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Monday, January 10, 2005

Angry with God?

I may have helped him get over there, but today, I found this by going over there through him.

In this article entitled, "Angry with God," author Jeff Jacoby draws from various writers to correlate the belief that God did not cause the Tsunami with Harold Kushner's view that God cannot be considered omnipotent. Kushner is the author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," in which he wrestles with questions about God's power and why He allows suffering in the lives of His people.

We may engage these kinds of questions philosophically as observers of tragedies in other people's lives, but these agonizing cognitive dissonance become excruciatingly and uncomfortably intimate when suffering and anguish hit close to home. In Kushner's case, it was the death of his son that causes his mental anguish. He had to concede that the God he believed in is so loving that He must not be able to control the forces of evil and suffering, since a loving God would never have permited such harm to His people.

According to Kusher, the idea that God causes "tragedies at random ... prevents people from believing in [His] goodness." Allowing tragedies to happen haphazardly gives us the liberty to be angry at the event without directing our anger at God.

However, Jacoby asks,

"But what is so bad about being angry with God? Why shouldn't we challenge Him to make sense of the injustice and cruelty that He Himself has taught us to hate? Isn't it better to angrily question a God in whose universe we are sure nothing happens without a reason, than to resign ourselves to a weakling God who can do nothing about a world that kills and lays waste at random?"

Acording to Jacoby "arguing with Him when He seems to be acting unjustly, has deep roots in Judeo-Christian faith." He cites as examples, Abraham's wrestle with God over His intentions for Sodom and Gomorrah and Moses' pleas on behalf of the children of Israel.

I believe that rather than see these incidents as norms for the spiritual life of God's people, it is more instructive to view Abraham and Moses as pictures of the Messiah and what Messiah does on behalf of his people. The Scriptures tells us that Messiah will intercede for His people, and Christ Himself taught that He is the divine intercessor for those He calls His own. In the same way as Abraham and Moses pleaded with God, Christ now prays for us. These narratives were not exemplary about people of faith shaking their fists at God.

Jacoby also drew from Elie Wiesel's

"haunting story of three rabbis in Auschwitz who convened a court of law and put God on trial for allowing His children to be slaughtered. At the end of the trial, which stretched over several days, they pronounced Him guilty of crimes against humanity. Then one of the rabbis glanced at the darkening sky. And now, he said, it is time for our evening prayers.".

Perhaps he meant to show that it is perfectly acceptable for a person of faith to struggle with his belief in God. On the contrary, Wiesel's story shows an almost irrational approach to the life of faith, as if people of faith need to put aside their rational judgments when they come to God in worship.

Yet I am not discounting the reality of the struggle, especially in the face of such numbing horrendous evil as the recent Indian Ocean Earthquake and ensuing Tsunamis. As the Archbishop of Canterbury concedes, so much mindless grief and sorrow will drive even the strongest of the faithful to doubt. However I do not think angry outbursts at God's injustice are necessarily a required part of the spiritual experience.

As I posited before, while it might be humanly normal to respond in angry defiance at the seemingly irrational and gratuitous suffering, it is probably more conducive to spiritual growth to humbly accept the ignominy of the terror, to recognize God's awesome greatness and the utter inability to understand, and in humility and strength in His grace, to embrace our responsibility to bring comfort and care to those who survive and continue to suffer. In fact this is what the Archbishop advocates, contrary to many who misread his reflective article as a dejected renunciation of the faith.

There is one other thought in Jacoby's quote above that I need to discuss. He says, "…there is nothing that happens without a reason." Christians often quote scriptures such as Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28 and I Thessalonians 5:18 in support for this belief. But, rejecting the thesis that all things happen without a reason does not entail rejecting that God have no reason in the things that happen. In other words, God still have a purpose for us even though He did not intentionally bring about all the things that happen to us. In spite of the randomness of life and the unpredictability of accidents, disasters and diseases that strike at us apparently mindlessly, God interacts with us and gives us purpose to rise up above the seeming meaninglessness of life.

Jacoby concludes his article with the following paragraph:

"To wrestle with God is not to abandon Him. To protest against the unearned suffering He inflicts or permits is not to reject His message -- quite the opposite. But having protested a seeming lack of compassion and justice from Heaven, we are obliged to reach out to the victims and work even harder to establish justice and compassion here on Earth."

I agree with his sentiments that wrestling with God does not amount to abandoning Him, but I disagree with the way he is suggesting we wrestle, and I further contend with his assumption that God either inflicts or permits tragedy is misplaced. Understanding that God is in control of this world doesn't necessarily mean that He pulls strings like a puppet master in this universe. It is this misunderstanding that causes so much grief and confusion among the faithful, and so much anger and cynicism in those who scoff at the concept of God.

Just to say that God is not involved in the cause for the tsunami, and a host of devastations such as cancer, AIDS, accidents, and other natural disasters does not mean that God is powerless. We often limit our understanding of God because we either have too much of a black-and-white understanding of who God is, or we limit Him with human characteristics and attributes and refuse to let Him be God.

A case in point is the quiz from that Jacoby referred to in his article. The quiz poses the question what role God plays in such disasters, and offers only five options:

The poll offers five options:

  1. God is punishing us.
  2. God is testing us.
  3. The earthquake and tsunami were sent by God, but we don't know what the purpose was.
  4. Although I believe in God, the supernatural had nothing to do with this tragedy.
  5. God doesn't exist; disasters like this are just forces of nature.

Jacoby chose option (3) but a majority of the quiz respondents chose option (4). But why should these be the only options? Let me offer a sixth option:

  1. God exists, and we do not know how He is involved with the Earthquake and Tsunamis which although they have natural causes, God may also have been involved in some way, albeit unbeknownst to us. What we do know is that He has a purpose for those of us who are survivors and participants in this global calamity.

This option both acknowledges God's power and our limitations. It also recognizes that we can choose to be participants with the Suffering God who interacts with His creation through His creatures. We need to let God be God while we acknowledge in humility our limitations as mere creatures. Just because we do not know the reason does not mean there are no reasons. Often events in this world may cause us to question and doubt, but regardless of what happens, we must acknowledge God and humbly go about the task of rebuilding, recovery and repairing the brokenness that is rampant around us. As we embrace our responsibility to one another and to Him, we can then experience God participating in our suffering and we experience anew His grace and mercy flowing in and through our lives. We then see anew the greatness and vastness of His love, power and knowledge.

While I don't think we need to be resigned to accept a God who is not fully Omnipotent, unable to deal with the power and irrationality of nature, we do not need to fall into the other extreme of insisting that God causing all the evil and suffering that happens to us. We can accept that there are many things in this world that we just plain do not understand, yet we can still worship a God who seeks a personal relationship with us, and Who seeks to work in and through our lives to bring about peace, comfort and love to those around us.

Rather than sit back, judge God, argue with Him, rationalize the reasons why, come up with excuses for God, or shake our fists at Him, we need to stand before Him, like Job, in speechless awe, and say humbly but assuredly, "Yet will I bless Him."