Why do bad things happen? Why do tragedies strike? Why do tornados hit small towns? So many people find it easy to ask this question of God in times like these. Why would God send an F4 tornado through Henryville? Some people try and get God off the hook by saying that He isn’t in control of such things. The problem is the Bible. The person who makes such a statement has a problem with the Bible. The God of the Bible sits on the throne of the universe. He is the one who is in control, and He doesn’t need anyone to get Him off the hook. Once we have settled that issue in our hearts and minds, we begin to journey down another dangerous road. This is the road where we approach this God who is in control, and ask Him “Why?”
This is what Job wanted to know. Job believed that God was in control of everything. He also understood that suffering was a part of living in a fallen world. He even said, “As smoke flies upward, so was man born for trouble.” But even though he made such a statement, he didn’t find it to be enough. Therefore, he kept asking the question that he had no right to ask, and it is the same question that the people of Henryville are tempted to ask now.
It’s the same question I asked when my wife backed her car over, by accident, our two-year-old child. It’s the same question I asked when sleeping on the concrete floor of my mother’s home the day after Hurricane Katrina hit my hometown. It’s the same question I asked when my brother dropped dead of a brain aneurism 5 days after that hurricane hit. But it was at my brother’s funeral that God rocked me to the core of my being and answered me out of that storm.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a day in my life that God did an incredible thing in my heart that has affected me in profound ways. I was leaning over my twenty-six-year-old brother’s casket, looking at him one last time before I stepped into the pulpit to preach his funeral service. I was talking with the God I knew was in control of everything. I did not doubt for a second that it was His will that my brother was dead. I also knew it was the common lot of man, that we suffer and we die. But that was not enough for me! Therefore, I asked Him, “Lord, I don’t understand! Why did my brother die? I’ve been doing what you called me to do. I don’t understand! Why?”
God spoke through the tragedy of my brother’s death. He didn’t speak in an audible voice, but it was as clear as if He had. The story of the death of Lazarus flooded into my heart. I heard the questioning of Mary and Martha—“Lord, if you would have been here my brother would not have died.” Basically, they were asking Jesus why He wasn’t there. Jesus replied, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” The next question that Jesus asked Martha, I could hear him screaming in my heart, “Do you believe this? Toby, I am the resurrection and the life, though your brother is dead, yet shall he live! Do you believe this? You’ve been preaching my gospel for years, but do you believe it? Do you believe that though your brother is dead yet he shall live because he believed in me? Do you believe this? Do you really believe this stuff you preach?” I lifted up my head and said audibly, “Yes Lord, I believe!”
That was the last time I asked God “why” about anything. God taught me to rest in His plan for my life. I quit asking God “why” and started asking “what.” You may be wondering what is the difference? How is asking “what” any better than asking “why?” It is an altogether different question. Instead of asking God why He took my brother, I was asking Him, “What do you want to do in my life through my brothers death?” Do you see the difference? This question doesn’t demand God give me an answer for what He does. This question communicates that we trust God’s plan for our lives, and we believe that He has a purpose and a plan for everything that He does, and we believe that in God’s plan for our lives, He desires to conform us to the image of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Two years after my brother died, a Lincoln Town Car that was traveling at 55 mph hit me alongside a highway. I was on life-support for sixteen days. It was a very traumatic experience for my family. My wife and I knew that God sent that car into our lives. We knew that God had a plan for our lives more now than we ever did. I should have died multiple times. None of the doctors thought I would live. I had major head trauma, collapsed lungs, a swollen brain, and a blood clot in each lung. They said if I did live I would have significant brain damage. One month after getting home from the hospital, we knew God spared my life and sent that car into our lives for a reason. We didn’t need to know why! We just asked, “God what do you want to do in our live through this?” Both of us felt Him calling us to Southern Seminary.
We didn’t know the scope of what God was doing. We just knew without a doubt that we were supposed to step out on faith and go, so we did. God completely changed the way I looked at the suffering that came into my life. Eight months later, my mother died at the age of forty-nine. It was another traumatic time in my life, but I knew that God loved me and had a plan. I was beginning the process of moving to Louisville. My wife actually flew to Louisville to visit Boyce College and Southern Seminary and buy us a home while I stayed in the ICU with my mother in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Again, there are books worth of material that could be written on this as well, but my point in writing this is only to show that I never once felt the urge to ask God, “Why”. He had already taught me to ask a different question. “God, what are you wanting to teach me? What are you wanting to do in my life through my mothers death?”
The things God did in my life through all of these tragic events are innumerable. Getting hit by the car was one of the most loving things God ever did for me. He changed my life in such profound ways, that if He gave me the choice of going back in time and changing it, I wouldn’t. If I had it to do over again, I would get out of my truck to get hit by that Lincoln every time. And even though I would never choose to lose my mother or brother, God has been the Father to me through their deaths that I would not have known Him to be otherwise.
On March 2, 2012, I was on the hill a hundred yards from First Baptist Church and stood, as though in a trance, watching the tornado that was headed toward us. It was surreal! I had never looked at something the way I looked at that tornado. It was horrific, yet it was majestic. It provoked feelings of dread, while at the same time feelings of wonder. I, along with at least 200 others took refuge in the church basement. Once it passed I emerged from the basement to discover that Henryville was in rubble. It never occurred to me to ask God “why”, until a news reporter asked me what I was telling my flock when they asked that question?
Thankfully, through all the events God has brought me through, He had already prepared me for an answer. The question is what does God want to do in my life, in the life of First Baptist Church, and in the life of the people of Henryville? Only fifteen minutes after the tornado hit, I heard a lady I didn’t know, say in the foyer of our Church, “Henryville will never be the same!” As I sit here in my office one month later, listening to the hammers pounding on the roof above me, I am praising God that what that lady said is true. I praise God that Henryville will never be the same.
So many people have suffered loss: One lady lost her husband, one lady lost her legs, many have lost their homes, and cars, and our children lost their school. We don’t know why! But we trust that our great God has a plan to work all of this for good in the lives of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. God has already done so many glorious things in the life of Henryville that we believe this tornado is a gift from a loving God. We have seen our community drawn together! We have seen our churches drawn together! We have seen the community drawn to Christ!
Our faith has not been shaken by drought or storm. It has been strengthened! We stand amazed in the presence of God. We don’t know why, and neither do we desire to ask such questions. He gave His life to save us from His wrath! If He loves us that much and is in control of everything in our lives, then we really don’t have anything to worry about. He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, will he not also with Him freely give us all things.