Denzel Washington stars in The Tragedy of Macbeth, which opens widely on Christmas Day. In an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, this son of a Pentecostal minister said he asks himself this question: “What I do, what I make, what I made—all of that—is that going to help me on the last day of my life? It’s about, Who have you lifted up? Who have you made better?”
He explained: “This is spiritual warfare. So, I’m not looking at it from an earthly perspective. If you don’t have a spiritual anchor, you’ll be easily blown by the wind and you’ll be led to depression.”
He’s right on both counts.
9-year-old girl photographed before storm killed her
Last Friday night, nine-year-old Annistyn Rackley was sheltering in the bathtub with her two sisters as storms raged near their southeast Missouri home. She was photographed clutching her favorite doll just minutes before a tornado ripped her home to shreds and killed her.
Victims in Kentucky ranged from two months to eighty-six years old and came from at least eight counties. Among them were eight night-shift workers at a candle factory in Mayfield, a city of about ten thousand in western Kentucky. There were 110 employees inside the facility when a tornado closed in late Friday night. One of the survivors said, “I definitely had the fear that I wasn’t gonna make it. It’s a miracle any of us got out of there.”
In other news, omicron has now been reported in seventy-seven countries and is spreading at a faster rate than previous coronavirus variants. According to Washington Post figures, the US has surpassed fifty million coronavirus infections and is nearing eight hundred thousand fatalities at this writing.
As omicron spreads, the New York Times headlines: “Across the world, covid anxiety and depression take hold.” The article quotes a French epidemiologist who said, “We no longer know when we will get back to normal.”
Meanwhile, Oxford Economics reports that the “misery index,” an economic indicator used to measure the average person’s economic well-being, has grown to recession-like levels.
The anniversary of my father’s death
Are we being “blown by the wind” and “led to depression” today? If so, what does this say about our “spiritual anchor” or lack thereof?
One reason many struggle to make God their anchor in the storm is that they blame him for the storm. If he is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful, why are tornadoes allowed to kill little girls clutching their dolls? Why are pandemics allowed to ravage the planet?
I have struggled with this question personally.
My father died on this day in 1979 at the age of fifty-five. He did nothing to cause the heart disease that took his life. Over the years since, I have known many people to experience what the factory survivor in Kentucky called a “miracle.”
Why did God not perform a miracle for my dad?
If he spared anyone in the storms last Friday night, why not Annistyn Rackley?
“The uncompromised mastery of YHWH”
In Creation and the Persistence of Evil, Jewish theologian Jon D. Levenson writes: “We can capture the essence of the idea of creation in the Hebrew Bible with the word ‘mastery.’ The creation narratives, whatever their length, form, or context, are best seen as dramatic visualizations of the uncompromised mastery of YHWH, God of Israel, over all else.”
And yet, as the psalmist complains, this God permits unspeakable tragedy to afflict his people: “You have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust” (Psalm 89:38–39).
The biblical response is two-fold. With regard to the future, Levenson notes that the Hebrew Scriptures look forward to a day when “the Lord Gᴏᴅ will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from the earth” (Isaiah 25:8).
In the meantime, with regard to the present, we are to join God in the stewardship of his creation as we “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Levinson writes: “The creative ordering of the world has become something that humanity can not only witness and celebrate, but something in which it can take part.”
Jail officer led inmates to safety before dying in tornado
I do not know all the reasons why God allows innocent suffering. But I do know one way he redeems tragedy: by calling us to join him in responding to it with courageous compassion. As Adam partnered with God to cultivate the garden before the Fall, so we are to work with him in repairing it after the Fall.
John asked, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
This Christmas season, may I ask you how you plan to serve your “brother in need”?
In my community, Unite DFW is inviting Christians and churches to help every school, staff member, student, and family in our area receive the support they need. (For more, I urge you to read Rebecca Walls’ informative and moving article on our website.) In your community, there are undoubtedly ways you and your congregation can make a practical difference in the lives of hurting children and families. If you do not know of such partnerships, why not do what you can to create one?
Robert Daniel, a veteran corrections officer at the county jail in Mayfield, Kentucky, led seven inmates to safety when warning sirens went off Friday night. He then went back to look for others who might need help. After the storm passed, his body was found under the shattered building. The workers he had ushered to safety survived.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
What price will you pay to offer someone the “spiritual anchor” they need today?