Early last Saturday morning (Dec. 11), while it was still dark, I was awakened with the eerie sound of tornado warnings that went all over Nashville (where we now live). We have heard these before.
Indeed, we get tornado warnings all the time here. Reports went out on the Friday that tornadoes might come to Tennessee and Kentucky. I considered them "routine" warnings. No one knew that this time these warnings were the harbinger of something most horrible. Until the past few years, tornadoes came to our area mostly in the spring—from March to June. But these days we have learned to expect a tornado any time of the year—from January to December.
I managed to get back to sleep, but when I turned on the television after waking up, news of deadly tornadoes in Bowling Green, Kentucky, some 50 or 60 miles north of Nashville, began to emerge. Indeed, in western Kentucky it was reported that over 70 people, including children, were killed during the darkness, many losing their homes, some isolated from fallen trees or loss of electricity, many taken to emergency rooms in hospitals plus hundreds of millions of dollars of damages to property.
As of Monday, over a hundred Kentucky residents were still unaccounted for. The tornado was so powerful that it lifted 27 train cars off the tracks in Earlington, Kentucky and scattered them across a field. Those who were awake when these tornadoes began descending on populated areas said the tornados had the sound of a freight train. Not all tornadoes touch the ground.
In daylight, one can see funnel clouds and possibly get out of the way in the nick of time. But these tornadoes—apparently a dozen or more—came in the middle of the night while most people were deep in sleep. President Biden has declared the area as a state of emergency, which means federal funds will be immediately available to those in financial trouble. It is estimated that these tornadoes lasted the longest and covered the largest area in history.
When I retired from Westminster Chapel, we moved to Florida. We later moved from Florida to Tennessee, partly to escape hurricanes. We didn't think of tornadoes. We had been through several hurricanes while living in Key Largo, Florida. There are no hurricane dangers in Tennessee—only hard rains that come from the aftermath of those hurricanes that have hit places like New Orleans. It is hard to say which is worse—the fear of tornadoes or hurricanes.
With hurricanes, you get warnings days in advance. That way you can drive away from the area entirely or remain at home to board up your windows and buy nonperishable groceries for when the electricity goes out. With tornadoes, the force of winds is much stronger, their path usually much narrower, than a hurricane. One gets tornado warnings only minutes in advance.
If the tornado comes in the night, the situation is scarier indeed. All one can do, if possible, is to go to a basement or lie still on a floor away from windows until the danger passes. If a tornado hits as it did in many places in Kentucky, one is helpless no matter where they are positioned.
There is a similarity between the Tornado Belt and the Bible Belt of America. Both are spread roughly from Oklahoma to South Carolina. Both have their origin in the realm of God's sovereignty.
It is a mystery why a gracious and powerful God would allow such a horrible thing as deadly hurricanes and tornadoes. It is also a mystery—but a blessing—that God would bring a Great Awakening in New England in the 18th century and the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky in the early 19th century—and not more often. These awakenings are without doubt the main reason that there is a Bible Belt in America.
When a tornado kills loved ones and destroys homes, many Christians naturally cry out, "Why, God, do You allow such a thing as this?" That said, large numbers of people flooded churches in Kentucky last Sunday following these disasters to demonstrate that their faith will not be deterred.
If politicians can seize upon recent weather disasters to voice their views of global warming, allow me to give my thoughts. The Bible gives warnings of the coming day of the Lord. Jesus warned of not being ready for His coming. He gave a parable of how the bridegroom tarried and the church (called virgins) were asleep (Matt. 25:1-13).
At midnight (the Greek means "middle of night") a cry was made, "The bridegroom comes." It woke up the entire church. Some were ready (called wise virgins); some were not (foolish virgins). I have long suspected that the best description of the modern church is that we are asleep. However, we don't fully realize we were asleep until we wake up.
Let us pray for those who have been severely hurt in the recent tornadoes—whether through the loss of loved ones or loss of property. I ask too that we pray for the church generally that we will not forget the warnings of Jesus regarding His coming.
R.T. Kendall would say he is first and foremost an evangelist, then a preacher and teacher, husband and father. He is a prolific writer with more than 60 books in print, including many for Charisma House. Born in Ashland, Kentucky, he holds a D.Phil. from Oxford University and an A.B and D.D. from Trevecca Nazarene University. His M.Div. is from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he has a M.A. from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He was the senior minister at Westminster Chapel from Feb. 1, 1977, to Feb. 1, 2002, exactly 25 years.
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