tsunamis and life building

In a reflection that is most certainly to be categorised firmly on the side of what is understandably seen as the impersonal, cold, logic-chopping philosophical problem of evil (rather than more humane existential or pastoral problem of evil), it occurs to me that the feeling of unjustness we almost universally feel when, say, a massive tsunami wipes out thousands of poor ‘innocent’ people ((though a thoroughgoing Christian anthropology knows no such thing, mind you – we’re a mixed bag – wretched and radiant – always both – never just one…)) is almost entirely an affair of emotion rather than reason.

Notice that I said it was the feeling of unjustness, rather than the sense that we ought to have compassion on the victims, which was driven chiefly by emotion rather than reason.  For what just alternative do we imagine?  That earth should be free of tectonic activity and water – both of which are fundamentally necessary for the existence and flourishing of all life?

The complaint seems to be that God is somehow unjust for making a world where tsunamis happen, or for not intervening each time they are in places that wipe out thousands of people… or hundreds of people… or dozens of people… or any single human life… or animal life… yes, God should stop those tsunamis too… matter of fact, God should stop sudden gusts of wind that cause people to lose their balance, fall and hurt themselves…  God should intervene to stop my paper cut…

From the perspective of a Martian, all of these human dramas played out on our ‘pale blue dot’ are not so different.  Certainly the point at which the ratio of deaths-saved to degree-of-divine-interference becomes an offense ((by whose standards though?)) seems utterly arbitrary.  What’s more, Nature certainly doesn’t care for either tsunami or paper-cut victims.  Nature is neither grieved at evil nor glad at good, for the ‘dumb witch‘, needs not either of those adjectives – or any qualitative value-judgments.

Experience teaches us that when we build our house on a beach, we risk possible devastation by wind and waves.  Handle papers quickly and carelessly, and expect paper-cuts.  The ‘natural evil’ is worsened by the human evils of things like impatience and inattention (behind the paper-cut) and things like the greedy, indifferent and dehumanising failure to share knowledge and technology that would see the poor, vulnerable coastal communities having stronger buildings and better and faster tsunami warning systems.

The God-who-is-Love is not there to remove all pain and suffering, but to be trusted in the midst of, and to Love us into, through and out the other side of all pain and suffering – great and small.

It’s not the reality of tsunamis that raise hairy theological questions, but rather when people claim that God sent it on the homosexuals or the lone survivor claims God singled them out for survival over the others. ((I’m opposed to those who would rob such a survivor of their gratitude to God for their survival – it’s just that I’m also highly doubtful that it is appropriate or sensible for this gratitude to be accompanied by a sense that God didn’t want the others to survive  – or want them to survive as much…))

I’m not fond of the habit of attaching direct, one-for-one, tit-for-tat theological purpose and meaning to every single phenomena (i.e. this mouse made it to the mouse trap before that other mouse because it had been very, very naughty in the eyes of the Lord…).  Though equally, I’m committed to seeing all phenomena as known by and sustained by God, so God has at least something to do with literally everything that happens.

It does seem that we tend to thank God for pleasing events, but not critique God for unpleasant ones.  So, the simplistic complaint, ‘all of the credit, but none of the blame’, is very intuitive, but only to a point.  Despite that many Christians actually do only thank God for nice events and are not sure what to say of un-nice ones, the Christian faith relates to pain and suffering in a unique way.  One (certainly not the only) way it does is by taking everything from tsunamis to paper-cuts as an opportunity to be reminded that one must not put their trust in anything other than God, the Rock of Salvation.

Calling a Spirit such as God a ‘rock’ is both a delicious juxtaposition and an utterly appropriate metaphor, especially if God actually is who Christians (and monotheists) believe God to be – the very source and sustainer of all (created) being or existence.  The single, sole ‘capital-T-Thing-transcending-all-lower-case-t-things’, who does not change in essence, character or nature.  The lone Locus of faith that cannot be shaken.

24 ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods [even tsunamis!] came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’ – Matthew 7:24-27

father god

All speech about God uses metaphor (so does all speech about the universe, but that’s another post).  One basic idea is that God is like a Father.

Leaving to one side the less-noted ‘problem’ of good, the more-noted ‘problem’ of evil (among other things) would suggest that God is one abusive, tyrant, dictator of a Father.

I don’t mean to skip cheerfully over real pain of real people in really tough situations, but I’ve learned at least this from my less-than-two-years of fatherhood.  Pain and mistakes teach us and grow us (if we let them).  This is basic stuff, and I claim no profundity.

I want Thomas to grow up and learn.  One basic example would be that he has to fall over and over again to learn to walk.  Giraffe mothers (apparently) stand over their young ones and sweep their little feet out from underneath them – so that they learn to get up quickly and can better escape attacking predators. Maybe I’m not as loving as a mum giraffe, coz I don’t like letting Thomas fall.  I was nervous as heck-fire watching him (and encouraging him by counting each step) walk up our concrete steps the other day.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that allowing bumps/scrapes/falls/tears/sores/pain/etc. is not at all antithetical to being a good father.  In fact, I’m fairly convinced that a father who protects his child from any/all pain is probably an insecure, fearful, selfish father.  I take no delight in the pain Thomas goes through in any specific case, and I am persuaded to think that God takes no delight in our pain either.  But what I do know is that his life (and ours) is bigger than and will benefit from those brief moments of pain which I choose (and God chooses) to allow.

In this context of real, down-to-earth life – dad-hood and son-hood kind of life – the main point of the philosophical ‘problem’ of evil (the pastoral problem of evil is quite another thing) just feels like impatient thinking to me.  You can look at the world (for example, the evolutionary process) and ‘see’ a lot of death, pain and apparent pointlessness.  The author of Ecclesiastes and not a few psalmists certainly did.  But you can also ‘see’ life emerging out of that death, maturity out of the pain, an appearing plan out of the apparent pointlessness.

teleology & ethics

The word ‘teleology’ (from Greek τελος ‘telos’ – meaning ‘goal’, ‘end’, ‘purpose’ or ‘that toward which things tend’) is not a street-level term.  However, the concept of a purpose, goal, function or ‘end’ to things most certainly is.  It’s a common as anything.  Teleology is blindingly relevant.

Continue reading “teleology & ethics”

my face (in general) & my nose (in particular)

So, I got a call from a friend and we had arranged for he and his wife to come over within the next half-hour…

I remembered that I still had to take the compost stuff out and dig a hole and bury it…

I raced to the living room (where my shoes were – right next to the doorway)…

I put them on quickly…

My mind was already outside, digging the hole with the compost bucket on the ground next to me…

Unfortunately, my body was still upstairs and quickly turning to go through the doorway…

…the same doorway which consequently (out of nowhere) collided with (here’s the post title) my face (in general) and my nose (in particular)…

…it left a small mark.

:)

pain bears a message

This post over at ‘Just Thomism‘ is short, sweet and very thought-provoking.

I’m thankful for pain. Not generally at the moment I experience it, but when I think about it, yes I’m glad (for example) that my body tells me when I’m burning my hand on the stove-top. It’s a painful message that my body sends, but it’s one I desperately need to hear. Continue reading “pain bears a message”