Looking in to the Warrumbungles from the southwest, 2011

Tsunamis and God

Writing in his regular letter, Jack Spong says about the tsunami disaster, "This planet, our scientists tell us, is some four and a half billion years old. In its life span it has often not been a safe place for any living thing." He is right. Life is not safe. It is arbitrary.. Increasingly we are able see it to be such; the God we learned in Sunday School is not in control.

The tsunami brings this home brutally. Did God cause this disaster to happen? If so, why did God destroy so many faithful believers? Moslem, Christian, or Hindu, we all face this question. The slaughter of innocents and the faithful was indiscriminate, and without justice. If God did not cause this, then why did God not stop it? Was God not able, or did God not care? There is no escape; the old image of God the all-powerful and loving One, simply does not work. For any of us able to look beyond our immediate need for a childhood protector, this is frighteningly obvious. To grow up, and grow in our humanity, if I may steal Spong's words, "is to embrace our frightening world and to know that we cannot make it secure." And to insist that "God is in charge is little more than another attempt to keep the delusion of our security intact." There is no ultimate safety. There is no Protector. There is "just us." (My words.)

I believe there is a mystery worthy of the name "The Divine." But our old imagery, the metaphor of the great and powerful king, no longer comes close to a satisfactory mediation of the Divine. We meet the Divine most constantly and truly through each other, through the Christ and all the other christs. Spong says, "All we can finally depend on in this world is our own fragile humanity, and human life is inextricably bound together in a common destiny. The theological challenge that rises inevitably in this crisis is the awareness that we alone are our neighbor's keeper."

Does this present us with a sterile and godless world? Wrong question, because whether it does or not, it also presents us with inescapable reality. In a world in ecological free-fall, rampant injustice, and stray nuclear weapons, the last things we need are delusions about all powerful gods (who just happen to be on our side.) More useful is to ask how we live with this uncomfortable reality the tsunami highlights.

I find that reflecting on the reality we have discovered in science and the arts, and slowly becoming able to talk about despite the censure of many in the church, is not to face sterility, but to discover anew, a great wonder. We can be so bound up in protecting our old view of God, that we miss the majesty of what is around us! I stopped the formulaic praising and defense of an orthodox God. And I found a more amazing and intricate organism in which we live and have our being, than I had seen before. A world which, despite all its disasters and uncertainties, seems set on an increasingly complex, inter-linked harmony. This place is growing. And it is no mere machine, but becoming conscious. We are a part of it, able to see our-selves, and reflect upon, and question what is happening. It is a place in which we find heart-thudding and soul-inspiring beauty. Night skies, soaring mountains, crashing waves and silent, hidden valleys lift us beyond ourselves. There is glory.

In this we have a special place. We are able to feel the glory. We have the conscious memories of generations. We have the lives of Prophets and Messiahs who have shown us life-paths which bring the glory to greater heights, and decrease the power of the chaotic and negative forces that forever seem to stalk us. History is indelibly coloured with heroism, love and compassion from ordinary people. These hopeful colours are all the more inspiring for the horrors they bleed through, and sometimes even paint out. In all this, we are able to act. For all our limitations, we can choose for the good.

By contrast, many traditional formulations of faith keep us in a kind of childhood. Is Life ever quite real in a world where God keeps us safe (even though others are punished)? Is it really Life, if there is a guarantee at the end of it, that means no matter what happens, we won't really die?

God alone knows- we can't do without the word!- what all this mystery is about, or leading towards. Why should it be that my little consciousness has come into existence for a few, all too short seconds of this enormous drama of suns, planets and Life? There are no answers, only guesses from the glory of life, and hopes, and our decision to respond.

I must respond. I know there is no particular reason for there not to be a tsunami event in my life tomorrow. I cannot pretend this is not so; I have been awakened from childhood. I cannot live in denial. I have to own what is.

I could seek to avoid it; to make life safe through self centred accumulation of riches, and living in the best suburb, and voting for my personally desired outcomes. This approach will fail. We all die in the end, and even the rich die young, and have their share of tragedy.

I could seek to end it; in despair and loss of hope, or in exhaustion. I know the temptation; the thought of not having to think, or feel, or struggle, or work. Just to be able to stop... To be able to sleep... I have resisted this. True, I am afraid; there would be no coming back, and I also know the pain a suicide leaves behind. But there is more than this. Life calls. Life is excitement, Life is joy, Life is promise; so much more than the pain.

All I can do is embrace the gift and be part of the drama. How can I refuse the invitation to be part of it? So, alone in the world without the old God, but with my friends and neighbours and the strangers down the street, I will seek to live in the presence of the new God... the same God.

Footnotes:
A Messiah, or Christ, was one annointed by God. Thus although Christ is The Messiah, there were others, such as Cyrus the emperor of Persia spoken about in second Isaiah. It is arguable that there are still messiahs. Back

Posted 9-01-2005
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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