I still remember where I was standing and what I was doing the first time I ever saw a tornado.
I was in my late 20s by now. I lived in the smack middle of Kansas in a tiny town notable mostly for being a convenient stop on the highway between Denver and St. Louis. I’d landed there after a disastrous love affair in Canada I’d had right after fleeing Biff. For a few weeks I lived with the online gaming buddies who’d invited me there, and then got my own place. I worked, like all the gamers in town, at the local tech-support outfit, which had a big building on the outskirts of town. I ran a 7th Sea game on the weekends and slowly acquired the goods required to have a proper adult life.
One day at work I was talking to some guy about his modem when I heard the tornado siren over the intercom. I’d been trained in what to do. I told the guy there was an emergency and to please call back, to which he replied “No, wait, please don’t go!” and argued with me about it. I hung up on him and raced away from my desk.
The building had large picture windows along the hall I had to take to get to the middle of the building. There, I stopped, as transfixed as a mouse before a swaying cobra, to watch my first tornado.
A fist of angry dark grey clouds argued and fought together, came together, and a finger of darkness reached tentatively out of that roiling mess to touch the ground. It wasn’t that close–a few miles, I thought–but that was a few miles too close in my opinion. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe.
I’d have stood there till the storm broke if someone hadn’t grabbed my arm and yanked me bodily to the cold server room in the middle of the building.
This storm was a mild one; it sparked a few small tornadoes, but nobody was hurt and about all the tornadoes affected were fields. But in my mind’s eye, I saw for weeks that finger of darkness, that slender, thin, trembling shaft of fury reaching down to the shrinking and unwilling earth.
I’m telling you this so you understand, if you’ve never seen a tornado, what goes through someone’s mind at the sight of one.
I was already out of Christianity for nearly 5 years by the time I saw this horrific sight, so I was spared the even more horrific thought that right now, today, courses through the minds of Christians all over the world:
I don’t have to think for even a moment that any deity was behind any part of that disaster.
As a Christian, I justified and rationalized things that today make me shrink in horror. The Flood was a worldwide genocide, but I somehow made that fit into the viewpoint of a loving god. The rape, murder, infanticide, and enslavement of countless people is likewise horrific, but I managed to ignore those passages or find “context,” that all-powerful and magical “get out of uncomfortable truths free” card, to explain them away. But those were things that’d happened long ago, before Jesus, who was kind, gentle, and always loving. Tornadoes and other natural disasters, however, were after Jesus, and if someone accurately claimed to have been spared death, that meant someone else had not been. If someone claimed that prayer had been answered and a family member saved from the rubble, that meant someone else’s prayer had been refused.
God was my parent. He was my father. But I could not imagine a father who allowed a child to die horribly, in pain, in agony, in terror, who selectively punished some children but not others, or who answered some cries for help but not the rest. I could not imagine a father who is so negligent and so cruel he allows children–CHILDREN, again, CHILDREN, little CHILDREN, innocent CHILDREN–to die in a disaster he could have prevented. You could go crazy trying to figure out how that fits into the omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god model of Christianity; I very nearly did long ago.
I am glad that I do not have to labor under the confusion and pain of trying to justify what cannot be justified, of trying to find some explanation no matter how lame and unsuited that makes the illusion fit again and make sense. I don’t have to blame it on gays feeling safer about coming out, or say it’s because God wanted to show off how compassionate he is. I don’t have to blame anybody or say monstrous things thinking they’re helping. Instead I can offer my sympathy and my full and heartfelt thoughts for these families, and spread the word about how people can help. Please think about donating if you can.
If there’s a bright spot anywhere in this week’s events, it is that people are good to each other and help where they can–with no deity required at all to explain any of it. No, no god is involved with anything weather-related in our world, nor in the aftermath of any of it. And thank goodness for that. If there were, if I really thought any god was involved, that being would have an awful lot of explaining to do.