“There are some rough spots in His plan.”
I’m not the only person who’s reflexively rolled his eyes after an athlete or entertainer has thanked God for helping them win the Super Bowl or a Grammy. I personally don’t mean it as blasphemy; I just don’t believe God has a vested interest in the outcome of a football game. Following that logic, it seems silly to think He also roots *against* certain people. And if anybody has a right to feel like God is “against” them, it’s people like the real-life tornado survivors who appear in this admirable documentary, which illustrates how one can rise above anger and staggering loss.
“I rejoice in my suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance. And endurance produces character. And character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint.”
Those words come from Romans 5:3, and they also serve as the thesis for Where Was God: Stories of Hope After the Storm. The documentary highlights the experiences of several residents of Moore, OK, a town that was devastated by an EF5 tornado in May 2013. The tornado killed 25 people, injured almost 400 other, and caused about $2 billion in damages.
The film largely focuses on a handful of families affected by the storm, along with first-responders, meteorologists, teachers, local pastors, and more. The main families we see are the Newbys (Chase and Alise met and got pregnant fairly quickly; son Liam’s due date was June 6, 2006…or 666), the Moodys (James and Micah met and fell in love at an AA meeting and helped one another overcome their demons while building a family), the McCabes (Scott had been told he couldn’t have children, which was true until he married Stacey and they had a son named Nicholas), and the Carmonas (Kari lost her husband and a daughter during a tornado that struck Joplin, MO in 2011).
“I discovered hope through a storm.”
Kari Carmona’s older daughter Kayla is one of the more compelling figures early on in the documentary. The young girl admits to hating God following the loss of her father and younger sister. It’s an “out of the mouths of babes” revelation that strikes a chord. It also has a satisfying payoff when it’s revealed the Carmonas traveled to Moore in 2013 to offer comfort after that town’s own destructive tornado, with teenage Kayla ministering in front of a large group of people. The other gut punch story comes courtesy of the McCabes. But the couple copes with an unimaginable tragedy by acknowledging the joyous miracle that preceded it.
These stories — and others just like them in the documentary — are so compelling on their own, I really wish director Travis Palmer had pulled way back on some of his production choices. Practically the entire film is accompanied by the sort of manipulative, tinkly piano music meant to tell you that what you’re seeing and hearing is very sad. In addition to the families listed above, the film includes testimony from other people in the Moore community who were impacted by the tornado. Some are affecting, especially heroic Plaza Towers Elementary teacher Karen Marinelli who literally shielded her students from danger. Others feel totally skippable — not sure we needed extended input from various meteorologists to understand this was a very powerful storm — despite the film’s relatively slim 89-minute running time.
To me, this is a pretty interesting subject for a documentary, especially when you consider that natural disasters like the one that leveled Moore are commonly referred to as “acts of God.” Due to some unnecessary filler, Where Was God… doesn’t quite get to the heart of that matter or offer a substantial counterpoint. What it does do is illustrate how it’s possible for good — like the forging of new relationships — to come from the worst possible circumstances, and how the dead are able to leave an eternal, far-reaching impact if you let them. There will always be people who roll their eyes at this stuff, but my main takeaway is hope: more specifically, I really hope I would have the same positive outlook as the people chronicled here.