(This post is dedicated to the people of Alabama who, once again, have courageously faced nature’s fury this week, while compassionately tending to the many needs left in the storm’s wake. )
The five W’s of journalism: Who, What, When, Where, and Why?
Set these questions in order, and they will provide an instant backbone for any story and solve the mystery of any investigation. My high school journalism teacher assured me that these five questions are the authoritative blueprint for untangling life’s most confusing conundrums, and they work every time. Okay, let’s give it a go and see if they really do help.
Who? The people of Alabama
What? A second night of destructive tornadoes in nine months
When? April 27, 2011 and January 22-23, 2012
Where? Birmingham, Alabama
It’s the last one that always gets to me.
Why did this happen?
If I were a meteorologist, I would describe in great detail why the weather conditions on the night of January 22, 2012 spawned an EF-3 tornado that leveled parts of Birmingham. I would explain that an area of strong low atmospheric pressure marching across Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama crashed into a warm front that had stalled over the area. When cold northern air crossed paths with the warm wet air of the south, the atmosphere rumbled unstable and produced the damaging winds and tornadoes that wrecked havoc all across the South where most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins live.
If I were a meteorologist, I could explain all that, but I’m not.
If I were a philosopher, I would say it was fate that brought the ill winds. No more, no less, just fate and we are all at the mercy of fate. But I’m not a philosopher, and never will be; they are a depressing lot and leave me with precious little hope for anything.
Questions abound in a disaster. Why did the tornado hit our house and leave the neighbor’s next door? Why did it level the hospital but leave the city hall? Why the grocery store and not the pawn shop? Why this block and not that one? Why does this keep happening? Why did so many die?
Why did I live?
Many of my cousins are emergency responders in the city of Birmingham. Two cousins are “Pros,” professional law enforcement officers charged with first responder tasks in any emergency. Two other cousins serve as “Joes,” or volunteers in a crisis. They are ham radio operators. They work around the clock to update citizens on current events and point them to available resources. Still, several other cousins instantly jump into action when their friends or neighbors are in distress. Yesterday my cousin, Sharon and her husband, Wayne, spent the day with a friend looking for her two dogs who had panicked in the storm and were lost. As Sharon walked the devastated streets of her friend’s neighborhood, she heard the same questions over and over.
Why? Why is this happening? Why is this happening again?
There is no answer to the question, “Why?” when it comes to natural disasters – at least not on this side of eternity anyway. If I were God, I could answer that question, but I’m not God. I don’t know why disasters happen in certain places. I don’t know why a tsunami devastates Indonesia but spares the United States. I don’t know why flooding destroys Thailand but leaves other countries unscathed. I’m not omniscient enough to know the answers to every why, but I do know this; asking why is as important to the healing process as is rebuilding the structures that were damaged by the storm.
Asking, “Why?” opens the door to finding meaning and purpose for all that was experienced in the catastrophe and for all that will follow it. While we may never know why a storm churned through this city or that district, we can know why we are here in its aftermath.
Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, said in his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that humanity cannot live without hope. He also said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’” Frankl was Jewish; he didn’t profess a relationship with Jesus Christ. However, he makes a significant point.
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’”
Do you have a “why” to live? Is your “why” big enough to carry you through the most devastating of life’s tragedies? Is your “why” powerful enough? We will never find the meaning of our lives by asking, “Why did this disaster happen?” We will find life’s meaning, instead, by asking, “Why am I here?” It is the answer to that question which gives us hope in the midst of life’s storms.
“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…” Hebrews 6:19a (NASB)
Jesus is my hope. The hope He offers is, and has been for 41 years, my anchor during the many storms of my life. He is the only one I know powerful enough to handle whatever this world throws at me, and He is the only one I trust to see me through the storm.
* * * * *
“Peace, be still!” the Master declared to the sea. “Peace!”
Jesus’ disciples faced their own storm on the Sea of Galilee in Mark, chapter four. Despite fighting off the colossal waves with all the skill and finesse their many years as sailors afforded them, it still wasn’t enough to save them. Their boat spun first one way, then the other, and quickly took on water. A capsize was imminent. As the swelling waves threatened to take them under for the ultimate death roll, the disciples finally woke Jesus. Surprisingly, he was sleeping peacefully in the back of the boat.
“We’re going to die!” they shouted in panic above the roar.
“Nah,” my brain always inserts next into the text. “We’ve still got stuff to do,” I imagine Jesus saying in the vernacular of His day.
Then Jesus stood in the face of Galilee’s most powerful force and said, “Hush!”
Jesus commanded the sea, and it was so. Calm descended over the water, but not in the hearts of His disciples. Now they were really in trouble. Their fear of dying in the storm paled in comparison to the terror they felt when a “mere man” yelled at the winds and they obeyed Him.
Sensing their fear, Jesus asked, “Why are you afraid?” Well, they’ve almost died in a shipwreck and apparently this guy they have been running around with can control the weather. I think I’d be afraid too.
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” Mark 4:41 (NASB)
“He” is Jesus; our very present help in time of need, our anchor in the storm, our Living Hope!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3 (NASB)
Here is a paradox of the Christian life to end all: God never intended for us to live without hope, but His hope in us shines brightest when we are suffering.
Stinks, I know, but it’s true. Our life with Jesus is set in a context of suffering; as was His.
It’s like the black velvet a jeweler brings out to showcase a bracelet of dazzling diamonds. The gemstones are hard to see when held in one’s hand, but they sparkle dramatically against the contrasting backdrop of black fabric. The black velvet highlights the magnificence of the diamonds, just as suffering brings out the magnificence of God’s light in our lives.
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 (NASB)
We all want to be rescued, especially in tragedy. We want one of Hollywood’s superheroes to come in and swoop us to safety assuring us that everything will be okay. Jesus has never rescued me from life’s catastrophes. I’ve had to endure every one of them without Him rushing in to save the day. I’ve wanted the happily ever after, safe in the arms of Jesus endings to my sorrows, but that’s not been my experience. That’s not the way real life happens. Sometimes there is no rescue, sometimes there are no answers, and sometimes there is only silence – agonizing, gut-wrenching, eternal silence.
So, if I was standing in a cul-de-sac in Birmingham this week and somebody asked me why all this devastation happened, I’d tell them I didn’t know. I’d tell them I didn’t have any answers, but I’d encourage them to hang onto Jesus in the midst of their storm. He might not have saved them from the tornado’s destruction, but He will see them through the fall-out.
After all, He’s still got stuff for them to do.
© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.