Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Acts of God"?

I had a letter today from a friend whose faith has been profoundly shaken by the devastating earthquake in Haiti, an event insurance companies put in the category of “acts of God.” How could God cause so many desperately poor, defenseless people to suffer in this way?

Here is an extract from my response:

So-called “acts of God” -- earthquakes, tidal waves, droughts, floods, etc. -- definitely challenge the idea most of us have of God. What we can know about God is far more limited that what cats can know about people. For many people, the idea is that God runs everything -- from the weather to the stability of the earth. You might call it the “God-as-babysitter” idea.

My own concept of God, inadequate as it is, is quite different. God has given us a very uncertain place to live, and not only does God not protect us from each other (as we see in every war, and see in its most dramatic form in Christ’s crucifixion), but also doesn’t protect us from the unsettled planet that is our home. Among the things that are remarkable about the Christ’s Gospel is that it has to do with how to live in a world that is extremely dangerous, unpredictable and unfair.

I sometimes think about writing a book on various ideas of God that many people embrace but which are profoundly inadequate and which we need to move beyond. Doing so is very scary -- we fear we are losing God altogether -- but all we’re doing is moving into ever-larger rooms. The one constant is that Christ is with us as we make this journey.

It was remarkable to see several news clips made in Haiti after the earthquake in which, to my astonishment, people were singing songs of praise. It is very hard for us to imagine doing the same if we try to project ourselves into similar circumstances. But I think of that attitude -- much rarer in the rich countries than in the poor ones -- when I look at the Haitian wood carving that hangs on the wall in our living room.


(double-click on images to enlarge)


Cathleen said...

"What we can know about God is far more limited that what cats can know about people."

I love that! And I like the idea for the book. My idea of God has changed so significantly over the course of my lifetime and I have to think that it is a universal experience.

Great post!

Marco said...

Great post Jim! This earth is definetely not our homeland.

Else M Tennessen said...

Great post, Jim. I especially like, The one constant is that Christ is with us as we make this journey. I also encourage your book idea. Bless you!

Ken said...

Thanks for this perspective on such a dismal specter. My wife bought a wood sculpture very similar to yours on her first visit to Haiti in 1977. For me as a Quaker (about as far from Christian orthodoxy as possible when it comes to icons), this is one of my favorites among the numerous pieces devoted to Mary around the house.