Things are tough. All over. A lot of people are hurting physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. All any of us need do is turn on the TV, log into social media, or if you’re really daring, step outside your front door and there it is: the awfulness of humanity. With this pervasive level of devastation, a friend of mine asked, as I’m sure many more of you have —
“If God is real, then why do things like [insert tragedy] happen?”
I don’t claim to know the mind of God, and I’m definitely not the best person to even broach this question, but I’d like to share what’s been revealed to and buoys me on a day-to-day basis.
First Things First: Living in the Vertical
God is good and perfect and loves each and every one of us more than we can begin to understand and wants nothing more than for us to find our way to him. While it would be no small task for him to make all of us love him, that wouldn’t be real love. That would make us automatons. Instead, he leaves it up to us to choose him. I think God loves us so much nothing’s off limits as a means to get our attention and draw us into a relationship with him, but he wants us to come to rely on him of our own free will.
That free will isn’t limited to choosing whether or not to pursue him. Our freedom of choice extends to every facet of our lives. Crazy thing is our good and bad decisions impact not only the people in our immediate sphere of influence, but ripples out to others.I’m sure you can think of an instance when someone choose to commit an act of kindness that rippled out to positively influence others. Unfortunately, the same principle applies when someone chooses to commit a heinous act. It doesn’t negate the existence of God, if anything it pushes some people in search of God. And that’s a good thing.
Does he have good days? I’m thinking they’re probably all good. Bad days? I don’t think there’s days where he makes a mistake, but I do think he has countless moments when he grieves over what we, his creations, the whole of humanity, have done to one another in his name, as well as out of sheer spite and hatred.
God’s not racist. How can that be if he is love? How can that be if humanity is made in his likeness? Thank goodness, God is not what his children or people do. Think of it this way, let’s say you’re a parent and you teach a child how to drive and how to obey the rules of the road, but they choose to drive recklessly and have an accident. That child is not representative of you. Their decision to drive recklessly is their own.
I like to think that one of the greatest gifts God has given us (in addition to salvation) is freedom of choice. As any parent knows, the greatest gift you can give your child is the freedom to make their own decisions. Sometimes children’s decisions break their parent’s/parents’ heart, but that doesn’t mean that parent loves that child any less or is a bad parent. There’s countless parents out there who can attest to the fact that you can’t force your child to make the same decision of their own free will that you would.
Second Things Second: Life in the Horizontal
One thing I keep in mind is that the world broken; utterly, hopelessly, and completely broken, or as theologians like to say, we live on a fallen planet. Nothing in the world — people, plants, animals, the sea, the environment — none of it fully works the way God intended. That does not imply that God doesn’t know what he’s doing (he does) or there’s been some mistake made on his part (God doesn’t make mistakes) or that there’s no good in the world (there’s good everywhere). You just have to take the time to recognize it.
If God is real and he knows all things, why doesn’t he stop them from happening? I don’t know. God loves the world. He created it for us and for our enjoyment, but he loves us infinitely more. As far as stopping natural disasters and the like. I want to believe that Man has a certain level of culpability in terms of how we’re taking care of our planet. Take Florida for instance. The peninsula came with mangroves, which among other purposes, were a first line of defense against hurricanes, storm surges, et cetera. Man, in his infinite wisdom, decided to rip out the mangroves, and now the coastline’s natural defense is gone.
We’re polluting the planet and question why is this happening?
We’re so eager to live in places where it’s not wise for people to live that we ignore nature’s warning signs, and we still take up the defiant mantra, We will rebuild! Think of air pollution, climate change, bigger badder hurricanes, and all the garbage in the seas, to name a few. That ain’t God. That’s Man.
The Bigger Picture
God’s children are not good representatives of God, for the most part. History is littered with corrupt leaders elected by misguided people who fall prey to appearances; but there’s also good leaders of substance, too. If you want to read what I think is a classic telling of this idea, read 1 Samuel 8–13. It’s the story of how Israel wanted a king like other countries. God says, “You really don’t want that, trust me. If you become subject to a human king, here’s what’ll happen.” And they still want a king, so they get the king of their choosing. And from there on, it’s a tale of woe. (If you want to read how God redeems their bad decision with a new king, keep reading through 2 Samuel 1.)
Why’d he let all that happen? Maybe to bring Israel closer to him, the same way a parent would let a child learn a much needed lesson on their own. That passage reads so much to me like a parent-child relationship.
— I want it, I want it!
— No, you don’t.
— But I want it anyway.
— All right. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Why doesn’t God take better care of us? Why the inequity, the oppression, racism, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, child abuse, murder, the rich lining their coffers with the wages of the poor? He told us what to do: love one another. If we’re doing what we’re supposed to, collectively we don’t turn a blind eye to cruelty, nor do we give a wink and a nod to social injustice, and assume everything’s going to be alright. The vast majority of all the “stuff” that’s going on … that’s on us, not him. Imagine if we did that one thing how much better the world would be. But even though the world is broken and there is sin and evil in the world, that’s no reason to throw our hands up in the air in surrender. Christ said that we would always the poor with us. Why? I don’t know. Maybe as a constant opportunity to demonstrate his love?
I’m not knocking the millions of people out there making a difference in small and large ways. In the Episcopal church, in our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to honor the dignity of every human being. That’s a tall order, but that falls within the mandate of “love one another,” so I guess there’s something to it.
If people were really following Christ’s teachings, they wouldn’t be sitting on their hands waiting for God to intervene. There’s a lot people could and should be doing to show just much we love one another. I’m looking at you, fellow Christians. And that includes giving comfort and succor not just to those in our own neighborhoods or those who look like us or live like us or think like us or act like us, but to the people of Puerto Rico and St. Kitts as well. It means helping children starving in Syria, the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, and the people starving in New Orleans, to name a few.
I think we as God’s kids sometimes make wrong decisions for no other reason than we because we’re selfish, because we are willful, because we want to do it “our way,” because we want to be God and call the shots. Too bad we can only kinda sorta maybe see what’s in front of us. Too bad our desire to be God doesn’t include omniscience, maybe we’d choose differently if we fully knew the depths of how negatively our actions can impact each other.
I’m also a firm believer in that universal law of sowing and reaping. You know … cause and effect; what you put out there, comes back to you; do unto others; that whole thing. I have no doubt that with colonialism, white collar crimes, slavery, wage theft, et cetera, all that stuff, the chickens will eventually come home to roost. Here’s a word to the wise, if you go around taking children from their parents, beware that you most likely will be separated from your own kids.
Here’s an example ripped from the headlines. Michael Cohen has harassed and harangued people about how he was going to do horrific things to people and their families if they didn’t bend to his will. You’ve heard the audio tape. And now look at him, that guy is on the president’s naughty list and scared for not only his life but that of his family. I can’t even imagine. All I can say is, “What does around, comes around” … and ten times worse, if you’re intentionally perpetrating malicious deeds against others.
It can be hard for people to believe that there’s a God, let alone that Christians are followers of Christ, when there is a chasmic gap that exists between Christ’s teachings and the behavior of those who claim to represent him. Don’t mind the gap. If you really want to know if God is real, loving, and concerned more about your well-being than even you are, I challenge you to ask him to reveal himself to you. Then expect and look for his reply. He won’t disappoint. You’ll see evidence of his existence everywhere.
And remember, all of God’s children are sorely lacking (including yours truly) … except for one. And that’s why we need to seek him out and build a relationship with him.
For Marley K., Sherry Kappel, and anyone else who may be looking.
Love one another.