A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

God is Not a Bureaucrat

When I was a young boy I remember going home from Sunday night church service one evening. I was with my brother in the backseat of the car. My father was driving and my mother was sitting on the passenger side of the car. As we traveled home my parents were having a conversation about a young couple in the church who had been in a terrible automobile accident and survived. At one point as I listened to them talking my father indicated that their safety was a demonstration of God's presence with them.

As a six-year-old, I found myself with a puzzling question. I interrupted their conversation and asked my Dad, "If God was with those people and saved them from the wreck, does that mean God is not with those who die when they have an accident?"

I was told that I asked too many questions.

But that is a perennial theological dilemma for more than a few people of faith as well as many who lack faith. Why are some healed of cancer while others are not? Why do some people die tragically at such a young age while others are snatched from the jaws of death to go on to live a long life, as we human beings reckon time?

This is a complex matter and many have found the answer to such a dilemma in a kind of practical deism where God is aloof from it all. If God intervenes and saves this person from drowning, but not that person trapped in the fire, then it seems as if God plays favorites. Since such events appear to demonstrate that God does not treat everyone fairly and perhaps seems to care more about this person instead of that individual, isn't it best simply to take God out of the equation? That solves the dilemma of unfair divine treatment.

As a pastor I have been asked many times over the years why God did not heal this person or why did that family seem to have all the bad luck. After all the years I have spent pondering the problem, I have no deep and profound answer. Sure, I can talk about the role of freedom in human life. I can speak of contingency that appears to built into the very fabric of the universe. And while such matters are important to reflect upon, they are of little consequence to someone encountering the crisis of her or his life.

But I simply refuse to take God out of the equation. The idea that God must treat everyone exactly the same and deal with all persons "equally," at least as we define it, is to turn God into the great big bureaucrat in the sky. When Christians do this in actuality they do not highlight God's love, but they marginalize it. Anyone who has ever dealt with a bureaucracy knows that it is not exactly loving, caring, and personal.

Life is a complex thing. If God is going to deal with each one of us in a loving and graceful way, God must deal with each one of us differently. To insist that God must heal everyone or no one is to insist on a deity we do not want in the final analysis. Jesus healed many people during his ministry, but he did not heal everyone. Many still died from tragic events and disease.

So, while I have no profound answers to offer as to why someone is spared and someone else is not, I would much rather journey through this life with such difficult and unanswerable questions, then to turn God into the Great and Cold and Procedurally Fair Bureaucrat in the Sky.


Unknown said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

Jesus healed only a small fraction of the people who needed healing.

Good post.

Joel Betow said...

I don't want to take God out of the equation, but neither do I accept that God wills some to survive car accidents and others to perish, some to beat cancer and others to be taken over by it. I recall some of the language of the eulogy delivered by Rev. William Sloan Coffin at the funeral of his son Alex in which he recalls a woman coming to his house and saying she didn't understand God's will and Rev. Coffin replying something like, "I'll say you don't." I have to wed what you write here with such things as the Coffin euology and the witness of people such as Holocaust survivor's. When my nephew was killed in a car accident, I heard words of great comfort and encouragement and I also heard many vapid sentiments and trite sayings, including some by clergy. I also think God's usual refusal to suspend the laws of nature must be taken into account. If 100 people jump or are pushed from the top of the Empire State Building, I expect with high certainty that 100% of them will perish, but I still leave open the door of possibility and hope in God.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Joel, agreed.