The pictures of the devastation in the wake of the tornado that hit Mayfield and several West Kentucky communities are hard to fathom. Some have described it as a war zone, “like a nuclear bomb went off.” Hundreds are now homeless in Mayfield. According to one estimate, more than a thousand homes have been leveled across the commonwealth. Instead of families putting the final touches on Christmas gatherings, they will be planning funerals. At the time of this writing, there are 50 confirmed fatalities in Kentucky. The death toll is expected to rise. Churches that planned special Christmas cantatas and services are no longer standing.
Such loss leaves many asking: How could a good and loving God allow this to happen? And right before Christmas of all times of the year?
I’ve pondered much on the meaning of suffering lately, as I’ve suffered tremendous loss and heartache in recent years. My pastor reminded me in a sermon last week that suffering is good when it drives us to the Savior. Suffering is good when it conforms us to be more like Jesus—bringing us to a place of humility, repentance, and peace with God and with our fellow man.
Several weeks ago, I was in Mayfield on business. The office where the meeting took place was flattened. The downtown restaurant we met for lunch is unrecognizable. The church just down the road—one I spoke in several years ago, terribly damaged. The pastor is a friend and he shared on his social media page that he found a song sheet titled “All Praise to Him.” The church met 36 hours after the storm in the badly damaged sanctuary—standing room only since there were no seats.
To those outside the church, this doesn’t make sense. Why should anyone praise God in such cruel devastation? How can you bring a heart full of praise when the building dedicated to worship is torn apart? Families have lost loved ones and homes. Children are typically anticipating Santa and his reindeer and all the presents tucked away in his sleigh. These kids shouldn’t be homeless. They shouldn’t have the National Guard in their streets, helicopters hovering over, and debris removal efforts right now. It should be Christmas. But it is Christmas.
The other side of the Christmas story is that Jesus was born amidst a political and religious storm 2000 years ago. He left heaven to enter into a broken world where there are tornados, loss of life, and disappointments, in order to repair it. Jesus came not to be a genie in a bottle to give us our every wish. He’s not Santa Claus. He’s the Savior of the world and his mission is much grander than a fairy tale consisting of a jolly man with a white beard bellowing ho, ho, ho.
Jesus came to bear our sufferings and to suffer with us. He came to take on our sin, to redeem us, and give us a hope and a future. He came to reshape our souls to be more like him. And sometimes it takes a radical shaking, as painful as it may be, in order to reshape our lives.
Yet, we are not alone in our pain and suffering. Psalm 34:18 reminds us that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” There are many followers of Jesus across the commonwealth already helping those crushed in spirit. Those who’ve been mercifully salvaged from the storms of the world understand the import of extending mercy and aid to those who are now suffering. More help is on the way.