I’ve read a great deal of pastoral theologizing on the Internet since the news about the tornado in Oklahoma. The themes are all familiar. And they are ancient, of course. As long as people have died in ways we cannot understand, we have turned to God and asked for or demanded answers.
I can never escape a passage from the Gospel of Luke when I hear such news.
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1-9, NIV)
Jesus did not withhold tears when Lazarus died, and he certainly knew anguish over suffering. There is a time to mourn and ask questions, but I don’t think we can demand answers of God. Or rather, the biblical witness appears to be that making such demands is not going to get us the answers we seek.
There is a man in the ditch over there, beaten by robbers. Ours is not ask why God allowed the beating. It is to get down in the ditch and tend to his wounds.