As many as 14 tornadoes descended upon the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex last Tuesday afternoon and evening. If you’ve never heard the tension in your local weatherman’s voice as the tornado sirens begin to wail and the sky turns a sickly green, it’s a terrifying experience.
We’ve largely subdued and modernized and Apple-fied our lives, so the prospect of something we can’t predict or control (let alone prevent) — a cold, erratic, murderous lynch mob of wind and debris — is the rarest of birds. The tornado gathers its strength and rage, then skips from neighborhood to neighborhood ripping our material goods from their tenuous moorings. The tornado slings roofs and trailers and people and animals as it cuts a winding path across a community. Like I said, terrifying.
It was only three years ago that I ran upstairs to grab my infant daughter from her bed as the sound of the tree in our front yard being broken in half filled the house. We rode out the storm in our laundry room — again, terrifying. It was bizarre, an hour later, to walk down our street and see trees and shingles in driveways and on sidewalks.
The trees and shingles just weren’t supposed to be there, you know? They were supposed to be up, not down. But that’s what a tornado does — it violently disrupts the places and order of things. It’s, like, terrifying.
So, I’ve been thinking about tornadoes this week.
Last Tuesday’s storms in Dallas didn’t claim any lives, thank God. But last month 38 people were killed when places like Henryville, Indiana, were hit by monstrous tornadoes. The devastation was shocking, even for a veteran of North Texas storms.
Following the suffering in Henryville, John Piper, in a blog post for DesiringGod.org, asked:
“Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states, and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?”
I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what happened because I’d never thought of tornadoes as God’s fierce fingers before. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve prayed in the midst of an awful storm, I’ve asked God to protect me with His hand, not from His hand.
I don’t know what John Piper prays when confronted with what we generally consider a natural disaster, but he’s clear about the source: “If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command,” Piper wrote.
Although it has been several weeks since I read Piper’s post, I can’t leave it alone (or it won’t leave me alone). In the wake of last week’s weather in Dallas, I’ve been considering whether those malevolent funnels were God’s fierce fingers or not.
I suppose there’s a lot of theological work to be done, navigating hermeneutics and dual wills and cross-references and the Ancient Near East context. Piper has gone through his process, and you can get a glimpse of it in his post.
My process, by comparison, is admittedly lacking.
I’m no preacher; I’m no scholar. I’m a flimsy thinker and a blogger-no-call-me-a-digital-philosopher-instead! I’m a kid who finds himself out of his depth in Big Boy Conversations.
And yet, the next time the weatherman gestures at a red blob on the radar and uses the phrase “hook echo,” I imagine I’ll be asking Jesus to rebuke the storm (Matthew 8:26) not his Father’s fierce fingers.
I mean no disrespect to John Piper, and I hope that’s evident from this post, but we’re opposite sides of this conversation. Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America? I don’t think He did.