Tuesday, May 21, 2013

When your answer is, "I don't know."

This morning, we sat at the kitchen table before school. The sun soaked through the window and I moved the egg cartons of seeds into its light.

We watched CNN video coverage of the Oklahoma tornado on the iPad, over Special K and my stifled tears, my mama-grief over the loss of life for so many children.

One bystander had captured the tornado's wild building and twisting on his cell phone camera. During the short clip, I quietly thought aloud, "Can you guys even believe the power of God?"

And there it hung in the air: the truth I had just introduced to my children that this disaster was God's doing. Indeed it was. There was no shooter to blame. No evil root of sickness in this world to which to point. I could have guessed what would come next.

"But why did He do it?" my son asked, not pulling his eyes away from the screen.

My answer was all of our answers. "I don't know."

I went on to say something about how God has His reasons for all that He does, but my words felt flimsy and brittle against the force of the images we watched. I just don't know why.

I'm not a fan of sheltering my kids from the hardships of real life, as long as I am exposing them in a setting where I am available to keep things age-appropriate and answer questions. That's what I did this morning. It was planned. But there are some questions for which I have no answers.

Frankly, I hate that.

Events such as these cause people to question the character of God, not just our kids, but also our friends, neighbors, the grocery store clerk, the babysitter, everyone who is processing this devastating natural disaster within our country. Tragedy has a way of humbling us, and people who have carried on without God suddenly allow the eternally planted heart-cry to arise inside that asks, "Who is this God? What is going on?"

Though I can't ever explain why God does what He does, I do have some answers. I know who He is, and what I've learned about Him through the Bible acts as a lens through which I can process and understand everything in life.

This morning, I read Psalm 103 and 104. Here are some excerpts. Read the words carefully, and take in His character, for it is the lens through which we must see all His actions.

{Psalm 103}

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children's children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

{Psalm 104}

Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
    you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
    he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
    and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
    flames of fire his servants.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
    may the Lord rejoice in his works,
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
    who touches the mountains and they smoke!
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord.

I may not know why, but I know who.

His power, His glory, His rule over this earth with justice and compassion and grace...it is too much for my small heart to comprehend. I find reading about His character so humbling.

Today when my kids come home from school, I'm going to talk to them about who God is, and how when we ask, "Why?" He doesn't always let us know. But trusting God means we don't have to know. Faith is being convinced of what we cannot always see: that He is good and He is love. It is not just that He is loving. His very being defines love. That means woven throughout this tragedy is love. It has to be. We can't forget that.

Until then, I'm keeping my head bowed, trusting that we will see glimpses of His goodness in Oklahoma soon. And if He doesn't allow us to witness it, I will still know who He is.

The little seedlings remind me of hope.



  1. Hi Leslie,

    I've been stalking your blog for ages. It is such an encouragement to me, and I can't tell you how many of your posts I've starred because they are so full of truth and wisdom.

    As a former New Orleanian during Hurricane Katrina, I struggle with the idea that God causes natural disasters. I heard from many people, most of them Christians, that New Orleans was suffering the consequences of being a God-less city, and yet even the Psalmist says, "He does not deal with us according to our sins." I cannot imagine anyone saying the same about Oklahoma, but the idea that God caused the tornado is troubling.

    Natural disasters, incurable diseases, evil inflicted upon others - all of these terrible things are evidence that we live in a broken world. They are not good, but God is good. Those things are not His intention for us, but He can redeem them and use them for His glory.

    This is such a hard conversation to have, with kids and even among adults. I would love to hear your thoughts on this further, and to hear how your talk goes with your kids.

    Thanks for writing.


    1. Erin, I couldn't agree more that the idea of God "causing" natural disasters is troubling. None of us understands His ways, and so I can't say He caused it or didn't cause it, but He certainly has allowed it. That truth is just as troubling, isn't it? Of course I didn't get into the theological intricacies of His will with my seven year old. All any of us has to stand on is that He does promise to cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him. And with my kids, I want them to know that in all the troubling questions of life, we can look to God's character for help. Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate the two-way conversation.

    2. One more thing. Times like these cause me to question my own definition of "good." Sometimes I correlate "good" with comfortable or happy. I'm not so sure God's goodness looks like I want it to look. And I'm not sure He doesn't sometimes choose illness or disaster as His version of what's good, for reasons I cannot ever understand. He doesn't have to prove Himself to me. Just another thought as I recognize that I don't get to define goodness; I am the thing created from the dust.

    3. love this second reply here.

  2. The following story has always helped me: There once was a gardener @ a currant bush. getting large, the gardner knew he had to trim down the bush so it could produce fruit. after he cut it down, the currant bush said, "Why did you cut me down? I thought you were the gardner here! Now I'll never amount to the Aspen or the Willow. Why did you have to cut me down?" the gardner responded: "I am the gardener here & because of that, I see what you can't. If I let you grow, You'll never amount to the potential you possess. I had to hurt you because I love you."
    Apply to this situation.
    Trials transform us into better people-Who He wants us to be. He sees what we don't.

  3. Wow, awesome post. Thanks for sharing, super encouraging! I love the book of Psalm, one of my favorites.

  4. So. well. said.

  5. this is so good, les.
    it's hard to equate pain/suffering and devastation with anything good, but if anyone can bring good from it, He can.
    i don't have the answers, but i know that i can rely on the Rock Who is a perfect, righteous judge, and loves us more fiercely than i can ever imagine.
    i know, too, that His wrath upon the wickedness of this world is great. not sure how that fits into these things happening, if at all, but it sure does seem that people tend to turn to Him in times of grief, trouble and devastation.

    anyway, i think it's interesting that i have been reading through psalms randomly, and JUST read these 2 chapters a day ago. good stuff.


  6. Hi Leslie, thank you for your words of wisdom (again). I shared your blog with my mother's group this week - I hope they enjoy reading it as much as I do. Have a great day, bec