Identical books are arranged perfectly on the bottom shelf of a classroom whose roof has been torn clear off. Above them another shelf holds notebooks, presumably for lesson plans and materials. Everything else -- the counters, the blackboards and what used to serve as a floor are covered with debris, broken clapboard, and shreds of what was left behind at the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Seven children died there amid the dozens of casualties and countless lives shredded by the tornado that lacerated Moore, Okla., on Monday. The funerals are beginning, the stories are emerging -- both of their lives and dreams and of their final moments. It feels reminiscent of last December in Connecticut, but this time there is no madman, no face to the evil, no debate about revealing or concealing a killer's name. If anything, there are only the stories of courage and heroism, friendship and love, concern for neighbors amid the unthinkable devastation of the whirlwind.
And yet, we can't help but ask why. How could this happen? How can human beings be able to cope in a world in which the most secure walls can fall down and the most guiltless be targeted by the wrath of a storm? While we are tempted to tick off the reasons that these victims are different from us in circumstances or in choices they made, we know that the deeper truth is that for all the precautions we can take, so much more is beyond our control than in our power.
Millennia ago, these questions and the fears behind them were the basis for one of the most powerful and idiosyncratic books in the Bible -- the Book of Job. Job is a man who by all descriptions leads an exemplary life, blessed with plenty and full of gratitude and praise for G*d. Despite these qualities, in fact, because of them, G*d is convinced by an Adversarial Angel to visit upon this faithful servant all manner of loss and suffering to see if he will continue to praise his Creator. He resists in the early going, but as he sits covered in boils, bereft of his children and fortune, Job indeed cries foul. Job maintains that he is guiltless and demands that G*d answer for his travails, but his companions insist that he must deserve punishment and justify his fate. The words spoken by Job's interlocutors echo the theology found throughout the Bible and it seems that perhaps the purpose of the book might be to teach us that even catastrophic suffering must make a person look inward or at least doubt his or herself. And then G*d shows up and speaks to Job from out of a Whirlwind.
What is heard is not a justification, but a rebuke of his companions, a validation of his cries and an affirmation of the mystery. In an evocative and lyrical description of the awe of Creation and nature, the Divine voice neither takes blame, nor casts blame for suffering. We are left once more with no answers, only the possibility of responses.
Even as we move on from this week, our nation prepares for its celebration of Memorial Day. This occasion for remembering those who fell in service to our country may seem far removed from the aftermath of a natural disaster. However, despite the different circumstances, those who gave their lives to defend our country from harm and those whose lives were ripped away as they sought shelter have in common Job's message: the senselessness of who perishes and who survives. And they also have in common the command to remember, the responsibility to face the darkness, to tell the stories, to lift up the memories and to direct our faith toward the good in each other even as we stand before the whirlwind.
May the bereft find comfort in its time, may there be a healing of body and soul, may acts of kindness and memory inspire us to draw out our best selves and to strive to mend a broken world.