Published October 27, 2013
Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy that struck on October 29 raises the perennial question of God’s role in natural disasters. When I was invited to write this piece, my first thought was of the mega-blockbuster movie “Gravity.”
Beyond the spectacular visual effects and superb acting, the most memorable part of the movie for me was the scene in which a female astronaut (played by Sandra Bullock), stranded in space and facing death, considers praying but then realizes, “I’ve never said a prayer in my life. Nobody ever taught me how.”
Not knowing how to connect with a God you are not sure exists is sad. But even more disheartening is praying to a God you do believe in and feeling like no one is listening on the other end—the experience of many of the victims of Sandy.
As storm watchers tracked Sandy and predicted when and where she would strike, many residents along the eastern seaboard prayed that the storm would change course, sparring their lives and property.
Some experienced an answer to those prayers, while others perished and tens of billions of dollars of property was destroyed.
Are tragedies like Sandy convincing arguments against the existence of God, as many claim?
And if God does exist, why would we want to have anything to do with a Being who would cause or even allow such a disaster?
Here is just one of many possible responses to those questions.
At the most basic level, the vastness of outer space so vividly depicted in “Gravity” and the devastating effects of natural calamities like Sandy are powerful and sometimes painful reminders that there is a Being in this universe greater than us.
Someone asked me how I felt after watching “Gravity.” I answered, “Small.” King David in the Old Testament had a similar reaction when contemplating the expanse of the created world: “When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained; What is man that Thou dost take thought of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).
As both victims and those of us who were mere observers watched Sandy relentlessly pound the northeastern seaboard last year we couldn’t help but feel small and helpless in comparison to what we were seeing -- and that is not an altogether bad thing.
The belief that we are in control of our fate is an illusion that needs to be regularly dispelled.
In the early years of “Saturday Night Live” comedian Chevy Chase’s signature line was “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.”
Events like Sandy are stark reminders that “God is God, and we’re not.”
Some people respond to such reminders by rejecting God altogether, but the wise person will learn from them. As Solomon declared, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7).
I realize some are turned off by the thought of a God who would cause or allow a disaster like Sandy simply as a means to grab our attention and shout, “Hey, don’t forget about Me!” How pathetic is that?
Yet, in reality we need God much more than God needs us—both in this life and in the life to come.
If that is true, then anything God does or uses to direct our attention toward Himself is motivated by His love, not His hatred or indifference toward us.
When people ask, “Where was God when Sandy (or fill in your own disaster) struck,” I reply that He was exactly where He was two thousand years ago when His own Son was murdered.
Because God has experienced pain, He understands and sympathizes with those like Sandy’s victims who have suffered incalculable loss.
Yet, God used the short-term tragedy of His Son’s death to accomplish His good and eternal purpose for us.
It’s not always possible to see God’s love in events like Sandy, but that doesn’t negate its reality.
As C.S. Lewis once observed, “The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love.’”