God is not an abstraction at Union University. Here, business classes might begin with a prayer. Biology students are encouraged to take creationism as seriously as they do evolution.
So what does it say about the nature of God that the campus was shredded Tuesday by a barrage of tornadoes? What does it say that no lives were lost, despite $40 million in damage?
Gregory A. Thornbury is relishing the opportunity to explore those questions when students return to the Southern Baptist campus, perhaps in the next few weeks. Thornbury, dean of Union’s school of Christian studies, says he plans to make the disaster — and the response to it — a catalyst for student discussions about responding through faith, and the opaque and sometimes baffling motives of God.
“If we didn’t, we’d have blown it,” Thornbury said Thursday, standing on the squishy carpet of the religious studies library. “We’re preparing people to become teachers of God’s word, to be missionaries, to be the leaders of relief organizations.”
As students returned to the west Tennessee campus to claim their smashed and overturned cars from the 1,000 that were wrecked by Tuesday’s winds, they marveled at the scope of the damage. All but one of Union’s 33 buildings had been hit; some fell to pieces.
They wondered how anyone managed to survive, and they wrestled aloud with the role God may have played in it all.
“I know God kept everyone at this school safe,” said Amber Campagna, 18, a freshman. “I don’t know why God let it happen — but I really believe he was testing every student here.”