Sunday, June 15, 2008

the ebb and flow of God's grace
submitted by: slowfo

You're probably not as heartless as I can be at times. But I've caught myself over the past several weeks not paying much attention to that earthquake over in China. Ya know, the one that killed at least 55,000 and left 80,000 missing. I haven't read one full article about it. Honest. You've probably read all about it and already sent money over to help but I haven't yet. Maybe it's because it's a natural disaster and there's no one to blame.......or because it's just so far away. It is, however, a horror that has left lives and families in tatters.

To put it in perspective, let's imagine the worst - that all 80,000 missing are also dead. That would result in as many deaths as Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Or let's hit closer to home - that's the equivalent of the Twin Towers bombing occurring in over 38 United States cities all at the same time. Read that again. Thirty-eight Twin Tower bombings. Where was God's grace? Why didn't He rescue these people? Or did He act and keep it from being hundreds of thousands of deaths?

I felt the anger over the Twin Towers incident. I had someone(s) to blame. But I haven't been angry about the earthquake. Should I have been? As our insurance companies would classify it, an earthquake is an act of God. You mean like the Twin Towers was an act of Osama Bin Laden??

I've always grown up with a foundation of gratitude to God for all good things in my life and on earth. To this day, "Thank you" are the first words out of my mouth when I pray. But the tragedies on earth, whether personal or global, lead me to a question I wrestle with at times. If we give God thanks for the good things that happen, do we also blame Him for the bad?

Whoa, wait a minute! God didn't create this world to be bad like it did that part. But, since sin entered the world, if God has occasionally intervened in order to avert disaster in the life of a person, city, country, etc., then there have also been many times when He has chosen not to intervened and has appeared to withhold his grace. And if He didn't act, then why not? It's not because He's too weak to act or is too busy. And in the same way, Jesus didn't heal every single illness or disease when He walked the earth. Of course, Jesus was gracious with His healing but confined somewhat by His humanity.

Grace means receiving the good things we don't deserve. Is God's grace ceaseless and never-ending? Is it as reliable as the rising of the sun each morning? In His mind, yes. I believe it is. In the minds of humanity, not so much.


james said...

Great questions slowfie...

I've asked myself many of these same things, and the hard part for me is that anytime someone tells me about an awesome blessing in their life that was "totally God." I tend to question it and doubt. It may certainly have been God (and I have also experienced what I believe is God's blessing in my life), but i have a hard time seeing why God would choose to bless some rich white person here in the richest country in the world when there are other countries that need the blessing more.

But my whole line of thinking could be totally jacked...maybe i'm just too ungrateful to see that God can choose to bless whom he will bless.

mike said...

so slow,

i struggled with this stuff a lot and i came to the conclusion that god is either in control and causes/lets (not really a distinction when you start to work it out) bad shit happen for what ever reason - his glory, "free will" (what ever that means), our sanctification, what ever, pick your favorite. or god is not in control and is saddened by suffering. or all the bad shit is our fault because of sin and god is off the hook - which in a way means god is not in control and we are, or the consequences of our sin is (don't know how an abstraction can be a causal agent in the material world).

the first, and this is just my opinion, makes god out to be a giant prick (or c*** - keeping it gender positive) who i hate.

the second makes god out to be a being not much more powerful or greater than i, a nice and well meaning but helpless chump who i wouldn't find a reason to worship, but might have a beer with on occasion and secretly feel sorry for his impotence.

the third half option of it being a result of sin rings of sophistry in my ears, a kind of theodicic obfuscation that gets god off the hook so i won't even deal with it.

the point being that working through all this stuff and following the paths the questions put me on led me out of the faith. i just can't come up with a theodicy that doesn't piss me off and hate the god behind it and that is still coherent.

what do i think then? that we are probably all alone here. shit happens to us just like it happens to the rest of nature. some of it is of our own making (not a result of "sin" but a result of our own actions - direct causation) and some of it is just what we call it, natural disasters.

shit happens to other species as well, but as far as we know we are the only ones with brain capacity to think in metaphor and seek meaning to existence and therefore we posit a god or gods who are ultimately responsible for shit. so in that light the questions you raise say more about our nature as homo sapiens.

not trying to start an argument, just sharing my thoughts.

but those are just my 2 cents.


g13 said...

mike, how in the hell is "c you next tuesday," as one of my clients so kindly put it, a "gender positive" term? i just took an informal poll of all the women i knew and, um, 100% said there is no positive correlation between the term and their personal disposition:)

one more thing, if your hunch is correct, and we really are all alone here without divine direction or assistance, it is all the more important that we hang together.

mike said...

ha ha ha ha, well as i said on our little chat, the gender positive quip was meant to be ironical. talking about a non-existent god as being neither male nor female. yes the other term used is inclusive, but i just like the humor in debating god's being a prick or a c-unit. perhaps my humor is just a bit too cutting edge - or just not funny at all. ha ha. apologies to the ladies in the house.

as far as sticking together, mmm, maybe. one could argue that if there is no meaning or purpose and no ultimate judge then we need to carve out our own meaning and purpose and more often than not being part of a larger group hinders that effort. it is a rare thing to find a group that doesn't try to reform its members ideals and goals to suit the group goals and narrative.

not saying it isn't possible, just rare. i prefer to think in terms of a few close friends, or even a membership as described in Wendall Berry. Even in his idealized Port William membership there was an assumed, shared narrative. it is a tricky channel to navigate.

g13 said...

enjoy the irony, appreciate the humor, will stand strong with you if/when the blog rocks are thrown.

i found your comment regarding the tendency of communities to reorient individuals so that their personal narratives serve the common narrative of the community quite fascinating. i think that there is a lot of truth to your assertion and admit that it is quite difficult for communities to balance the emphasis on individual and collective good.

this is a difficult topic for me to discuss because although my theology and my heart leads me to value the community over the individual, in reality i am an incredibly individualistic person.

mike said...

i am with you on the tension. i value community for some things. and when i was trying to align my internal compass with christianity i struggled and failed to over come my deep sense of autonomy and distrust of authority. so i can sympathize with you. to be honest i don't think there is a one size fits all approach to the problem of the individuals need for what membership in community offers and the same individuals need for autonomy.

i believe i have found some semblance of it in the friendships i have forged with you folks under that one roof in Boston, and a few friends out here on the left coast.

i think that is part of the emotional drive to create family many have. we want for family to become that community of our own making. individual results may vary however.

Anonymous said...


I hope you'll allow me to comment on one of your last lines..."Jesus didn't heal every single illness or disease when He walked the earth. Of course, Jesus was gracious with His healing but confined somewhat by His humanity."

I'm not sure Jesus was confined by His humanity as much as He was confined others' humanity. He never says, "My faith has healed you" but "your faith has healed you." I've heard it stated that Christ can work with disbelief, but not unbelief, and I hold that near to my heart. Disbelief is a state of shock...I can't believe this earthquake happened (but it did). Unbelief would be a flat-out denial of this earthquake (it was staged...China's doing this to get aid, etc...not that those theories are out there, just taking it to an extreme level). One woman in Scripture had such a level of faith that if she snagged His garment, she could be healed, and it happened.

I'm 100% with you on 9/11, the Holocaust, Darfur, etc. I have faces/names I can put with these tragedies. But, this stuff, it just sucks. Period. And while it certainly isn't karma kicking China for Tibet, it is the fact that there are plates that can shift under China's surface, just like it can in San Francisco (and they had a nasty one in 1906...they just didn't have the media coverage we have now). "He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Mt 5.45)

I appreciate you asking the tough questions of God...we all ask them...everyday. And we don't always get answers. Neither did Job. He got his ass blistered for 3+ chapters, but God never gave him the answer he was looking for.

We're finite trying to comprehend the infinite, and when (not if) it doesn't happen, we get angry. I think God's okay with it (our anger). We're not hurting His feelings.

Kevin Smith Clark

mike said...


When you say,

"I'm not sure Jesus was confined by His humanity as much as He was confined others' humanity. He never says, "My faith has healed you" but "your faith has healed you.""

Are you saying that ultimately when god fails to heal us it is our fault? That people suffer, call out to god for help, but when god does not end the suffering it is their lack of faith, and therefore their fault?

That certainly gets god off the hook I guess. But it is a cold hearted sentiment and to my mind a nice loop hole for god to use.

Anonymous said...


You ask a fair question, and that's usually the response I get when I hang myself out there.

I'm not talking about fault here...I can only go by the Christ who is presented in the Gospels, and Jesus' healings are consistant with the faith of those who come to Him.

Check Mark 6:5-6: "He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith." One is tied to the other.

Thanks for asking a tough answer is by no means definitive, but it's stuff I've wrestled through.