Reflective Rumblings (New Series, Spiritual Spelunking: Don’t Let Your Core Cave!)

I.

My ex-wife used to say in the midst of our unsuccessful attempts to resolve conflict that I was a blamer. By that she meant when something went wrong I wanted to know who was responsible. She thought once something had been done, even if it were a mistake or a mess, that who did it didn’t matter; all that mattered was resolution or cleanup will take place. I did not overlook the importance of cleaning up and such, but I wanted to know who was responsible so that we could negotiate-and I say that in the nicest possible way–a way for this not to happen again in the future.
I don’t know if what she said was on target or exaggerated. I know I have no interest in graveling apologies, but I do appreciate when there’s a problem if someone had a hand in creating it she or he acknowledge complicity; and we move on from there. If I am at fault, and I certainly make tons of mistakes–thanks for acting surprised–then I need to be able to accept responsibility for them. When I done something that disturbed or hurt someone, then it’s especially important for me to offer an apology of some sort indicating I know I was involved and that I regret it.
If I am a blamer, as my ex-wife lovingly suggested, and this reflects my psychological makeup, then my theological makeup is at the opposite end of the continuum. This is to say there is never any reason to ask why the big bad things happen in life or the big good things for that matter. Plenty of thoughtfully religious folk think there is reason to embrace the belief that God caused tragedies and triumphs, willed then, or allowed them and should therefore be praised for divinely impeccable insights or actions.

 

 

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One small rabbit to chase. The idea that God doesn’t directly cause the big bad experiences for humans, but “only” allows them is supposed to soften perspectives on an otherwise sadistic deity–creating humans only to turn around and torture them. I see no difference at all between a god willing something directly and a god allowing something dreadful to happen. I understand that a number of theologians who follow this line of reasoning are trying to draw a distinction between God saying the roof needs to fall in on your head because you’re a bad person over against somebody having a roof fall on her or his head because that person did not keep up the repairs in the house; God doesn’t come in and do the repairs for that individual. As the years have gone along and I’ve had more and more opportunity for reflection as well as interaction with people who have dealt with catastrophes my belief is as I said there’s no difference between a God who wills it and a God who could stop tragedy but doesn’t. That God is no better or better off than the God who simply says, “Lets just go ahead and crash the roof in on your head and be done with it.”

 

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One of my seminary students who is also studying in a hospital setting this term was told recently by his chaplain supervisor not to pray aloud for healing with patients who are seriously ill. The chaplain explained by saying the reason is that when you do this you are implying that God has the capacity, the wherewithal, to heal somebody who is critically ill and will do so if God wants. If things don’t turn out toward healing, the patient may feel frustration, defeat, confused. God gets the blame…for what God could have done but refused to do.

It was a wise thing for the chaplain to have pointed out to my student, by the way. I told him I agreed with what the chaplain instructed him to do or avoid doing.

This business of blaming God for disaster is its own kind of disaster. When we determine that God is in any way calling all the shots as history unfolds then we have ourselves a problem; one that is long established and never solved.

 

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II.
The book of Job in Hebrew Scripture is a grand piece of literature. It is complex. It is multi-layered. It is disturbing, but it has captured the attention of people throughout the centuries from the time it began being edited over a period of years with three or four writers contributing before the final draft was in place. If you’ve ever heard anybody slapped with life crisis upon life crisis say, “I feel feel like Job,” the central character in this drama is the person with whom they are comparing themselves.

The book has captivated attention from its initial circulation. Archibald MacLeish used it as the basis of his Pulitzer Prize winning play, “JB.” The original Hebrew play takes, on the surface, the widely held Hebrew theological perspective that God is in control of all good and bad that happens to individuals and nations; however, there is some questioning of that view.

Such a horrible, emotionally destructive way to look at life’s tragedies, it’s hard for me to imagine why anyone hangs onto it. Were the perspective accurate, I’d think this would be enough to drive any thinking person away from God except out of fear and the need to please God in the hopes of staying off God’s hit list.
In short, the most horrible tragedies befall Job and his loved ones, one after another, and to make matters worse God is clearly shown as having been involved in allowing those attacks to befall the Job family, which is exactly what most of the people hearing the story read or the play performed would have felt during the times that the book of Job was being composed and compiled.

 

Job by Marc Chagall

Job by Marc Chagall

 

 

To challenge the unexamined acceptance of such a theological notion, the drama portrays a God who would allow such horrors in the world to be careless about it all, at least in the case of the Job family. God has a chum whose name is never given; he is simply referred to “ha satan,” the satan–that is, the adversary. “Satan” is not a name. “Satan” is a description of this crony of God who interacts with God as if a poker buddy. There are several reasons we know that the adversary in Job is not a devil, and the main reason is that no doctrine of devils or a hell had evolved at this point in time. If you believe that God makes your life miserable when it is miserable–then you don’t need a devil in this world.

The satan drops in on God and says something like, “That Job guy is a real piece of work.”

God was confused by the comment, “What do you mean? Job is the best of the best among humans. Job is a reflection of my best creative work. He is entirely upright morally speaking, and he loves me more than anyone on the face of the earth, perhaps.”

“Oh, God,” taught his pal, the adversary, “You are so gullible and easily flattered. If you didn’t make life so nice for Job and his family, he wouldn’t give you the time of day. Give me a few weeks or a few months to call the shots in his life without your interference, and I’ll show you both what kind of person he really is and how little he cares for you when you abdicate your Sugar Daddy routine.”

“You’re on,” God was quick and confident to say. “You’re going to come up looking really dumb, though, because Job will not turn away from respecting me and loving me no matter what you do to upset his pomegranate cart.”

So, the tragedies caused by the adversary pellet Job–loss of property, loss of loved ones, loss of health. Job is left a truly miserable person–emotionally, physically, spiritually. In this low point in life, there are ongoing conversations with his so called friends and with his wife who were trying it seemed on the surface, to get him to a better place. The friends voice the traditional theological perspectives from differing angles. God caused these losses. You must have displeased God. You’d better get right with God by seeing forgiveness, or God will keep hammering you with more calamities.

Job’s wife, the only one of his loved ones not to have been wiped out in one of the attacks arranged by the adversary is a voice reason in the drama, and the only source of reason anywhere near Job in his suffering. She insists on honesty and reason in responding to all he has lost at God’s hand, they think. At one point, Mrs. Job says to her husband, “If God is the God that you have believed in and honored and loved, and this God causes you, causes us, such unspeakable tragedy, then you should just curse God and die. With your integrity, there is no other pathway open to you.” I think his wife was right on target because she was asking him to consider getting rid of his pain once and for all in the only way anyone could be sure not to be God’s moving target for another round of divine fun and games.

In MacLeish’s play, “J.B.,” Job is a devout, wealthy, and charitable businessman who loses everything. Angry that her husband won’t impugn the God who causes such suffering she deserts Job.

 

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I have to tell you, in this entire set of fictional reflections and fictional characters I really like Mrs. Job the most. She’s my favorite character in the story. Job, my heart goes out to him, and I think he’s a genuine seeker trapped in traditionalism, but I like the Mrs. the most. I also love that the writers that far back and in the cultures that produced the book of Job caused the only voice of reason in the whole mix to be a woman’s voice. There was much more to her than old wives’ tales. “If your God has it in for you and won’t let up, then the only way you can escape pain upon paid with no end anticipated is to end your life–curse God and die,” she said to her husband.

 

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III.
You may know the story of when David who would become the king of Israel was still a shepherd boy and a gifted harp player he was brought to Saul, the king of Israel, because Saul had some chronic emotional challenges that the harp music helped to calm. After a trial run, David was brought in full time as THE court musician, and Saul grows to love David, as does Saul’s son, Jonathan; many of Saul’s advisors; and more than a few of the rank and file subject of the kingdom. In time, some are saying aloud that when Saul retires, which maybe should be sooner rather than later, David would make a better king than Jonathan would make. In a very personal conversation, Jonathan himself said as much directly to his beloved David.
In time, Saul became insanely jealous of David’s popularity, and he did what was well within his rights as monarch–set out to kill the one whom he perceived to be the competition. David hears about what is going on and is able to make a great getaway, but Saul with his special ops people make David’s life on the run miserable. David found himself frustrated and fearful, far removed from palace comforts and frequently foundering around in caves. Believing as did most of his Hebrew contemporaries that God called all the shots, as we’ve seen painfully played out in Job, David is upset with God for failing to rescue him. In a cave, he complains to God about his plight.

 

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Even in a mess, David evidently had a way with words, and his prayer of complaint and lament to God became poetry recited by others after him and eventually lyrics for a song sung in worship at the great Jerusalem Temple. An introductory note included with Psalm 142 identifies that psalm as a maskil (“a maskil of David when he was in a cave”): “Dang it, God, in the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. There is no one watching out for me. No one cares about me. I cry to you, O Lord. Save me from these assassins. Have you not heard me play the harp, God?”

If I cannot enhance my wholeness, which is the goal of healthy spirituality, because I am in some sort of negative association with God–whether God is perceived as energy, being, force–then nothing beneficial is going to come as a result of my efforts. Whatever God is and however I am trying to unite myself with the core positive part of the universe God cannot be an antagonistic and threatening force in my mind. Forget an angry god. Forget a punitive God. Forget a capricious God. Forget a God who goes to sleep on the job. Forget a God who causes plane crashes and tsunamis and dreadful diseases and war. I’m serious. For your health, you must forget about a God who is so destructive.

 

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Probably more people wrestle with this issue than any other upheaval. At the moment, worldwide, anybody who cares about human suffering is preoccupied with the missing Malaysian jet. Blamers are blaming God or praising God depending on point of view for the massive suffering and loss. I think it was in a BBC update where I read that in Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, a police officer by the name of Hamid Ramlan, told reporters that his daughter and son-in-law had boarded that plane, intending to take some holiday time Beijing. “My wife is crying,” he said. “Everyone is sad. My house has become a place of mourning. This is Allah’s will. We have to accept it.” Allah’s will huh? God willed this disappearance of this plane? Of course not.

 

 

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How crass and uncaring, though, were we to be critical of this sincere man who is beginning to wrestle with what may well become staggering grief. I do point out, though, that he is one, alongside countless likeminded others, who believes and takes comfort in the notion that God caused the tragedy. He, for one, has at this point nothing at all to criticize in a God who’d engineer such an episode. All he can do is brace for the final blow.

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