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

life: mess included

One of my favourite Proverbs is 14:4

Where there are no oxen, the stall is clean, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest. 

In order to have a harvest, you’ll have to put up with a fair whack of crap!  I was thinking of this in relation to the problem of evil.  In order to have an existence where relationship and meaning are real, you’ll have to have genuine freedom and thus put up with evil and suffering.  I might put it in proverb form like this:

“Where there is no genuine freedom, the cosmos is void of evil and suffering;but from the genuine freedom given to creation, comes the possibility of love, meaning and relationship.”

sophie scholl

Diane and I enjoyed (again) ‘Sophie Scholl: The Final Days’ the other night.

She was a courageous woman.  Very inspiring.

I also particularly appreciated her prayers.  I don’t know as of yet if they are hers exactly or reconstructions of the writers, but here they are as in the film: Continue reading sophie scholl

anthropocentric ethics

Anthropocentric Ethics – In Ancient & Modern Perspective

The author/composer/poet/community which produced the text we know of as Genesis 1 observed many things. Just one of these is the uniqueness of humans in relation to our environment.

Day and night, earth and sky, sea and land, vegetation, and fruits, creatures great and tiny, both in the sea and on land…

And then behold – human beings. These humans are at the pinnacle of creation and are invested with the task and responsibility of governing the entire earth. Continue reading anthropocentric ethics

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

wanted: damon to play bonhoeffer

Will somebody please make a modern, well-produced movie about Dietrich Bonhoeffer!???

(existing works here, here and here…)

I think Matt Damon should play the part…  :)

the groaning language of prayer

The other day, a friend of mine at Carey college was sharing with me and a few others how grieved he’d been lately (due to various tragic things happening to people close to him). He mentioned lying in bed and trying to pray, not knowing what to say, and eventually just offering an extended, rumbling, inward groan to God…

Now, prayer is both a simple and mysterious thing. It’s simple – in that it is simply a giving-sharing-offering of one’s thoughts, concerns, feelings, stresses, hurts, anxieties, etc. to the One who we believe ‘hears’ prayer (more on ‘hearing’ in a moment). But it’s also a complex and mysterious thing, complicated by various (mis)understandings about both God and prayer (not least the popular ‘magic genie’ [or fairy] idea of God). Continue reading the groaning language of prayer

a gentler universe?

Consolmagno has done it again…

Yet another poignant and wise article, helpfully navigating the intersection of faith and science…

Here’s a sampler:

…there’s the world of nature, the world I study as a scientist, nice and neat and well described by some beautiful equations, elegant in their simplicity. And there’s the world of human beings, strange fleshy bundles of ego and free will, who can sometimes be described in a statistical sense but who as individuals never cease to surprise you.

Read the whole thing here.

Ehrman and Wright ‘blogalogue’

WrightEhrmanBart Ehrman and N.T. Wright have agreed to ‘blog’ through the issue of Suffering and God over at Beliefnet. You can follow their discussion here.

Bart Ehrman (author of ‘Misquoting Jesus‘, ‘God’s Problem‘ and other titles) and Tom Wright (author of ‘Evil and the Justice of God‘, ‘Suprised by Hope‘ and other titles) are both recognised scholars. Ehrman is currently an ‘agnostic’ and is open about his slow departure from the Christian faith. Wright is Bishop of Durham.

I look forward to following their contributions and interaction with one another.

good news for all the people

If only people in general –and Christians in particular– could grasp just a few key things that makes Jesus who He is… then I’m convinced not only that Christianity would have a better reputation, but –even further– those who aren’t Christians might be far less against the growth of Christianity…

People are scared about the growth of Christianity because they (often) think (and not without reason to) that this could eventually lead to a Christian state. All those voting Christians, voting in all those ‘religious’ laws, taking away our freedom, taking away our shopping on Sunday, etc. Many Christians are not at all hesitant to affirm that this is, in fact, precisely what they are working toward…

Now, this post is not directly about how Christians should relate to politics, but it does relate. I am convinced that the Christian faith is to be lived out in the public world, and not simply in private. However, the question is: “What does this look like?”

Continue reading good news for all the people