A neighborhood in Oklahoma obliterated by a tornado (CNN photo)
When calamity strikes, especially in the case of natural
disasters as in the recent terrible tornadoes that struck Oklahoma, there will
be many survivors thanking God that their lives were spared. Some will even use such an occasion to “give
God the glory” for their deliverance.
Others are uncomfortable with such God-talk in the wake of tragedy. Sometimes thanking God even may be an irreverent response.
As for "giving God the glory," I can understand the qualms
some may have with that. Sometimes I think we can be too fast and glib with
evoking the name of the Lord. On the other hand, I can understand it from a gut
level. There are those times when things occur that seem to be beyond us. We
feel that we have been visited by grace or rescued by a Higher Power. Someone feels intuitively that this was beyond
his or her own abilities to accomplish or to orchestrate – it must have been
the hand of God. That is an understandable gut reaction.
However, if we think about it, it can get more complicated.
“God took me off the streets when I was down and out” – but then why did God
leave others on the street? “God
restored my health” – I am always ready to rejoice in this one, but what about
others whose health was not restored? It
is natural in wartime, I suppose, for soldiers to feel that God gave them a
victory when the outcome had looked bleak – but what about those on the other
side who prayed and died? What about all the truly god-fearing people who come
I believe that God is always with us in the process, and if
things are good, we can be grateful. If things are difficult and if failure and
defeat rule the day, God walks through the valley with us (and we can still be
grateful). The problem comes if you start thinking that God is rewarding or
punishing. Things just happen. Sometimes, as Viktor Frankl says in his book, Man’s
Search for Meaning, life is asking questions of us – how will we respond?
Rick Bragg related an amusing story in his book All Over
but the Shoutin'. He tells of getting
this fast convertible when he was in high school. He wrecked it while driving
100 MPH, flattened it, and walked away unhurt. The man driving the wrecker said
“The Lord was ridin’ with you, boy!” His Uncle Ed said the same thing, “The
Lord was with you.” Rick Bragg said that with everyone saying that, he expected
the local newspaper, The Anniston Star,
to run a headline, “LORD RIDES WITH BOY, WRECKS ANYWAY.” *
In a radio interview in 1963 on The Studs Terkel Program, Dylan tells Terkel that “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” is not about atomic fallout, even though he wrote the song in a state of anxiety during the Cuban missile crisis. “No, it’s not atomic rain,” Dylan says, “it’s just a hard rain. It isn’t the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that’s just gotta happen…. In the last verse, when I say, ‘the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,’ that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers.” Here is a 1971 live performance from The Concert for Bangladesh. That concert, organized by George Harrison, marked the first benefit of its kind where celebrity performers came together to raise money for a cause. It was also Bob Dylan's first public appearance since the fabled motorcycle accident that allowed Dylan, as he stated in his autobiography, opportunity to "get out of the rat race" of rock-and-roll performance and touring.