Thanking God for Surviving a Tragedy

Wolf Blitzer interviewed a survivor of the terrible Oklahoma tornado and asked her if she thanked God for surviving. “No,” she replied, “I’m actually an atheist…”

It always struck me as kind of insulting for people to claim that God saved them from a disaster. I mean, what does that say to those who did not? “Sorry, God obviously didn’t like your loved ones; he saved me, though.” Do the families who suffered need to hear that?

I know that’s not what people mean, but it’s kind of insensitive, isn’t it?

And, as this woman interviewed by Wolf Blitzer shows, it’s not even accurate. Apparently God saved the atheist before He saved some believers. (I should note that the woman said, immediately afterwards, “I don’t blame anybody for thanking the Lord.”)

If you ever survive some catastrophe while others die, please think twice before you say something that may comfort you while you are unknowingly insulting those who died.

15 thoughts on “Thanking God for Surviving a Tragedy

  1. It is a frighteningly primitive worldview to believe a deity watching humanity and intervening in daily life like this. I am always confounded when I hear a football player thank God for winning a game. Even more frightening are the Pat Robertson types who blame disasters with increasing frequency on the wrath of God.

    I might not have answered Blitzer with the same composure as this woman. She does not owe her life to the grace of God, but rather her own wise decision.

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  2. Pat Robertson says it was just that they didn’t pray enough. They need to elect more hate filled psychopaths to make up for that indiscretion or else they are in for more fire and brimstone.

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  3. Of course it is insulting, it is also incredibly arrogant. I did not mean my response to be anti-religious, merely realistic. To insinuate that you survived a tragedy because of your relationship with a deity is not only hurtful to the others that suffered a worse fate, it is also patently absurd.

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  4. “God saved me,” might be seen as insulting to those who were not saved, but only because of a lack of understanding of who God has told us he is.

    God is good. Only good can from God; he does no evil, nor can he. God protects us from evil, but not all evil. Some evil God allows. Why? To increase our trust in him and to show us the consequences of not letting him be our God. After all, that’s what he wants for us most of all: “I will be their God and they will be my people.” This is not because God is vain or needs glory. He existed before everything and is complete without us. No, he wants to be our God so he can love us and care for us. But in this sin cursed world, things cannot be a paradise.

    Does that mean that God arbitrarily punishes people? Never! So why then do some people live and some people die? Because they deserve it? No. In fact, because of our sinful nature – that is our broken relationship with God – we ALL deserve eternal punishment and death. Every single person has been born shaking their fist at God and screaming, “My way! My way! I hate you, God!” Only through God’s eternal love, which he ACTS ON by providing us a way to salvation in which we have to do nothing, is anyone saved. And remember, we all die at some point. “Saved” has much more to do than whether your life is extended or not.

    Finally, why does God let bad things happen to good people? A lot of discussion comes from this, and there are answers, such as discussed above. But another answer is the one that unbelievers will struggle with the most, and even believers struggle with at different levels: We simply cannot understand God. He is far, far beyond us, a broken creature (us) compared to the Eternal Creator (God). We can feel insulted and angry that God won’t tell us more about him, that he won’t prove beyond all doubt that he exists, that he won’t do what WE want him to do or be who WE want him to be. It’s humbling and, yes, a little scary. But it’s also comforting. God has given us so much, and continues to bless us – all the world – according to his plan and according to his love.

    What I’ve said here I believe. I’m not trying to sway anyone here, nor am I attempting to belittle or rile anyone. I’m simply giving you the Christian side of “God saved me”. If you’re insulted by it, know that it is not aimed at you; it is praise aimed at God, giving him the glory.

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  5. As a very devout atheist attending Catholic college, I wrote quite a compelling paper for a Theology class exploring the hypothesis that evil was not the shadows which God did not touch, but rather that as the all powerful Creator of all things, God was responsible for bringing evil into existence.

    My professor, a Dominican priest, gave me an A, noting only that “Were I alive in the Middle Ages, I would have been burned at the stake”.

    I find the subject fascinating, and agree that Peter’s view is the commonly held belief…but love the Theological discussion of God being responsible for evil in the world. Perhaps another time….

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  6. It’s a mindset I’ve never quite understood I guess. It seems to me that if you’re a believer and another believer says “God saved me” then logically the assumption is “And he didn’t save everyone else who were therefore unworthy.”

    But then again, there’s a lot about religion that isn’t logical, as religious people will even tell you when they say “You have to take it on faith.” So I guess it’s just another one of those things I will never understand.

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  7. Oh, that’s a debate that started thousands of years ago and will continue on to last day. The idea that “As the creator of everything, God must have created evil” is easily explained by God to us, but difficult to comprehend. Simply: Evil is not created, because it is not a thing. Evil is being contrary to God’s will, which is always good.

    As to the logical assumption that “God saved me” then logically the assumption is “And he didn’t save everyone else who were therefore unworthy”, there’s another debate that can go into the wee hours and still not be resolved. Again, the answer is simple, but difficult to accept and deal with. NOBODY is worthy of salvation. Nothing I’ve done, nor could ever do, will earn me God’s love. It is a free gift, given only because of God’s mercy. Why me and not others? I’m no better than anyone else. Not even a little. God says he wants everyone to be saved. God sent his Son to pay for everyone’s sins, not just believers. But not everyone is saved. It is one of the most difficult doctrines in Christianity simply because it makes no sense to humans. Those who are saved get no credit for that salvation, while those who are not saved are fully responsible. (“Saved” here means eternal salvation, and NOT the “God saved me” in the “I’m still alive” sense.)

    There is so much more, but this is certainly not the appropriate place to get on my soap box.

    The comment from a resident in Moore that DID catch my attention was, “I prayed like hell.” Hmmm… that sure sounded counter-productive.

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    • This is a prickly question indeed. Sometimes, I think, it’s a matter of how much you are listening for God’s direction. I’m no longer on that strong wavelength that I used to be, but there was a time I was meeting with a friend at church. We were talking about a number of issues when all of a sudden, I felt a strong need to pray. Hadn’t a clue why, or what about, but I said we needed to pray, and she prayed with me. I had looked at the clock…it was 8 pm.

      After about 5 minutes, I said, okay, whatever it was is done, and we continued our talk. When I got home, I learned that my then 15 year old son, walking to get a haircut, wearing a jacket I had just that day gotten out of lay-a-way, was held up at gunpoint a block from our home. That was at 8 pm. I often wonder what might have happened had I not listened to that need to pray.

      The weather for the next three weeks was quite mild…. I had time to get my son another winter coat, before it was needed. Yes, I thanked God for that mild weather. Did He do it for me? I’m sure not…. That wouldn’t be the point. The point would be to thank Him for those things that work out as blessings. Prayer is an underrated activity.

      The other overriding message, is to be sure you are right with God, as you never know what is going to happen or when it will happen. It might be your time, it might not be. But to thank God for the blessing of surviving, is not to insult those who didn’t. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Much of it beyond our understanding.

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  8. I think with all this lofty Theology we are getting away from the truth behind this post. People often thank God for specific events in their life, as if God literally intervened to bring those events about. Again, this is not a blanket statement about all religious people, but there are those who pray for something to happen, believe God intervenes on their behalf, and then thank him for making it happen. I still hold that is an incredibly primitive worldview, not far from sacrificing a goat to ensure a good harvest.

    The other side of that coin is the Pat Ribertson types who keep telling us that disasters are God’s punishment for our wickedness.

    Perhaps if Wolf Blitzer had said “Do you thank God that he chose to randomly let you survive longer in the grand scheme of his Divine Plan?”….

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  9. Or perhaps if Wolf Blitzer had not asked such an inappropriate, self-serving question to begin with. If a person wishes to volunteer that they thank God, Good Fortune, Mother Earth, and/or their Accountant, then that’s fine. Blitzer’s job is to ask relevant questions, not manipulate questions to force answers he’d like to hear. It helps nobody and IS insulting to the viewers. (Yes, many Christians included.)

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  10. “Only good can from God; he does no evil, nor can he”

    Tell that to Job’s family and servants, killed by the “fire of God” because of a bet he made with the Devil.

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    • No, Mattmarovich, that is incorrect. I won’t clog up Mike’s blog with verses, but google Job 1: 8-12 and Job 2:3-6. The Lord allows Satan to harm Job, but in each case, God puts limits on Satan. Satan did the evil, not God. What the “fire of God” represents is not clear, but what is clear is that Satan can control natural elements (Job 1:19).

      The deaths of Job’s family and servants can certainly seem cruel, but again, we cannot know the mind of God, nor understand him. In fact, the final four chapters of Job address this very thing. Any attempt to either give council to or lay charges against God are both foolish and arrogant.

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  11. Assigning all good to God as a matter of definition is exceedingly morally suspect. If everything God does is by definition good, and God is omniscient (which demands perfect knowledge of the future), then God would by definition be responsible for all actions everywhere, which makes them all good.

    So the holocaust is, by that strict definition, Good.

    I’m not buying that at all. It completely fails.

    But then omniscience and free-will are completely paradoxical concepts anyway, so the whole concept of God as an omniscient being who created creatures with free-will is farcical.

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