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Christians in the Aftermath of a Storm

Among the many scenes from Moore, Oklahoma there were two statements that provided learning moments for me. One of the teachers who risked her life to save young students seemed apologetic that she had prayed during the most intense moments of the tornado. She followed by saying, "I did something teachers are not supposed to do. I prayed. I prayed out loud."

Just before this television footage, I had watched an excerpt from CNN in which Wolf Blitzer had interviewed a parent and asked if she had thanked God for the seemingly miraculous survival of her child and herself. When he was insistent and asked a second time she answered, "Actually, I am an atheist." She followed this awkward moment for Wolf by saying she did not question those who prayed.

If there is a lesson to be learned it is that no person-teacher, parent, child, news anchor, meteorologist, storm chaser, first responder, or awe-struck bystander should ever feel compelled to apologize for their faith in God or their disbelief.

Most of us who were raised in fundamentalist churches and spent our lives in the halls of academia have found a harmony of faith and reason. I am convinced that spending some time in the underbrush of disbelief enhances the search for rational Christianity. For those who dabble in philosophy it seems logical to find appreciation for either faith or disbelief as the two alternatives to certainty.

Metaphysics is the philosophical investigation of the nature of reality beyond the scope of science, physics, and even cosmology into a realm of the non-physical. To the non-believer these are the questions science does not address but the answers to which it presupposes. From its definition it has no place in the science classroom; it is one of five fields of philosophy for the mature student; in matters of faith it is that which we might attribute to the wisdom of God. To the fundamentalist, that which we understand should be no less the handiwork of God than the anomaly or miracle we explain only in God terms.

Those who embrace the Old Testament as being literal often transpose the Judaic message to apply to either Christians or Americans as a chosen people for whom God intervenes in collective or individual reward or punitive phenomena. A God defined in anthropomorphic terminology does not fit neatly in the framework of rational Christianity. Most fundamentalists refer to "God's perfect will" to cover the period between the "creation" and the vision of John recorded in the Book of Revelation with images of Rapture and Millennial resolution. Enumeration of the holocaust, genocide, war, famine, flood, disease, plagues, and acts of evil are some inexplicable anomalies of God's imperfect will.

In trying to write for a diverse readership I often us the phrase "a loving and indiscriminate God." I would not try to explain to validate either argument. I try to dismiss some phrases-God knows; God sees; God speaks; God moves; and other attributes that I understand only in human terminology.

Tragedy seems to fall in definable categories: Acts of God over which we have no control; environmental or structural human neglect complicit in the suffering from acts of God; and acts of human evil, greed, racism, intolerance, and cruelty. To define God as a loving God we try to differentiate between which that which he divinely causes and that which he punitively allows.

For most people of faith finding God and Jesus delivers them from whatever calamity or depravity they escaped or may have avoided. For me to be a member of the Church of Christ and teach Sunday school within that group was geographic and ancestral predestination. I found it necessary to depersonalize my relationship with an indiscriminate God. My father died from the absence of antibiotics to prevent an infection following the breaking of his ribs in an accident caused by a horse four months before I was born. I was raised by a loving grandmother, a single mother, and a nurturing church. I had a career and a continuing passion for life beyond my earliest ambitions. At some point I decided that my prayer relationship with God was not limited to intermittent times of tragedy and good fortune, nor in church attendance, and Sunday morning and regularly scheduled recitation. It was instead, academic and intrinsic.

The events in Oklahoma have showcased the innermost recesses of the human heart of people of religious faith and people who find no divine role in the awesomeness of the universe. Concurrent with these events we watched the coverage of political hearings, investigations, accusations, and argument that display the folly of the human animal as the ultimate but flawed handiwork of God's creative evolution. Predatory religious and political fear-merchants exploit natural disasters to find prophetic validation of God's wrath on a sinful nation.

I see the hand of God in the spiraling blackness of debris and destruction without question or anger. The death of 24 people including school children makes me sad, not angry with God. I am thankful for every life saved, for every parental hug, for the hope of recovery and the joy of rescue. Your dependence on God should never discourage human activity or the inspiration for good deeds. Unless your faith embraces acts of courage and compassion it has no redeeming value.

I have spent several days and nights in front of televisions in two rooms of my house, spellbound with contemplative introspection and emotional incomprehension. I have three daughters involved in public education, entrusted with the well being of young children. With every story of teachers covering children with their bodies to shield them from falling debris I have deeper appreciation for the emotions of my life. I have learned that saying thank you to a teacher or first-responder finds its way to the God in whom that person believes. Showing gratitude to someone who may not be a religious person who saved the life of your child or gave you comfort in a time of need suffices unto itself as a spiritual human interaction and eventually makes you a better person.

Bill Peach is a retired business owner who writes on faith and politics. He is the author of Politics, Preaching & Philosophy and lives in historic Franklin, TN.

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