Tornadoes and Tolstoy

It was a rough day here in Alabama yesterday with more than 150 people killed by tornadoes. Damages will no doubt run into the tens of millions. (My household fared better than many; we were on the extreme southern edge of the “danger zone” for tornadoes and never heard the sirens go off. We had lots of wind and rain but experienced no damage as far as I can tell.)

Bereaved and displaced people are, no doubt, asking “Why?” today and trying to find some meaning in what has occurred. I can’t offer the answers they seek, but I would like to offer some food for thought.

As chance would have it–I use “chance” in the Boethian rather than the Darwinian sense–my wife and I decided to make some progress on my Great Books plan by reading the Tolstoy story “What Men Live By” together while keeping one eye on the weather after putting the kids to bed last night. [SPOILER ALERT]

If you haven’t read the story, it involves an angel sent to earth to take the soul of a woman who had just given birth to twins and whose husband had died a few days before. The woman pleaded with the angel not to take her because her children needed her. The angel was persuaded and went back to heaven empty-handed. God expelled the angel for his disobedience (after taking the woman’s soul anyway) and said that he could return after he learned three things:

  1. What is in men.
  2. What is not given unto men.
  3. What men live by.

The angel lives as a man on earth for five years and ultimately learns these three things. In fact, he learns the final lesson after seeing the orphaned twins living more or less contentedly and prosperously with a neighbor woman who had adopted them after their mother’s death. As the angel explains it to the peasants with whom he lived, he learned the following things:

  1. Love is in men.
  2. It is not given unto men to know what is needed for their bodies.
  3. Men live by the living God.

This story seems to me to have something to say to the people who have suffered through the recent storms. (If you don’t get that from my summary, I’d encourage you to read the story in its entirety.) We live in a state of uncertainty and are unable to see the big picture. But through faith we can know that all things work together to bring about God’s purposes, even if we don’t understand exactly how.

Please pray for all those who were harmed by all the recent severe weather across the country.

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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2 Responses to Tornadoes and Tolstoy

  1. Rachel Wishum says:

    This week has been the first I’ve really had a chance to select a reading from the weekly selections, and on Tuesday I chose “What Men Live By.” I thought about that story quite a few times yesterday while watching a lot of the news coverage and wondering if those tornadoes were going to come our way. Reflecting on that story was actually very calming.

  2. stella coker says:

    Your words have calmed an internal storm for me today. I said those very words today: All things work together for good to bring God’s purpose for us. Kirk Workman a friend of mine told me about your work and already I can see it is blessed work. Thank you for the encouragement and I will join in offering blessing and relief for those affected by the storms.

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