(RNS) God is all good. God is all-powerful. Evil and tragedy happen. Pick two, as the saying goes, but all three of those postulations can’t possibly be true.

As seems to happen all too often in a troubled world, religious people are left to struggle with these riddles of life and belief following the tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., on Monday, killing at least 24, including at least nine children, injuring hundreds, and destroying homes and buildings by the score.

People have struggled mightily over the centuries to make sense of the evil that happens on the watch of a God believed to be both beneficent and omnipotent. Legion is the ex-believers who cite the inescapable problem of evil in their explanations for why they gave up faith. But to this friendly religious skeptic, the persistence of evil hardly disproves the existence of a good and all-powerful God — provided we’re clear about what we mean by “all powerful.”

If you’re set on maintaining that a loving God controls every little thing, well, good luck squaring that with the suffering of innocents and deaths of children. But if we’re talking about the idea of love, the idea of dignity, the idea of hope, these endure no matter what hideous circumstances befall us on the ground. These are undefeated, unconquerable. In this sense, it’s possible for the doubting, the wavering, the skeptical, and the grieving to reconcile the power and goodness of God with the ample evidence to the contrary.

Not only possible, but extremely helpful.

“We’ve been through this before,” Moore city manager Steve Eddy said. “Our citizens are resilient.” Although Moore was speaking of the tornados that have struck his city in the past, he could well have been describing the human experience. We have been through tragedies before. And we are resilient, invariably drawing upon wells of faith and strength we scarcely knew we had to get us through.

Writing in Christianity Todayabout last winter’s Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, in which 20 Connecticut school children were murdered, Philip Yancey eloquently describes the ways in which Christian faith asserts itself, in the most consoling and uplifting ways, in the wake of unfathomable disaster:

“Tragedy rightly calls faith into question,” Yancey writes, “but it also affirms faith. It is good news that we are not the random byproducts of a meaningless universe, but rather creations of a loving God who wants to live with us forever.”

To his Christian audience, Yancey offers the hope of Easter, the empty tomb, the Resurrection. God, he writes, will restore all. As one in the practice of translating explicitly religious claims into universal concepts to which I can relate, and presumably all can relate regardless of creed or affiliation, I welcome the comfort and perspective these words bring.

But they still skirt the central question. Why did an omnipotent God allow Newtown? How can a vicious tornado kill kids when God is good?

There is, alas, no good answer. Unless, that is, believers can arrive at a deeper understanding of God’s omnipotence. They won’t have to look far for clues. No farther than Moore, Okla., in fact, where flawed but generally good-hearted people are going about the tasks that people always go about after tragedy: tending to the injured, consoling the grief-stricken, and beginning the long work of rebuilding their devastated community.

Christians believe that the people of the church are the hands and feet of God. It’s in this way that God intervenes and comforts in the darkest times. It’s in this way hope and goodness endure, no matter what. And it’s in this way that God, or love, or the transcendent, or whatever word you want to use for the ultimate, prove to be all good and all powerful, even in the face of evil.

They have, in fact, never been defeated.

(Tom Krattenmaker is a Portland-based writer specializing in religion in public life and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors. He is the author of the new book “The Evangelicals You Don’t Know.”)

5 Comments

  1. David Thompson

    Take god out of your article and all the concepts exist without the burden of an unrealistic magic man in the sky. More importantly, it is a flat out lie to say that god exists. There is ZERO factual evidence that you or anyone else can bring to bear that will prove there is a god. Without factual proof why believe in fantastical myths?

    Why do good people die? Because things happen in nature and you are either the recipient of gratuitous bad fortune. This question never gets ask when the unknown gentlemen wins the $338 million powerball. A lot of good fortune is going to befall people around him. They don’t deserve it.

    Every equation is better without god. God adds complexity that brings no value.

  2. There is good, and there is evil. There is God, and there is Satan. The proper question is,…”Where is man when evil strikes?”.

    If you live in the land of lies and deceit, you have placed yourself close to Satan. Here, Satan will help you.

    If you live in the land of truth and honesty, then you have placed yourself close to God. Here, God will help you.

    If trouble is brewing, then people have placed themselves in the wrong location.

  1. [...] COMMENTARY: Where is God when evil strikes? (RNS) God is all good. God is all-powerful. Evil and tragedy happen. Pick two, as the saying goes, but all three of those postulations can't possibly be true. As seems to happen all too often in a troubled world, religious people are left to struggle … Read more on Religion News Service [...]

  2. [...] Trăim într-o lume tulbure iar oamenii religioși sunt nevoiți să se lupte cu enigmele vieții și ale credinței. Oamenii au încercat din răsputeri de-a lungul secolelor să identifice sensul răului într-o lume guvernată de un Dumnezeu omnipotent. Tocmai dificultatea înțelegerii acestei probleme a constituit principala justificare pentru care mulți au renunțat la credință, notează jurnalistul Tom Krattenmaker pentru RNS. [...]

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