In the mid-16th century, the Carmelite Sister Teresa of Avilla led a group of 50 Spanish nuns on foot to a neighboring convent in a rugged storm. Crossing a rickety bridge over a swollen stream, the sisters prayed that the bridge would hold up until they were safely across.

It didn’t.

Near the center, it collapsed, spilling all of the nuns into the water. As they managed to swim safely to shore, Sister Teresa raised her eyes toward heaven and said, “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it is little wonder you have so many foes.”

Sister Teresa was known for her wit and her sense of humor. The Catholic Church finally sainted her, but she knew also that the God in whom she believed did not keep the storms away. Neither did he play games with the laws of the universe.

Yet she trusted God to help her cope with trouble, and she believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that God would see her through whatever she had to face.

In recent weeks, we have witnessed a storm of controversy about God’s role in the violent hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast and parts of East Texas. Certainly there were plenty of prayers offered by those who saw that wall of water breaking through the levees into the streets of New Orleans. Prayers were raised all over the world for those who suddenly found themselves homeless and penniless.

Millions of people believe that prayer is appropriate and needed at times like that. We asked God to be present and powerful in the lives of those so affected by tragedy.

But then came other voices. Preachers declared from their pulpits that Katrina was the punishment of God visited upon a “sinful city,” its Mardi Gras and its fleshly excesses. They said that God was “purifying” the city by ridding it of its sinners.

While this message may find echoes here and there in the Bible, I could not disagree more. Those who call forth fiery images of a vengeful God are forgetting that our God does not indiscriminately snuff out the lives of the innocent in the interest of a “purification” project. God loved all those people who were in the way when the hurricane struck. When the levees broke, God’s heart was the first to break.

When presented with the choice between a vengeful God and the God of Sister Teresa, I’ll choose the good sister’s God every time – a God who loves his people, but who also creates and respects the laws of physics. A God who may not rush in to “fix” every human pain, but can be counted on to bring good out of evil with great regularity.

As a preacher friend of mine says it: “God is good! All the time!”

“All the time…God is good.”

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