Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bad Theology and Acts of God

“Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen." -- Richard Mourdock

No doubt you have read or heard about the quote above and the firestorm that has followed it. Among a great many other comments, it provoked this blog post from Susan Russell. The blog post itself is about the mistake of writing our own theological convictions into law in a secular democracy. I'm with Susan on that one--if we are against a country instituting Sharia law as their civil law, why are so many of the same people eager to write evangelical Christian theology into law in this country? Yes, we do legislate morality--from the regulations we support to the tax breaks we give--but it should be a morality common to the vast majority of citizens, not the interpretation of a shrinking faction of them.

But that isn't what I want to blog about. I want to talk about the flawed theology the under-girds Mr. Mourdock's statement: the idea that everything that happens to us is under God's control. If it happened, then God intended it to happen.

This theology is most often expressed, unhelpfully, in the wake of a tragedy. I've especially heard it after the untimely death of a loved one. Phrases like "God must have needed him in heaven" or "God meant for this to happen" or "God must have some reason for doing this" are attempts to make sense of the senseless--and to hang that effort on the belief that God controls each and every thing that happens in this world. Even insurance companies use the term "act of God" to describe a natural disaster.

Books can and have been written about why bad things happen to good people. The point is that ever since the Garden of Eden, there have been two things that blocked God's will from being done in the world: human sin and random chance. If one accepts the Garden of Eden story even as an allegory, the question comes up: Did God intend for Eve to eat the apple? No, he specifically told her not to do so. Why did he even put the forbidden tree in the garden? Because following God's will without a choice is not discipleship, it is slavery. The Bible is filled with people who were asked to make choices about their lives and the results of those choices.

It is also the case that the world functions via natural laws--tidal waves, hurricanes, earthquakes, storms and other natural phenomena don't ask whether or not there are people living in that place--the event happens regardless of whether there are two or two million people living there. Along side natural law is random chance--in other words, stuff happens. God may be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, but God has chosen not to control everything that happens in the world. Just as human beings have free choice about whether they follow God's direction or not, the world is also not subject to God's direction. Evil exists. Disease happens. The world is a fallen, imperfect place. It is not the Kingdom of God.

All of this provides, or should provide a sense of perspective to the Christian. Whoever ends up winning the election in a little more than a week or so, God will still be God and the world will still have the problems and challenges that it has. The way we deal with those issues as people of faith is probably more important than even this issues themselves. God does not cause tragedy, but God does help us deal with tragedy. And that is an act of God.