Today is the anniversary of the most difficult day of my life, February 5, 2008. On that date, an EF-4 tornado tore a jagged slice through the very middle of the campus of Union University, where I teach. I will never forget seeing the funnel cloud crossing the highway a few hundred yards away and initially thinking we had been spared, only to exit the back of the main administration building (with our president, David Dockery, and one of my best friends, Greg Thornbury) and slowly see the devastation revealed by the flashes of lightning.
As a professor, I can tell you that there is nothing quite like grabbing your own blood-covered students and trying to direct them to the triage station our nursing faculty had set up. As a father, I can tell you that there is nothing at all like feeling the fingers of young people touching your sleeve because you are the closest thing to their own fathers that they can find in the middle of a disaster. As a man, I can tell you that there is little in life that can prepare you for the frustration that comes from realizing that you cannot solve the problem that stands at your feet, as you helplessly listen to the muffled voices of young men trapped beneath rubble.
I will never forget the smell of the raw sewage pouring out of pipes that no longer led to dormitories. I can no longer hear sirens or generators or the sound of trucks backing up without finding my pulse racing or my breath tightening. When I finally got home that night, all I can remember is breaking down and crying with my wife. No one had been killed, which was no small miracle at all, and only a few of the injured remained in the hospital. By midnight, all of the students had been taken to local homes while we tried to figure out what to do next.
We had nothing but questions that night. Would we reopen? Ever? Did I still have a job?
Just after the tragedy, someone created this video to articulate how we all felt. I have to admit that I have never actually watched it all the way through. I can’t: I lived it.
Over the past three years, however, we have seen how God’s providence and sovereignty have worked to bring us back from the brink through the hands of His people.
In the wake of tragedies such as Katrina, Haiti, and so many other incredible events, it’s amazing to see how believers jump headfirst into the chaos and bring help, healing, and hope.
My grandfather used to tell me that faith in God was not forward looking but rather backward walking, that we moved into the future backwards, walking with confidence despite present challenges because we could see the faithfulness of God in our lives throughout our past. This is, in many ways, the basic structure of Psalm 23. David knows that he will dwell in the House of the LORD forever (v. 6) precisely because he has witnessed God’s personal care even in the face of unspecified evil (v. 4) and personal enemies (v. 5).
I will never quite fathom the problem of evil / suffering; other people in our city lost their lives in that tornado that night. Our blessings occurred on the same evening as other persons’ horrifying deaths. Theodicy is a hurdle that some find insurmountable. Providence, however, is also unfathomable, but relying on it removes the millstone of theodicy from our necks and allows us to proceed through life unstooped.