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Article updated: 5/22/2013 8:25 PM

God and natural disaster: Whatever the spin, we come together

Under a blanket of majestic clouds, a father and son walk through the debris left by a massive tornado that ripped through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, wiping out entire neighborhoods and flattening a grade school full of children.

Under a blanket of majestic clouds, a father and son walk through the debris left by a massive tornado that ripped through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, wiping out entire neighborhoods and flattening a grade school full of children.

 

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Urban Search and Rescue workers comb through debris at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., following Monday’s massive tornado.

Urban Search and Rescue workers comb through debris at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., following Monday's massive tornado.

 

AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News, Brad Loper

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When it comes to natural phenomena, society seems to have this rule: Thank God for beautiful sunsets; blame Mother Nature for deadly tornadoes.

Some of my Facebook friends routinely post photographs of stunningly awesome cloud formations with reminders for all of us to recognize his majesty and give glory to God. But twist those clouds into a tornado that destroys towns and slaughters innocent schoolchildren, and the focus changes from the majesty of God to the wrath of Mother Nature. Maybe this is just sexism talking, but what a witch. As soon as Mother Nature finishes her tyrannical destruction, we go back to thanking God for the survivors, praying to God for the victims' souls and asking for God's help in making everything whole again.

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For those of who aren't rescue workers in Oklahoma, prayer is one thing we can offer outside of a more tangible gesture such as donating money to the American Red Cross or paying our taxes that fund government emergency services. Basketball superstar Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder does all three.

Saying he was "praying for the families," taxpayer Durant also pledged $1 million from his charity foundation to help tornado victims.

Just as not everybody can donate a million bucks, not everybody can offer prayers.

Having escaped with her baby moments before the massive twister destroyed their house in Moore, Okla., a smiling Rebecca Vitsmun told her story on TV to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

"You've gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?" said Blitzer, pressing her for the sound bite he apparently wanted to hear.

"I'm actually an atheist," the good-natured Vitsmun responded with a laugh, quickly offering a gracious addendum. "We are here. And, you know, I don't blame anyone for thanking the Lord."

"Of course not," replied Blitzer without explanation.

The Bible's Old Testament often portrays God as full of fury and ready to lay waste to entire cities, smite evildoers or even slaughter a generation of firstborn sons when he feels the need to weld tragedy into a teaching moment. Most modern people don't think God kills children and destroys lives to grab our attention.

Only a few extremists still argue that God uses deadly storms to dole out punishments to areas that deserve His wrath for committing "sins" such as staging gay pride parades, refusing to condemn a professional basketball player's sexual identity or, as in Tampa last August, hosting a Republican convention. A few less-zealous believers might explain away rain at a funeral as "God's tears," or even contend that God was voicing an opinion when he washed out the first Cubs night game.

We all are free to voice our opinions about God's role (if any) before, during and after the horrific tornadoes in Oklahoma. But one of the greatest things about our diverse nation is that no matter who we blame, thank, praise or ignore, we always seem to have enough people who respond to these tragedies by coming together to help make things better.

The way you communicate with God or Mother Nature is a personal choice, but the best way to donate money to the Red Cross is by visiting RedCross.org or making an automatic $10 donation by texting "REDCROSS" to 90999 on your cellphone.

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