The silence of the unanswered

Colors of Silenceafter the tornado on monday, my prayers felt incredibly shallow.  i was at a loss of what to say to god.

i felt that any words i would write here would be equally shallow…perhaps, even insensitive.

if i’ve learned one thing after all these years of walking through the initial stages of tragedy and grief with people, it’s that saying nothing is usually a pretty good idea.  presence, yes.   a shoulder, yes.  meeting a physical need, definitely.

an explanation?  don’t even.   answering “why”?  gimme a break.   deciphering the mind and role of god?  just shut up.  but as the days have passed and the healing begins, i guess i feel compelled to give my two cents…at least on the big picture.

here are a few things i believe.  (i hesitate to say i know these things, because that would make me out just as arrogant and theologically careless as those i criticize for “speaking on behalf of god” during times like these.)

there are many whose faith in god is rattled, or even undermined, when disasters or tragedies happen.  the assumption is that since god is all-powerful…and he chooses not to intervene and stop these unspeakably painful acts from happening…it leaves us with only three logical conclusions:  god is a heartless ogre.   god is an impotent deity.  or there simply is no god.

i reject each of those conclusions.

as a pastor-healer-encourager, there is nothing i want more for people than to see their pain go away.  logic says the easiest way for pain to go away is for it never to be present in the first place.  but if god was really in the business of simply shielding us from pain, it would have to be an all or nothing deal for god.

what disasters should he stop?  all of them?  some of them?  and if he’s not going to stop every single one of them, how does he choose?  and if that’s the way god is going to operate, what does it say about his relationship to ones he protects…and the ones he turns his back on?  this is a theologically slippery slope i choose not to walk near.

god, you should have stopped that drunk driver.  god, you should have stopped that abuser.  god, you should have stopped that crazy kid with the gun.  god, you should have stopped that explosion.  god, you should have stopped those thieves.  god, you should have stopped that stock market crash.  god, you should have stopped crooked investment bankers.  god, you should have stopped me from being hurt by my boyfriend.  god, you should have kept that tumor from growing.

god, if you really loved us, you would have protected the innocent children and the helpless old people.  god, you should have at least moved the storm to a less populated area…or at least to a prison or something.

but i don’t believe that god is in the business of suspending natural law (as a matter of normal, daily affairs), nor do i believe in the kind of predestinarian theology that says that everything that happens is because god is the one who is making it happen.

i don’t believe bad things happen because god is angry.  this is a fairly popular interpretation of events by some well-known pastors these days.  disasters (natural and unnatural) can be…and most likely are…god’s judgment on undeserving and sinful people.  this theological perspective affirms that no one is innocent.  all are part of an unrepentant and obstinate people.  this position says that no matter how bad a disaster is, it could be worse…and we would deserve every bit of it.

there are a lot of things i don’t understand.  but i get that god loves the world.  he doesn’t hate it.  i don’t believe the events we see unfolding before our eyes are the acts of a vengeful and angry god.

i also don’t believe that the events (both good and bad) are simply a predestined plot…a drama scripted out before time began.  i refuse to say that the oklahoma tornado tragedy was “all part of god’s master plan”  or that what happened was “meant to be”.  

i will be the first one to admit there are gaps in my theology.  there are things that happen that sit outside my logical grasp.  there are questions you can ask me and all you will get is a compassionate shoulder shrug.  but i’m okay with that.

the “why tragedy?” question is one that will probably need to remain unanswered.  if we talked long enough, i could give you my whole thought (heart) process for dealing with it in my life.  it might help you.  it might not.  but in spite of the things i don’t know, the things i do know scream louder.

i am to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  god is love and in him is no darkness at all.  we live in a world that “groans” from its own brokenness and longing to be made “right”.   rain falls.  and it falls on the just and the unjust.

there are logical, scientific, natural explanations for just about everything that happens, but none of those explanations can bring peace or healing.

but god can.  and will.


6 thoughts on “The silence of the unanswered

  1. Well said, but I must ask you this… How could acts of tragedy or anything that is hurtful for that matter not be part of his plan? I know that sounds like I am saying that God orchestrates these events. I am not. I am simply saying they if he knows all then he knows all aspects of human life. By that logic everything is, in essence predestined. If it is predestined then as the creator He, for the lack of a better term, planned it.

    None of that says that he is a vengeful God. It says that from the fall of man, Sin, death, pain, tragedy will exist until the day of the Son’s return.

  2. Sean, this is no easy issue. I have spent over 40 years of my life seriously wrestling with it. I recognize that great theologians and pastors and seminarians have grappled with the same stuff and they fall into multiple camps.

    For years, my position was that predestination and open theology equally co-existed and God was really the only one who could completely understand it. We just had to humbly accept it. Over the past decade, I have changed. Now, it seems completely illogical to me that two radically opposite doctrines can co-exist. It was a decision that did not come easy!

    God either plans, orchestrates, causes, predetermines, and “makes it happen”…all of it…good, bad, heinous, unspeakably painful or ecstatically joyful…even the Giants winning the series (yeah, twice in three years)…or He doesn’t. You mean to tell me that God wanted the Giants to win, when He could have made the Padres win instead? Where’s the logic in that?

    It is no longer logical for me to say that God knew about the details of the Oklahoma tornado in advance (because He is all-knowing)…and not say that He willfully killed all those people according to His plan.

    Because I could no longer harmonize that kind of pre-meditated slaughter (add Sandy Hook, Katrina, 9/11, Somalia, you-fill-in-the-blank) with the person of Jesus as the embodiment of Kingdom rule…and love as the definition of God, I was forced to look at Scripture in a whole new way.

    I believe that God created. I believe that God set history in motion. I believe that He knew that the presence of sin, Satan, brokenness, imperfection, and rebellion would result in a history full of tragedy. I believe that is what God “foreknew”. But I no longer believe that God is behind the scenes, causing individual expressions of evil, sin, pain, destruction…(both natural and unnatural)…to happen according to His plan.

    There are gaps and difficulties in my position. There are logical consequences of this position that keep me up at night. I know them better than anybody. But, for me, I rest easier at night…and I am far more comfortable with Scripture and history…when I don’t see God as an inconsistent and confusing puppet-master. (Not that you’re saying that!)

    Thanks for the push back. It’s good for me. Lots more to discuss on this one, bro.

  3. I had to get over the hurdle too and concluded “foreknowledge does not equal predestination”….i.e., knowing something is going to happen does not equate to causation.

  4. It rains on the just and the unjust alike.I have had a bad couple of years yet learned a lot about myself.most of it not changing it hurts. but I believe for the better. when death and destruction come and they will. look to see how you can help or what you can learn.

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