What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A stunned town and a distraught nation cry out in anguish this morning. Yet another tornado has hit Moore, a suburban community on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. This is the third strike in recent years, and easily the most deadly. The May 3, 1999 tornado, an EF5 (wind speeds exceeding 200 mph), destroyed 8000 homes and took 36 lives, inflicting property losses exceeding $1B. On May 7, 2003, an F3 tornado passed through town, causing injuries and damage but no fatalities.
Yesterday’s event looks to dwarf those tragedies. Fifty people, including many children, have already been reported dead. We’re told to expect another forty, if not more. Hundreds if not thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed. Over coming days, the picture will clarify. We’ll know just how many died. We’ll understand why and how the two schools at the center of the story were damaged, and why casualties at the one school greatly exceeded those at the other. Post-event assessments of the tornado’s wind speeds and the property loss estimates will converge and stabilize. We’ll have thoughts about the quality of the forecasts and the content and wording of the warnings.
Eventually there’ll be plenty of time to ponder all that, maybe even blog about it. First, though, before the analysis of the weather and the engineering, before the second-guessing, before the effort to build resilience in Moore and elsewhere, there ought to be time to grieve and to mourn… and to seek some measure of comfort. But when it comes to comfort, we find that mere words don’t cut it. We’re told touch helps… and it does… but touch falls short. Being present, empathizing, sharing pain… necessary, but in no way sufficient. The pain and loss remain.
So the question Where can comfort be found? has challenged humankind throughout history.
Turns out that in 1563, a young man (in only his late twenties), after considerable prayer and reflection, decided he’d been given the answer. His name? Zacharias Ursinus (nee Baer). He’d been commissioned by Elector Frederick III, sovereign of the Electoral Palatinate from 1559 to 1576, to develop a Protestant confessional document, known today as the Heidelberg Catechism. He was so struck by what he found, he saw it as so foundational to all of life, that he formulated the notion as Question and Answer 1, an encapsulation or summary of the catechism as a whole:
Q1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A1. That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
Perhaps most days, you and I might be inclined to duly note this and move on. But it could be that today, associating all those Moore school kids with our own children and grandchildren, that you and I might take some time for reflection, or want to dig a bit deeper into the fuller version to the answer of question 1 (only an excerpt is provided here.) And Ursinus’ answer, that is, the full answer, no different from the master’s thesis or Ph.D. of today, is thoroughly footnoted with Biblical references. We might even be curious about the answer to his Heidelberg Catechism Question 2:
Q2. What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
Today… maybe most days… our greatest need is for comfort.