The word “miracle” also stalks post-tornado reporting. An ABC feature noted that although the tornado hit two elementary schools, Briarwood and Plaza Towers, it caused casualties at only Plaza Towers. How, the newscaster asks, did Briarwood end up with this “miracle ending”? (The families and friends of the seven children who died at Plaza Towers would not consider this ending really all that miraculous.) The answer to the newscaster’s question lies not in a deity but at least in part in design. Neither school had a safe room. But Briarwood had a large, open-air space between its four classroom pods to which children and teachers crawled as the roof caved in. Plaza Towers had no such space, and when the school collapsed, children were crushed. That’s not a miracle: It’s architecture.
A similar dialogue played out on Fox News Insider, as Bill Hemmer interviewed Reed Timmer, a meteorologist and storm chaser for TVNweather.com, who tracked the Oklahoma tornadoes. Timmer noted that it was a “miracle” that only one person was killed by another massive tornado, to which Hemmer responded, “Yeah. So true.” Timmer should know that it’s meteorological forces, not a miracle, that guided the twister along a minimally damaging path—and Hemmer should resist the temptation to assent to such an easy explanation.
There’s a glaring contradiction in those who appeal to God following a natural disaster. They see miracles among the wreckage, miracles they attribute to God—but the entire situation is an inescapable tragedy. If you believe your god could ensure that Briarwood (though not Plaza Towers) would have a relatively tornado-safe design, shouldn’t you also believe that your god had the power to make tornadoes skip over schools?
There’s another, bigger problem that arises once you place God in the picture. As Callan Bentley points out, a god with the agency to control tornadoes’ paths is a god with the power to send those tornadoes in the first place. The Bible concurs: “I form light and create darkness,” God proclaims in Isaiah 45:7. “I make well-being and create calamity.” These are thorny theological questions, but they’re inevitable as soon as reporters and politicians begin rhapsodizing about the grace of God while dozens of Oklahomans are in the morgue.
If tornado victims choose to thank God for their survival, I hope it gives them comfort. But politicians and reporters should keep their prayers to themselves. Politicians should work on fully funding the National Weather Service, NOAA, and FEMA instead. Reporters should tell us what happened and why—invoking atmospheric science, building codes, and human heroism rather than mysticism. If it makes you feel better, go ahead: Say a prayer. But if you want to help tornado survivors recover, open up your wallet and do something that will actually help.