(This is a reprint of a post I did on my Facebook Page, Abraham’s Journey on May 21, 2013, in the wake of deadly tornadoes that swept through Oklahoma last year. I reprint it because it is a contemplation on the meaning of suffering that I think we need to be thinking of)
But there are a few things I have seen that may help. In the fall of 1997, after giving my definitive yes that, if these things really were going to happen, I would publicly go and do whatever God required of me, the angel who instructs me was sent and took me through the whole of creation and the universe. It was stunning. Most of it I did not understand. It was like trying to explain to a four-year-old how the engine in a car works. But if the child is incapable of grasping the intricacies and wonder of the engine, he can understand that it makes the car go. I have written of it obliquely in a piece I wrote on the Book of Job. A key that I did understand is that, without interfering in our free will, God orders all things – and I literally mean everything – to call us to salvation. At one point during that visitation I was shown some natural disasters – and the incredible grace that God sends when they come. For a time, people behave as God intends us to, working together to help each other without regard for the things that normally divide us. Incredible graces are extended during these times and many souls that were lost are reclaimed to eternity. People see each other as God intends – as true brothers and sisters who are all in it together. Though some are more heroic than others, any who try to act as if they are the titans, dispensing mercy like some petty god, are usually brought back to the reality that, for that time, all in it are the less fortunate. People live solidarity. I saw that most souls in a disaster are reclaimed to eternity through that extraordinary grace. But there are some so wholly given over to satan that they exploit tragedy flamboyantly. These are the looters and thieves. Woe to them, but they do not touch the souls of those reclaimed to God. Satan rejoices in the temporal suffering inflicted on man during these times, yet rages over all the souls lost to him.Just after the turn of the millennium I was warned to expect a noticeable increase in the number of untimely deaths leading up to the Storm. It was explained to me that this was a mercy, not a punishment. Some are not strong enough to weather the storm with their soul intact, so among these God was waiting for them to enter what would be their last state of grace, then plucking them so they would not be lost to eternity.
None of this can beguile anyone from grief. My mother died the day before Mother’s Day last year (2012) and I was devastated. For decades we had a strained relationship, then in the last few years of her life it became sweet and unstrained again, like when I was a little boy and she would tell me stories or take me to concerts or hold my hand while showing me the fish ponds. I confess that, as often as I tell people no one is exempt from the consequences of the storm, part of me thought I was. I was not. There were many miracles in the last week of her life – and all who were there came to know there is heaven. Having had the mercy of the sweetness returning between Mom and me, I am grateful that the night she died, I sang her to sleep. And I weep as I write this, for it is a great grief.
Those of us who have not lost a child cannot grasp the unfathomable grief of those who have – and that is a mercy. But the horror is that we can imagine it. When my dear son was just a year old, he exhibited symptoms of a very rare, but invariably fatal disease. He had to be taken into the hospital for testing for a few days to determine if that was the cause. He already had his magnetic cheerfulness, a charisma that sparks joy in those he encounters. Those few days were perhaps the darkest night of the soul I have ever lived. At the hospital, before we knew he was going to be okay, we were there and he was eagerly laughing with his nurse then playing vigorously with a balloon. I could not hold back the sobs when his nurse had to turn away because she had broken into tears over the “sweet little guy.”
I am always uncomfortable when survivors of a tragedy speak of God’s grace to explain their survival. I have certainly seen the grace that abounds in such situations in a unique way. But I worry that thanking God for mere physical survival somehow discounts the more terrible grace that those who have suffered loss have to bear – and theirs is often a greater grace. Better to thank God for the grace of all working together as true brothers and sisters for a short time, I think. I don’t know.
Grief is a mystery and there are many sorrows to be borne in these shadowlands that are prelude to eternity. I know with certainty that heaven IS – and despite that knowledge have grieved mightily. Yet I also know that Jesus, who is God – and holds the keys of life and death – upon hearing that His friend Lazarus had died…well…Jesus wept.
After having toured all of creation, I do not understand whether natural disasters are something God allows or whether satan inflicts them on us for the transient pleasure he gets from our suffering – or whether they serve some other purpose altogether. Certainly it seems that terrible physical storms have, over the last decade, foreshadowed the great spiritual storm that is upon us. I only know that grace abounds in them in the midst of terrible sorrow in some mysterious partnership.
And I also know that when the tornadoes swept across the plains of Oklahoma yesterday, Jesus wept.