Monday, September 12, 2005

blaming God

somewhat like the apostle thomas, my friend Icarus often plays 'devil's advocate' in speaking out loud the questions that riccochet around inside the hearts of people so socialized and well-behaved that they remain silent in spite of the war within. as i'm sure i've said once or twice before, i find these exchanges invigorating, as they challenge me to try to articulate what i believe and, at least to some degree, why i believe it- i think that that is why i call him my friend... 'as iron sharpens iron'

anyway, recently he tapped into the consciousness of the community once again with this one concerning katrina:
I marvel at the people most affected by this utter destruction who turn and pray to God or praise him for sparing their lives. Couldn't he just have spared everyone's life?! If there is any clear demonstration that a benevolent God does not exist and is not in control of world events it is the random destruction wrought by natural disasters. So I ask you people of faith, how do you reconcile events such as Katrina with your belief in God?


i just returned from sri lanka, where i walked along a beach that, just eight months ago, was littered with the bodies of people who did or didn't deserve to die more or less than anyone else.

a man named xavier kindly shared his story with me of how his home was taken from him by a natural disaster, the Tsunami of december 26, 2004 and how his family was saved because he had taken them miraculously from the soon-to-be-affected area just half an hour earlier. that he had taken them to church is, i think, just a nice coincidence, for the church just down the street from his house did not have some big God-bubble around it and the lives of those who worshipped there were lost that day. in any event, he returned to his home just in time to see a 100 foot wall of water rise up from behind the small village across the strait from him, mercilessly engulf the village and then head for him. he jumped on his motorcycle and headed for the hills.

although not a 'believer' per se, he counts it a miracle of God that he is alive to rebuild the house that his family has been in for three generations. he counts it a miracle of God that his wife and kids are with him in this time when so many families have suffered greater heartache.

where he has become cynical is not in the face of God but in the lying faces and empty promises of the many photographers from the west who have, for the last eight months, been taking his picture and promising aid. so far, the bricks he lays to rebuild his home are his own, paid for by the many hours of community service into which he and all the other residents of the town of Batticaloa have found themselves all but conscripted since december's disaster.

(btw: i made no promises, explaining that my photos were to be used to report back to a newly awakened western world of the rebuilding of this area, and of the need that still exists here. one of the tasks undertaken by the team on this trip was the procurement of land by our denomination in order to undertake a largescale redevelopment project with funding already received. with no underlying agenda evident on my part, he was very comfortable, even eager, to share his story... see, everyone left living here has one, and each story is a testimony to the strength and the hope that is to be found within people all over the world.)

it's with this experience freshly imprinted upon my heart and mind, i find the whole 'let's blame God' mentality a bit frustrating, in that we feel this need to point at God when lives are lost, but count it all as luck or coincidence when lives are spared. somehow, i think that, if anything, we have the whole picture bass-ackwards.

i wonder if many of our theological problems have to do with our basic reasons for believing or disbelieving in God in the first place. bad theology usually comes from bad faith (as opposed to good faith, which is well-placed trust.) on one hand, a belief in a cosmic badguy God who swings an almighty hand purely out of self-interest maintains our personal comfort in a strange way, somewhat like the whole lee harvey oswald story: we have given the killer a face and can now rest assured that his behaviours are being monitored for our protection... on the other hand, it also enables many to point at this ridiculously (in our trippy western perspective with its logic and causality fixations) unjust and dareisay somewhat needy deity who is so incapable of simply 'being still and knowing that he is God' for being the obvious source of everything we fail to be able to understand or control.

it's been about control for us since the garden. we've been struggling with our desire to be 'like God' through the use or misuse of the knowledge of good and evil. where this all turns to rubbish for me is that it leaves us alone in the cosmos with no one to look up to and although i don't particularly care for being alone in this way, i would rather be alone than accept a slanted, humanized, one dimensional picture of God- i think i'll try atheism if it comes down to that.

however, there is one important phenomenon that exists in our world, the origin of which is also very difficult to calculate using any scientific method: where does good come from?

humankind? not likely, we've recently seen again what people can and will do to each other when given the chance. there is a good that seems to be both originating outside of us and inherent in us, although buried beneath generations of spiritual rebellion and willingly consumed soul poison.

satan and the staff of hell? again, not likely. seems to me that everything attributable to this fallen angel is largely about selfishness and ambition at the expense of all else... it is arguable that any good that can even survive in this moral vaccuum, much less be created within it, is not really worth calling good anyway.

advanced extra-terrestrials? oh come on. that's what the last blog was about.

nope- i choose to blame God for the good and chalk the bad up to coincidence.

that's probably where the whole scriptural idea of faith being 'the essence of things unseen and the source of all things hoped for' comes from. i think that that is for me the only answer to the question posed by the psalmist who asks 'where does my hope come from?'

now as to why God doesn't step in in every case i have no idea. the weight of that burden has been kept from me. i would just really welcome people who are trying to either make points about the existence and sovereignty of God or the non-existence and consequent irrelevence of God to quit blaming him for bad things in order to make their point as they play to the crowd.

Icarus continues the dialogue in his comment responses: I certainly don't advocate putting "blame" on God for Katrina, that's ridiculous, but you can't just say that all the good things (miraculous events and such) are because of God's intervention but none of the bad things are. If God interferes then he has to answer for the miracles and the times when he does not perform miracles.

i would probably disagree with Icarus here if he had worded it differently. the 'if God intervenes then...' is the place where much of this pivots back and forth. God's decision to intervene or not has more to do with his perspective than our projection. we read the 'wager' between God and satan (cited earlier in Icarus' responses is a summary of the biblical story of Job) according to our own perspective- projecting all of our fallen human stuff on a person who is actually incapable of any of these attitudes or behaviours. being God and being holy, God cannot also act out of emotionally disconnected selfishness, the essence of 'sin.' it is the only thing that God can't do or be. however, because our eyes are clouded by our own propensity to be this way and our frustration with others who are as well, we default to this notion that everyone has it in them to act in a manner that puts themselves first. it just stands to reason, then, that one who is ultimate in all things is probably also the ultimate in being selfish.

so God becomes, as aptly put by dotbar, the whipping boy. buried in our psyche, because God put it there, we have this notion that God probably shouldn't do anything bad, but we have a terrible time not attributing bad things to him because we get all hung up on this 'why didn't you stop it from happening' thing, taking it as evidence that God is in fact malevolent or at the very best aloof. this not only goes against the very nature of God, but against our nature as his crowned of creation (his 'workmanship, created for good works in Christ') and calls into question the essence of who we are as created beings. then it becomes of great comfort to say 'if this is God then i don't want him- i was not created by something like this...'

in my view, this reflects a lot more about us and the limited ways we think and the logical leaps we make in order to remain comfortably the same, than it does about God.

example? we, in our limited capacity to help have opportunity to give to redcross america and many others in order to engage in the current drama in the wake of hurricane katrina. how many of us have actually done this? have we done anything to intervene in a small way the way that we would hope that God would intervene in a big one?or are we just as aloof as we claim God is, seeing something and doing nothing?

we have created a picture of God's face which looks strangely like our own.


gotta thank you again, Icarus, for getting me going enough to process this stuff in this way.

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Blogger Icarus Goodman said...

I always get skeptical when there's a link in the comment. Good post, as I'd be interested in reading more about your trip if you could, but one thing I'd like for you to expand on is the Selfishness is the root of sin thing. I fyou could just give me your definition of selfishness and then kid of go from there, it would be helpful. Keep up the good work.

Blogger jollybeggar said...

yeah, i hear ya. spammers have become my new petpeeve.

i remember reading something poignant and real on your blog months ago about the difference between selfishness and rational self interest. there was some good discussion there, especially between you and matthew.

(icarus posts and comments:
march 3, 22, 2005)

when i speak of self-rooted sin, i am speaking of acting in one's own interest at the expense of all others' freedom to live an unmolested life on planet earth. i am speaking of a morality that has a tonal centre: the difference between right and wrong, not some relativistic justification of exploitive actions.

i am not saying that we are to carry people around on our backs when they prove incapable of looking after themselves...i just think that it would be nice if, when a person has fallen in some way, others wouldn't kick them while they're there

(and there are many kinds of kicking... as judgemental and pompous westerners we can easily fall into the self-satisfied brain groove that comfortably acknowledges that often people 'deserve the mess that they've gotten themselves into.' nice kick.)

similarly or inversely, i can't decide, one who has fallen should be free to receive the extended hand of grace without fear of some ulterior motive driving that hand.

my my, how amazingly adept we've become at isolating ourselves from each other, even in the most crowded of rooms...

i just think that living for the satisfaction of one's own personal whims and desires to the damnation of all others falls short of what God intended for us when he looked upon us and said 'yeah, that's what i meant... very good.'

*note: what i typed here originally made much more sense and was funny and everything, but when i navigated over to see just when the thrilling discussion took place on your blog i lost all that i had typed. does any of this make any freaking sense at all?

this happens to me often and drives me crazy, but i still hate spammer comments more!

Blogger jollybeggar said...

i left this comment on pensive johnny's blog awhile back...

"it is easy to blame God for everything we don't like because he is invisible... we can't see the pain on his face when we hurt him by slandering his very nature."

is this redundency or simply consistency?


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