To say that God is sovereign is true.
To say that He is in complete control over His creation is also true.
His character remains steadfast no matter what happens.
All His justice and mercy and love and holiness never change even a fraction in light of circumstances as we see them.
Today, I see tornado damage.
I see families losing loved ones, some who are just about to finish college.
I see homes and communities upended.
In Matthew’s Gospel account of the sermon on the mount Jesus is saying all the things that make perfect Kingdom sense and little kingdom sense all at the same time. He was blessing and making promises to those who didn’t usually receive recognition from the world. The poor in spirit, the mourners, the gentle, pure, merciful, peacemaker who thirsts for righteousness….the persecuted, they were receiving promises that wouldn’t otherwise make sense without Jesus.
In this same sermon, Jesus speaks about loving those who seek to harm us. He said that in doing so we’d be like the Father, the Father who…
“makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
As I read this, I know that literal rain and literal sunshine have fallen on the just and the unjust…or the just as I see them.
It was 6:45 one February night in 2008.
8 girls were attending a 4 hour-long Perspectives course even though the thing they wanted to do was to go back to the dorm and watch America’s Next Top Model.
That’s when the text messages started coming in from the dorm in Jackson and from families in Memphis. The tornadoes we had joked about that very morning were more real than we’d imagined. These weren’t melodramatic weather reports, they were warnings for safety’s sake. The tornado was traveling down the interstate 40 corridor headed east for Jackson. The power went out and the missionary from Peru finally stopped telling stories and started praying. We were sent to an inner hallway of the church because Tennessee isn’t much on basements.
And at 7:02, a F5 tornado touched down in Jackson in the middle of our campus before moving toward the areas surrounding the church my friends and I were taking shelter in. As the pressure changed and our ears popped, my friend Laura saw my tears and started to sing over me…
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.
We sang together then. Her voice was joined by 7 others around a piano we found in a dark sanctuary.
And that one hymn gave way to another,
“I Hear the Savior say, ‘Thy strength indeed is small.
Child of weakness watch and pray, find in Me thine all in all’.“
That’s when the reports rolled in, “Students are trapped in the residence complexes.”
“They’re saying the buildings are destroyed.” “First responders are prepared for at least 100 deaths at Union University.”
Families across Jackson took students in that night. Some had dozens of college kids scattered across their living rooms. By candlelight, students gave their name and the name of their dorm to put on a list.
No one slept that night.
As light broke through and the birds started singing again, the school did a city-wide head count of students to make sure the 1000’s of us were accounted for. Those families who had taken us in were reporting our names and class years to the Dean of Students. Everyone was accounted for; some in hospital beds on ventilators, some already headed home with their families, some making their way back to what was left of their dorm trying to find their grandmother’s wedding ring or their late father’s Bible with his notes still inside.
Just two weeks later, some students were still in the hospital waiting to hear if they’d walk again, but most of us made our way back down to Jackson to resume the Spring semester. Just like that…Just like that, lives were forever changed and some who had not known Christ as Savior saw the singing and the faith of their fellow students and said, “I want that!”.
CNN, Good Morning America and the newspapers were talking about the miraculous survival of Union University students. All anyone was saying in their interviews was, “God saved us! He is sovereign and made a way for us in the storm.”
Aside from our miraculous survival, there were other stories to report without the happy ending. There were families who lost their children and children who lost their parents. There were mothers who lost their newborns and newborns who lost their mothers.
And yet, God’s character remains the same.
Today, there are reports in Mississippi, in Arkansas, in Alabama and in Oklahoma of what tornadoes are capable of doing.
I get text messages that say, “I’m scared. The tornado is on the ground just north us of now. I hate storms. I just hate them.”
And I stand with friends in safety praying for those are face unpredictable danger, knowing that He controls and even commands the winds to obey Him.
And still…I am confused.
Faith. Grace to have faith.
His Grace to provide my faith is my only resource on days like this.
He is the only thing I know to be true on days like this.
David’s song in Psalm 55 seem like the best words for today.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”
Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.
If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshipers.
As for me, I call to God,
and the Lord saves me.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
He rescues me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.
God, who is enthroned from of old,
who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
because they have no fear of God.
Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
But as for me, I trust in you.