Shameless plug for student

tornado oklahoma 1999The "theodicy" issue seems to come up pretty often at GetReligion, which isn't surprising since (a) disaster and tragedy are part of this sinful, fallen world and (b) the word "why" remains part of the "who, what, when, where, why and how" journalistic equation. As I mentioned the other day, the "Where was God?" question was sure to come up after a tornado leveled large sections of a Southern Baptist campus in the heart of the Bible Belt. And your GetReligionistas admire mainstream journalists who struggle to write about these kinds of eternal issues in the rushed and constricting realities of daily journalism.

So I would have nice things to say about the new Religion News Service follow-up feature -- "Surviving Disaster: Is It Divine Intervention?" -- about the post-tornado discussions at Union University and elsewhere. However, I really shouldn't say too many nice things because one of the co-authors of the piece is one of my students at the Washington Journalism Center this semester. As a professor, please let me say that I really appreciate it when internship editors let students dive and do some real reporting and writing. Bravo.

So I'll just say, "Read it yourself" in the Washington Post. Here's the opening, which ends with the hardest part of the theodicy equation:

As Kristen Fabrizio felt the vibrations preceding the tornado that ripped across the campus of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., on Feb. 5, she clung to her friends, who in turn clung to their faith.

"You can definitely see God's hands if you look at our campus," said Fabrizio, a history major at the Southern Baptist-affiliated school. "No one's supposed to be alive."

And yet many are. Those who made it through the storm thank God for protection. But what about the dozens of people across the South who died in the storms, who weren't so lucky, or blessed? Did God not protect them?

It's the kind of question often raised after a disaster, man-made or otherwise. Was God looking the other way when 32 were killed in a shooting massacre last April at Virginia Tech, or when the seas swallowed more than 200,000 souls in the 2004 tsunami? Put another way: Does God protect some, but not all?

Heavens, I just saw a photo and promo for this story on page one of

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