Blame God

So I’m talking with a friend of mine and he says something like, “God has a good thing going for him.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Well,” he replies, “Who else do you know that gets thanks and praise for all the good things he supposedly does, but cops none of the blame or criticism for the bad things which, surprisingly, also happen on his watch?”

My brain seems to draw from somewhere deep in my subconscious, Evangelical past and (embarrassingly) comes out with something along the lines of, “You can’t blame God for what humanity has brought upon itself by its continued rejection of God. After all, God has given us freewill and, if we choose to go against his laws, there will be consequences.”

(I cringe now to think there could have ever been a day when I said such things; after all, this is exactly how loonies such as Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker portray their God and his interaction with ‘dirty rotten sinners’.)

My friend (let’s call him Bob) continues.

“Yeah, but you believe God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and present everywhere, right?”

I nod my head in agreement.

“And yet, in spite of the fact that God could stop the tsunami, cripple the 9/11 hijackers, bring the Pakistani earthquake below 1 on the scale, heal my mum of cancer and turn back that massive hurricane, he didn’t.”

I respond: “God can’t just arbitrarily interfere with the course of nature and, in the case of the hijackers, he won’t overrule the free will of human beings to decide to do evil.” (My response is a little weak, given that I catch myself partway trying to justify God’s actions, or kinda trying to place limits on The Almighty–and feel somewhat guilty for doing this.)

Bob isn’t satisfied with this canned, classic textbook answer.

“If you were able,” he says, lifting a semi-accusing finger to my face, “to save your child from certain death by running out in the street and grabbing him, pulling him to safety before the truck roared past, you would, wouldn’t you?”

The way he asked this question made me wonder if Bob thought I was some sort of monster.

“Of course I would; he’s my kid. I would never allow him to be harmed.”

I noticed that smug, “gotcha” look come across Bob’s face. I instantly knew where this conversation was headed.

“Yet, God—whom you say loves all of us as a father loves his children—will allow his children to go through hell, to lose family members, their health, their homes, their livelihood, and even their own lives in disasters that he himself could have stopped.”

“Yeah, but . . .” (I sensed I was starting to sound like a whining 3rd-grader) “. . . but God can’t change the natural course of things. He’s put laws in place that govern the weather, the earth and human beings. He can’t just override these laws.”

Bob laughed. “Seriously, you should listen to yourself! You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself that your God isn’t as big or powerful or loving as you’ve been led to believe. So would you say to your son when he gets hit by that truck, ‘That’s the consequence of not obeying my rule of staying in our yard’?”

He had a point. I was beginning to realise that I had created a wonderful, rather small box to contain my God. I had assumed that those who were supposed to know all about God (theologians, pastors, Sunday School teachers) were right when they taught me this catechistic auto-response, that God allowed such happenings because he couldn’t go against his natural laws and couldn’t and wouldn’t interfere with humanity’s free will.

But this put God in a predicament because throughout the Bible (it is said) he did intervene, did interfere and did overrule. If the Bible is fact, then God could choose to step down out of heaven and come to our aid (Isn’t it funny how we placed him “up there” when we say that he is everywhere? But then, it’s also humorous when we anthropomorphise God to be a male when ‘he’ is not even human. But I digress.) God could choose to stop the winds and the waves, the wars, befuddle hijackers and terrorists, or heal the young mother of her cancer.

But.

God.

Doesn’t.

Why not?

I know this has led many people just like my friend Bob to stop believing there is a God, or at least a personal, loving, interacting Deity. I can understand their frustration and the incoherence of much of what religion portrays God to be.

I am also aware of the multitude of books, articles and talks that have been published on this problem of human suffering. Most de-converted Christians would say this is the one big question that caused them to rethink the whole idea of the existence of God.

Personally, I continually try to reconcile this dichotomy in my own mind. While at one time this had caused me great concern and anxiety, I now am now beginning to see how I can live with the tension as many before me have also learned.

 

Despite this, I take a page from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, the legend of Job, from David’s psalms of lament, and from Ecclesiastes and don’t feel in the least bit conflicted when I cry out in anger to God, “Why?” when my words sound more accusing than trusting, when I place the blame solely and completely on Him who, tradition tells us, is without blame.

And I believe that God welcomes my dissent. I think it’s this honest, confrontational, letting loose that God expects from his children. As Rob puts it, God wants us to rip open our rib cage and let our heart out. It’s in these moments of openness and vulnerability that we are changed and we begin to see things framed in a new consciousness, a new understanding and a deeper relationship with the Divine.

This is not an easy answer. There is no such thing. As long as we have apparent inconsistencies, we will struggle to understand God or conceptualise Deity. We may change our way of seeing things. Hell, we may even decide it’s easier not to believe.

Regardless of what we choose to do, I’m sure God is more generous, and more loving than we could comprehend anyhow, and would still do all he or she could to get that message across to us, even if it’s in the most unlikely of sources, like Bob.

Bipolar Faith

You’re hot and you’re cold
You’re yes then you’re no
You’re in then you’re out
You’re up and you’re down
You’re wrong when it’s right
It’s black and it’s white
We fight, we break up
We kiss, we make up
You don’t really wanna stay, no
But you don’t really wanna go

Katy Perry’s song, which will live in immortality in the minds of this land’s budding chefs (as the theme of Masterchef Australia), seems to be a commentary on my faith-life. I have come to the conclusion that, with regards to faith, I can appear to be quite bipolar.

Listening to Stephen Spence speak yesterday from Mark 4, I was reminded how often I am found trembling in the face of the storm, afraid, thinking I am alone—thinking my God doesn’t care.

 A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ (Mark 4:37-38 NRSV)

The fact that God is resting in the stern of the ship, not fearing the wind and the waves, not afraid the ship will capsize, doesn’t seem to rate a mention in the dark scenario in which I seem hopelessly lost. Me of little faith prefers (for some strange reason) to be anxious, be fearful, doubt, shake in my boots, not recognising the presence of the One who can speak calm into my soul.

Bipolar. Faith and faithlessness.

There are many definitions of ‘bipolar disorder’ circulating, but perhaps the most accurate would be the one from the American Psychiatric Association which states that:

Bipolar Disorder is characterized by the occurrence of one or more manic or mixed episode often accompanied by depressive episodes. So even if you’re depressed 99 percent of the time, going through just one manic episode qualifies you for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder according to this definition . . .

Bipolar disorder is an illness that affects thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behaviour … even how a person feels physically (known clinically as psychosomatic presentations). It’s probably caused by electrical and chemical elements in the brain not functioning properly (see What Causes Bipolar Disorder? for more information). . . .

Most often, a person with manic-depression experiences moods that shift from high to low and back again in varying degrees of severity. The two poles of bipolar disorder are mania and depression.

Spiritually, that’s me (though it’s usually 99 percent mania and 1 percent depression).

  • Sometimes I can be so strong and unflinching in the face of adversity and pressure. Other times I can cower in fear and not know where to turn.
  • Most times I can believe that anything is possible. Sometimes I can’t see how I’ll get through today.
  • The majority of my days, I am steady, constant in faith, able to rest in what life is for me, and trusting God wholeheartedly. Some days, I get audaciously angry at God and cry out in frustration: ‘Where are you? Why am I going through this?’

In a way, I’m like the writer of many of the psalms who, in one psalm, maniacally praises and blesses God for providing, for being loving and gracious, for being present. In another verse, he gives God the verbal blast, wondering aloud in his depressive low why he ever depended on such a deity, blaming God for the loneliness, the desolation and abandonment he is feeling. . . . and perhaps questioning whether God in fact does exist.

Could it be at those times when I feel the lowest,when I’m blaming God, cursing God, doubting God–that God is calmly resting in the stern of the ship, and expecting that from this I am to take my cue and join the holy slumber? Perhaps rather than interpreting God’s silence as an absence or abandonment, I need to be aware that this storm, from God’s perspective, is nothing of any consequence and I simply need to trust that, in God’s way and time, I’ll get through it.

It’s all about trusting, resting, and sometimes letting God’s faithfulness carry me through the times when my faith won’t hold.

I found this cartoon which helps put things in perspective (then again, maybe not!).

The Blues are a Given

‘My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?”

How many times in my life have I dared to ask the question, ‘Where are you, God?’ How often have I heard the cry, ‘Where is your God now?’

The obvious answer is that he is in the same place as he was in the good times. Our theology may define the specific ‘where’ that might be. But whether it is in heaven, encompassing everything around us, or in our hearts, God is not absent.

Today I arrived at school to find that one of our former students, who would have been in Year 12 this year was killed in a motorcycle accident on the weekend. I look at this tragic situation and can certainly understand the lament of the psalmist as those close to this lad are crying out, ‘God, where were you when Jason needed you?’

I believe God not only welcomes our desperate cries but invites our lamentation. He isn’t afraid of our doubts, or our giving voice to our fears. And he is with us as we are with him. Embracing us in our sorrow, weeping with us, grieving our loss, singing with us when we have the blues.

Martin B. Copenhaver writes, ‘Lament is not whining. Whiners always find a way to whine, regardless of circumstances. No, lament is a legitimate response to real hardship. Mahalia Jackson could have been referring to lament, rather than the blues, when she said, “Anybody singing the blues is in a deep pit yelling for help.”‘

He continues by reminding us that ‘in the Bible there are more prayers of lament than there are prayers of praise. This reminds [us] that God invites our expressions of sorrow and complaint as much as God invites our praise.’

God is not unconcerned or uninterested. He is not an uninvolved deity who watches us ‘from a distance.’ He is near. He is so close to us that Paul put it this way to the Athenians: ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’

The blues are a given. At some point we will all be singing our song of lament. There will be times in life when we will despair, be overcome with sadness, find ourselves in times of deep sorrow.

In that space, we rest in the love of a God who journeys with us–and joins us in our lament.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

After I wrote the above piece and posted it, I went to view it on the blog site and found a randomly selected link that WordPress had supplied. The link was to the poem below which is truly a lament, but with a tinge of hope (at least in my perception of it):

Life’s Poisonous Nectar

Names changing, being shortened to nicknames
Rich lands become crusty and dry
Wavering nights evolve to gold
Present is a stirring within all who wakes
For a moment blue skies and tender trees are in view
Then the veil of darkness closes in again
The earth once more acts as an envelope,
Containing all the fretfulness of the world
A weeping mother, hungers for her child’s well-being
Denying her helplessness, pushing away change
It had snuck up gradually, weaving with skill
Like a full moon shining golden and enormous
Only until an orange sunrise shatters the blue vortex
A final breath, the coldness of a young soul lost
No compensation to be given or a hand to lend
Money steals the hope of the poor
People once healthy and opulent, now destitute
Loss after loss, what is one to gain?
Another fight against tremendous odds
Change has begun to repeat itself.

Inspired by Nectar in a Sieve, Written in 2008
(an anonymous writing from the blog Looking In from the Outside)