Saturday, July 21, 2012
I was talking with some friends and filling them in on Haiti when one of them asked about the earthquake and the judgment of God. He wasn't pulling a Pat Robertson or anything, he was just trying to connect dots between faith and the brokenness of the world. It was the second time in as many days I heard something connecting natural disaster and God's judgment. Jeff Daniels character on Aaron Sorkin's new show The Newsroom makes the statement, "I’m a registered Republican, I only seem liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage." For being in the Christian clique and far more conservative than liberal, the mindset of God orchestrating disaster is much less common than others seem to think.
The hundred thousand or so deaths in Haiti were the result of poor construction practices. Those buildings failed because stupid people built them in a way that demanded failure. The tragedy in New Orleans was the result of building a city below the water line and trusting a faulty levy, both of which were human decisions. Earthquakes, natural fires, floods, and hurricanes, as destructive as they are, are natural creative aspects of the dynamic world we live in, the results of which (minus human tragedy) are often good from a long term perspective. It isn't God's fault we build crappy buildings on fault lines, ground level anythings on floodplains, mobile homes in tornado country, or poke bears with sharp sticks. Natural disasters are often only considered disasters because some group of people already did something stupid. This isn't always the case, but it accounts for the majority. The rest is usually just bad luck.
If God didn't make it happen, then why did God let it happen? This seems to be the unstated question driving most Christian thought on the whole smiting/natural disaster/all-powerful God topic. For some reason I've never connected these dots. Scripture is pretty clear about God laying waste from time to time, but he is always pretty clear about the why, what, when, and where. It's never something to be guessed at. If you bump into a smug Christian talking about God's judgment, I know they exist somewhere, be sure to remind them God's judgment tends to come when the faithful have failed. Noah's decades of preaching had no impact in his community, Lot lived in a city where he was somewhat respected yet made zero impact in a spiritual sense, and Ananias and Sapphira failed to connect with the core principle of the community surrounding them. As for Nineveh and Jonah, it was Jonah that wanted Nineveh to be destroyed - not God. God, as he always seems to do, provided a way to avoid the destruction he intended to bring. In other words, even if we find ourselves in a situation where massive disaster is clearly the judgment of God, the correct response is grief and repentance, because I guarantee you God won't be smugly happy about the thing and it wasn't his first choice.
Looking at David's response to his son Absalom's death in II Sam 18 gives us an idea about God's response to the tragedy that follows human rebellion. Absalom was trying to kill David and take his kingdom from him yet died in the attempt. Instead of rejoicing or being indifferent about the striking down of the rebellion, David wept for the son he loved. I think this is one of those times Davis was close to God's heart.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Sean could have said it in a clearer less offensive way, but I don't think he could haves said it better.
We were in the desert covered in sand, sitting around a campfire, and periodically shooting each other with airsoft (not so soft) guns while talking about a wide range of topics. Dirty Jimmy, a man who lived up to his name, was doing his best to hold his weight in a conversations about spirituality and kept coming back to the beauty of the stars and how he had read the Bible when Sean dropped his bomb.
Sean is an ex-addict who at his low point crashed his car into a church while loaded. Since then his life had been radically transformed and knew the restoration that comes through knowing and loving God (or more aptly knowing that you are known and loved by God).
In a moment of frustration Sean blurted out, "F@#? the Bible, do you know Jesus!?"
I was flabbergasted and headed quickly toward offended when I realized what he actually said. He was right. A little flustered and out of sorts, but right. The Bible isn't bad, but it's only a book. If it doesn't help us know Jesus, it's useless.
As Christians we often identify with our totems rather than the thing that gives value to them. Jesus ripped on the hyper religious in Matthew 23 because they differentiated between aspects of the temple and the thing that gave them value. The Bible isn't magic nor is there special power in our church buildings, if Jesus is absent they are empty, useless, and dead. If Jesus is present, then it is the presence of Jesus that has power and value.
I love the Bible, but I love it because through the Bible I've come to know and love Jesus. If every church and Bible disappeared tomorrow the reality of the person, power, and action of Jesus would not dissipate one iota. There is nothing wrong with the symbols and practical tools of our faith, the things we sometimes identify with, but they are only useful when they are accomplishing their purpose, when they are bringing us closer to Jesus. If this practicality is missing they, and possibly we, are dead.
When you find yourself loving and placing your hope in something say, "Toss this thing, do I know Jesus?" If the answer is no, perhaps it's time to make a change.