Where was God in Oklahoma?

Teachers carry children away from Briarwood Elementary School after a tornado destroyed the school in Oklahoma. (Paul Hellstern / Oklahoman … Continued


Teachers carry children away from Briarwood Elementary School after a tornado destroyed the school in Oklahoma. (Paul Hellstern / Oklahoman via AP)

In moments of severe disasters like the tornado in Oklahoma, people of faith will often speak of “praying for the city” or “praying for the victims.” As the massive tornado outside of Oklahoma City annihilated buildings including a school with students and teachers, some people of faith used social media to speak messages of prayer and hope in God. However, some atheists also posted in social media, referred to this natural disaster as a “gratuitous evil” or evidence against God’s existence. One atheist tweeted:

“NEWSFLASH—If god cared about Oklahoma he wouldn’t have allowed the tornado in the first place. #PrayForOklahoma #Atheism

So, are natural disasters evidence against God’s existence or his care for mankind? Some eastern religions, like Hinduism and types of Buddhism, will suggest that evil is ultimately an illusion. On the other hand, some atheists do believe that evil really does exist, and it isn’t something invented by cultures or individuals. On the other hand, a theist (Jew, Muslim, Christian) may respond to the atheist saying, “If atheistic naturalism is true, what makes a natural disaster, evil?

You may not personally prefer such an invent like a tornado to occur, but to call such a natural event like a tornado, “evil” seems to be delving into a metaphysical area of reality which is beyond the physical.”

When atheists use natural disasters as a time to rebuke individuals of faith, there may be some indication that their argument against God is more of an emotional objection, rather an intellectual problem. However, with some atheists, it seems to be a genuine intellectual objection that dates back to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and later, David Hume.

Some atheists, following Hume, who are watching natural disasters or experiencing true evil, will often hold that the two statements: “An all-powerful and all-good God exists” and “Evil exists” are logically inconsistent. But other logicians will note that there is not an explicit contradiction in these statements. The atheist is often assuming that if God is all good, then He would prefer to create a world without evil than to create a world in which evil exists.

The reality is that natural disasters and so-called problems of evils, are not just something for the Christian to try to answer, but a reality that every worldview, whether atheist, Buddhist, Muslim or agnostic, should consider.

Christian Philosopher Norman Geisler points out that, “The infinite power and perfection of God guarantee the eventual defeat of evil. The fact that it is not yet accomplished in no way diminishes the certainty that it will be defeated. Even though evil cannot be destroyed without destroying free choice, nonetheless, it can be overcome.”

Human beings may not know all the answers of “why” God allows natural disasters or other evils in the universe. Although we personally would prefer that such disasters never occurred in the universe, we recognize intellectually that angry feelings towards tornadoes does not logically disprove God’s existence. Religious individuals who have rationale for affirming non-physical realities like “evil” also affirm non-physical realities of “hope” and “love.” Ethicists acknowledge that many of the virtues such as “helping” and “courage” would not exist unless there was evil and privation.

Christians, who claim a relationship with God, wager that God’s goodness does exist. They have hope that the God, who experienced both suffering and resurrection through Jesus, will one day return to heal and wipe tears.

In moments of natural devastation like the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma, multitudes of people of faith will be praying, but they will also be grieving with the hurting, rolling up their sleeves, and joining together with other compassionate people to provide humanitarian help for those who are in need.

Dave Sterrett is the author or co-author of six books, including the Christian best-seller, “I Am Second” (Thomas Nelson, 2012), and “Why Trust Jesus?” (Moody, 2010). He teaches philosophy and theology at San Diego Christian College’s liberal arts program, Rivendell Sanctuary in Minnesota.

Dave Sterrett
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  • Spark43081

    Multitudes of people of faith will also be trying to figure out why god caused the tornado. Maybe because the Boy Scouts will allow gays to participate? Or something Obama did?

  • Well Read

    As a cancer survivor, and now entering my 50th year, I can tell you that God has taught me much, much, much more from my challenges and failures (and yes, disasters) than I ever learned from success or easy living. Not that these things are sought, or fun, but they have crafted the person that I am today, and in hindsight I can see the infinite value of these lessons.

    The difficult thing in this type of analysis is not to trip over our own hubris. “Surely we know that God believes in the exact same definition of love and mercy that we do, and if he’s not conforming to it, then he must not exist!” is a very tempting argument, especially when we are facing tragedy or pain.

    The reality is, that even though “God is Love” the reverse “Love is God” is not printed anywhere, nor is it believed by any Christian faith. The definition of Love is God’s and God’s alone, our reponsibility is to discern it and share it, not redefine it according to our own feelings.

    Sometimes God’s love looks a lot more like tough love, and a lot less like Santa Claus. I find huge swaths of people who call themselves “Christian” don’t deal with that very well.

    It’s like Jesus advice to the woman at the well, who he knew had had sex with multiple partners out of wedlock. He cherished, loved and accepted this woman, and forgave her sins. But he did not stop there.

    His final words to her were “GO and SIN NO MORE.”

    WR

  • drmwlau

    Full of ..it? Said the pot to the clean kettle.

  • Rongoklunk

    If there really was a god I’m sure we’d know about it. But the Christian God is as authentic and genuine as the thousands of other gods that the ancients made up. Making up Gods was a serious activity for early humans. Freud said God was a substitute for ones dad; a father figure that boys lose when they’re adult. But the shadow of bigdaddy never goes away. Then we call it God. And pray to it. And trust he’ll save us. Save us from what? Well death of course. Believe in HIM and live forever. Don’t believe in HIM and burn in Hell for all eternity. As if one could be frightened into believing the impossible.
    Gods do not fit in any scientific world view. And ninety-five percent of the members of The Academy of Sciences don’t believe in god either. At least they got sense and reason on their side, instead of ancient superstitions.

  • Rongoklunk

    Many years ago my beautiful little baby daughter developed cancer. Initially she had a neuroblastomer (or cyst) at tyhe base of her spine. The surgeon told us that she may need a wheelchair for life if she survives the operation. The operation went well, but the tumor and grown into the abdominal cavity, and another operation was needed. These were terrible times for us. We did all we could. And finally after many months of chemotherapy, radiation too, my baldheaded little sweetheart got well. And is now a mom herself of two great kids.
    But praying to God never entered my head. Never even thought of it. Or the missus. If I’d thought of it – maybe I’d have tried a prayer. but I didn’t. And I’m proud I didn’t. If I had prayed I may have attributed her recovery to my prayer. But I didn’t, so I don’t. The surgeons were fabulous. Science saved her. Not praying works too. It makes no difference. There’s nobody listening to them.

  • Slitherine

    We do not fully understand the universe and its myriad of laws and principles, how do we remotely think that we can understand The Great and Almighty God. Of course there are occasions where we may question His existence, but isn’t that why we need Faith. I know these people went through real suffering and i am not downplaying that, because my heart goes out to them. But do we seriously expect God to always dive in front of a moving Bus to save a live, put a giant clog on a volcano and airlift people to safety. He is fully capable of doing these and even more, but we are free creatures and God is always by our side wanting us to call on him, he would not violate our freedom and force himself on us. Having said these, bad and unexpected things happen in life, and that does not determine His existence. What do you think was said when Jesus was crucified? surely they must have said, “how would a loving Father let his Beloved Son suffer and Die?”. Only now can we look in hindsight and see that it was redemptive. He truly lives, and we may not know why this has happened to these people but i have faith in Him. Be Blessed.

  • Vanka

    Where was god?

    The same place he always is: NOWHERE!

  • Vanka

    A god that “teaches” by torturing, murdering, and inflicting suffering on his “children” (or creatures), is a sick and twisted monster, not a god worthy of worship.

  • Vote Yes Scotland 2014

    Seems ” Praise God and Pass The Ammunition ” is not a legitimate prayer.

  • Reader84

    Thanks for this!

  • DavidGonzales

    What kind of a God allows such bad and evil things to happen? There probably isn’t even a God in the first place, but if there is and He has the power to prevent such terrible things but instead lets people suffer, some more than others–well, I choose not to worship such a God. He doesn’t sound so good to me.

  • artworksmetal

    People who believe in god are always making excuses or using god as an excuse.
    As Sterret points out, multitudes of the faithful will be praying. Why? Why are the faithful always trying to sway god’s mind, or actions. “Please save my uncle”. “Please save my dog”. “Please save that lady in Arkansas that I don’t know but is the cousin of one of our parishioners who asked to put her on the prayer list this Sunday”. Don’t you trust god to make the right choice?
    According to Slitherine, god wants us to beseech him but then won’t force himself on us. HUH?

    To quote Pete from OH BROTHER: That don’t make no sense!

  • artworksmetal

    Yeah. Dang that Obama and his kind for ruining the Boy Scouts.

  • You_Mad

    Why does it bother atheist that people worship the way they want? How does it hurt you? If you were truly “okay” with being an atheist you would not mock others faith, or even concern yourself with it. An atheist quick to mock others’ faith is truly not happy, and has some sort of personal chip on their shoulder. Almost as if they are jealous in some sort of way that other people have spiritual connections, that jealousy manifest it’s self in the form of mock and ridicule.

    -Someone who truly doesn’t care what spiritual path you take, or chose not to take.

  • exbrown

    I doubt if an atheist would call a tornado evil. Tornadoes are meteorological events not serial killers or child molesters. A tornado has no will or reason. Tornadoes might make a Christian wonder about an all powerful benevolent God that allows tornadoes to kill little children or think that God is punishing the people of Oklahoma for some sin but a tornado does not bring questions of good and evil to an atheist.

  • tombukowski

    What a load of silliness.

  • rkevinz

    God wants to save all His children from suffering, and anything bad that happens to us during this life will be nullified in this life and/or in the next.

    If there is so much suffering it is because we do not let God help and heal us.

    Death and pain are only temporary. The love of God lasts forever.

    “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no apleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die…?” Ezekiel 33:11

  • Hildy J

    “Joining together with other compassionate people to provide humanitarian help for those who are in need”

    That’s because god helps those who help themselves.

    Of course the same could be said of Lady Luck, Thor, Zeus, and a rock. At least the rock is real.

  • drmwlau

    My mysterious “Full…” post above was in response to a post probably flagged and properly deleted by the editors.

  • eyeconoclast

    “The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.” — Delos Banning McKown

  • Skeptic21

    You_Mad,

    Uh, why does it bother you that atheists don’t worship the way you want?? Your post is illogical nonsense. Did the Easter Bunny bring you anything this year?

  • LukeInVirginia

    What sense could it possibly make for an atheist to believe in evil? I think such a person is just confused and reacting emotionally, as was suggested in the article, rather than following a path of logic and reason, as I would expect a true atheist to do. I see natural disasters, terrorism, war, famine, cruelty, and hatred all as examples of the universe being totally controlled by the laws of nature and physics, which can collude to result in all sorts of wonderful, terrible, and apparently senseless things. Same for evolution, love, compassion, and reason. I hold no grudge against those who believe in a god of personality and particular interest in the fate of humanity – but nor do I go to such people for explanation of good things or bad things. Claiming God is behind something is too simple and offers no satisfaction to me – it simply raises in me the very natural inclination to analyze the idea, and the conclusion never fits their premise. I have faith in many things, but God as defined by popular religions is not one of them. But to point to suffering and challenge a Christian for explanation is neither helpful nor clever.

  • LukeInVirginia

    I once told someone who was trying to convince me of the existence of God, that they don’t really want me to believe in Him – because if I did, I would hate Him.

  • larryclyons

    who says you need God to be good. Doing good is rewarded by its own intrinsic nature.

  • larryclyons

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.’”
    Marcus Aurelius

  • larryclyons

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.’”
    Marcus Aurelius

  • vijayk

    God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all. Does darkness exist? No, it is only the absence of light. Does light exist? Yes. Can I see it? Yes. Can I touch it, feel it, smell it, hear it? No only the effects of it. Where does it start where does it end? God is as real as light because He is light.

  • vijayk

    Darkness proves the existence of light. Evil proves the existence of Good. To claim there is no God only proves that there is simply because unlike anything else man has the ability to know Good & Evil. His downfall is when he attempts to define it. The original sin.

  • drmwlau

    I am persuaded that God created the evolution of atheists, loves them regardless and at least as much as He loves us who already embrace that love appreciating the awesomeness of it.

    Atheists cannot take full blame for their doubting Thomas response to God. I believe doubt and division were baked into the cake before there was space or time. My THEORY is that God was an immaterial cognitive force outside of space and time, but He was not alone in that description. I call the other cognitive force “nature” because I don’t know what else to call it, and it seems natural to me that the immaterial status quo would naturally be incapable of, and naturally resistant to, anything else. But here we are, in a material reality. Because? God didn’t like the status quo of eternity past and used the mysterious and awesome power He had to create a universe large enough to beat the odds against grateful cognition. The odds were great because He was opposed by the almost as formidable anti-creative force of “nature.” The participation of the oppositional anti-creative force in the creative process accounts for most of the negatives (disease, malice, accidents, pride in disbelief, conflicts, tornados, poison ivy) experienced since the beginning.

    A multiverse-sized God who loved the inheritors of a cosmic speck of dust entered into it as vulnerable flesh knowing and accepting the excruciating pain commensurate with our needs for forgiving grace.

    https://sites.google.com/site/nflresultsranked/dis

  • Kevin Roberts

    One of the greatest things for humans to grasp is the idea of indifference. Nature is creative, diverse, violent and indifferent to suffering. Term’s like evil and good are human’s trying to cope with the emotional component of our existence. However, if we don’t to learn to live and care “tend the garden” for our natural environment more human disasters will occur.

  • drmwlau

    To the anti-creative force (prior post) I attribute most of the negatives we experience, including, natural disasters, human unpleasantness and mistakes, blasphemy, poison ivy, etc. In our frame, most of us perceive the duration of this “evidence” challenging God’s omnipotence as endless fore and aft. But in God’s frame–from His creation of time until His ultimate defeat of the anti-creative force and to eternity beyond–the moment of challenge to His omnipotence may be likened to the twinkling of an eye, to page 1 of an encyclopedia

    https://sites.google.com/site/nflresultsranked/dis