Recently our city was hit with not one but two series of tornadoes in a three week time span. The storms uprooted century-old trees, cause incalculable damages to buildings, claimed the lives of citizens and destroyed the lives of many more. In the face of such devastation one is prompted to take a step back and try to wrap one's head around it all. It's impossible of course, but one is prompted to try. As I attempted to do just that there were a few things that continue to come to the surface, and I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.
Theology that Comforts and Confronts
Words cannot do justice to the awesome power of a tornado. It is absolutely ineffable. It is something that pictures and video cannot capture. What would take a crew of 40 people weeks to do (with every bulldozer at their disposal) the wind did in a matter of moments. The power of a tornado is almost literally unreal, but, unfortunately, it is a very real thing. However, an even more present reality is that the wind answers to Jesus Christ. "He commands even winds and water, and they obey Him."
The sovereignty of God can sometimes get a bad wrap for being a callus and un-useful doctrine—something that is strictly theological and not practical. I would challenge such a dichotomy. Theology (especially the sovereignty of God) is infinitely practical! What was it that brought comfort to these families who lost their loved ones, their homes or their jobs? Was it a belief that God was powerless against the storm? Was it that God was just as surprised as us? No!
No, the theology that comforted these grieving people was that God is sovereign. God is in control. God knows their pain and has a plan. He knows their hurts and speaks to their hearts. The sovereignty of God is a theology that comforts in time of great tragedy.
It is also a theology that convicts. If God is God over the wind (which is more powerful than I can comprehend), He is surely God over me.
Brothers and Body
Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to, in part, illustrate what it means to love your neighbor. We can err on either side of applying this to our lives—either treating people in a nice but ultimately unloving way or by treating people in an unkind and unloving way. It might be helpful to think through how we would respond to people in need if they were our actual brother or sister, father or mother.
I had this unfortunate opportunity when the first round of tornadoes came through. My father's office and parent's house were effected. I love my dad, and I wanted to do what I could to help him. I took some time off of work and helped him move his stuff out of his office, and I helped cut up a tree at his house. It just so happens that I did similar things for strangers (AKA: neighbors) after the second round of tornadoes.
Here the thing, though. My wife loves my father too, but she didn't leave the kids at home to help him move his office supplies, and she surely didn't operate a chain saw. Her love for him and her compassion for his situation caused her to respond in a different way, to meet a different sort of need. Not surprisingly, after the second round of tornadoes she was still helping in different ways. She gathered clothes and purses, stuffed animals and kid shoes to donate to people who had lost everything. (That's stuff that I simply wouldn't think to do.)
These are just a couple of examples, of course. Many other people served in other ways—with food, child care, monetary donations, prayer and in ways I will never know. Love for our neighbors moves us each to respond in different ways, and that's a good thing. That's a necessary thing. That is why we are referred to as the body of Christ. That's not an excuse to do nothing; that's a reason to the right thing.
I guess what I'm saying is DO feel convicted if you do not have compassion for your neighbor. DO NOT feel guilty if that compassion doesn't look like someone else's.
It is a well known story of recent church history that John Wesley and George Whitefield were good friends who (for a time) worked along side each other in the ministry. In the end, they parted ways due to theological differences, but they continued to hold each other in high regard. We too can work with people even if we can't worship with them. We can both work as unto the Lord, for the glory of God and the good of others. This is an excellent testimony to those both in and out of the church. It shows those outside the church that we Christians aren't quite so homogeneous as were supposed. Plus it shows those inside the church that we Calvinists aren't quite as cold as reported.
This is not to say that our doctrinal distinctions are invalid or unimportant. They are quite significant! And we should not shy away from making those distinctions. However, what prevents me from baptizing my infant or lighting a prayer candle doesn't prevent me from loading up a trailer or leaning shoulder to cry on. We may have deep theological differences, but a saving relationship with Jesus Christ runs much, much deeper.
I encourage you to take the time this week to think about your neighbors—even those across town. Lift them up in prayer, and ask for guidance on how you can show love and compassion to them that the name of Jesus might be magnified. Remember that it is He who sustains in time of trouble and in times of plenty. He is worthy of all our gratitude and all our servitude.
Soli Deo Gloria