, 23-year-old Kerrie Stowell, was credited by her fiancé with having turned his life around.
Was God's reason for allowing the deaths of the 58 victims to bring about some greater good? Perhaps the warning system for weather-related emergencies will be improved. Perhaps people will build sturdier homes in the future. But such measures wouldn't be necessary if God had not created a world terrorized by natural disasters in the first place. When faced with such apparently senseless tragedy, many believers take refuge in the thought that "God's mysterious ways" are beyond our comprehension. But if this is so, then we cannot claim to know that it is God's goodness at work when some innocents "miraculously" survive natural disasters while others perish.

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