Does it seem strange that people are always saying — AFTER a disaster — “our thoughts and prayers go out to you”?
What I mean is: If people really think “thoughts and prayers” can do any good, because “God is good,” and that’s whom they’re praying to, and they believe God answers prayers, what seems strange is that it occurs AFTER a disaster.
In other words, they’re praying to a God Who always seems to be too late! The Supreme Being seems to be reduced to cleaning up the crash site or the bloodied classroom.
This phrase has gotten to be the ketchup poured over everything: “Our thoughts and prayers go out.” But it’s always AFTER a tragedy. Can’t God get in there BEFORE? How about a little prevention? How about making a rifle jam when it’s aimed at the innocent?
It’s always interesting to hear people making excuses for God when tragedies occur. Why didn’t the Almighty — good as God is — intervene? Because (we’re told) God grants people freedom of will.
Really? Then praying for God to intervene doesn’t make sense. It’s like saying, God grants people free will, but not in this case or not in that case – because God is going to take the controls rather than let continue the “automatic pilot.” If God intervenes, then free will is taken away. And so apologists are left with “God is good,” but free will means a person doing evil trumps the power of the Almighty.
God seems to be reduced to cleaning up the mess. People seem to be reduced to mindless mantras: “our thoughts and prayers go out.”
Of course, all of this is only a problem because of the child-like (childish?) way that most people think of God. They think of God (in the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick) as “a magnified man in heaven.”
People think of God as being like one of US – only almighty and supreme and always good.
This anthropomorphism transfers onto God our human desires. We think that God thinks the way WE think. It’s why there is bewilderment and frustration. WE would have intervened in that matter – why didn’t God?
And when believers claim that God DID act – somebody survived a car crash – it’s always a case of an individual. But broader, more populous situations don’t get such benefits: tsunamis in the Pacific, genocide in central Africa…This view that God DOES intervene in individual lives affirms the human-made image of God, because it is so ego-centric: “Wow – God pulled me out of THAT danger!” The transference of our own desires onto God results in our egocentricity poking through, thinking that God is so completely aware of my own life. Meanwhile, a cyclone rips through Bangladesh.
The problem begins with the way many believers imagine God. The image of God is a disconnect with reality. Thus, believers continually have to apologize for this way of believing God to be. They have to apologize for God. Why didn’t God step in? If God is almighty and supreme and good and all-wise, why is this the best that God can come up with, letting evil people play their card? And then when the disaster has struck, “our thoughts and prayers go out.”
It all seems such a disconnect from reality: the God that people imagine vs. the awfulness all around us.
Some stubbornly stick to their image of God, and call that “faithfulness.” Others, however, do what believers in the Bible did: They adjust!
In the Old Testament, there was an idea of the Messiah. He would drive foreign powers out of the Holy Land and restore the Kingdom of King David. In the New Testament, the Messiah doesn’t manhandle the Romans; rather, He gets manhandled BY the Romans. Jesus hanging on a cross wasn’t what people expected from a Messiah. They adjusted their thinking. God IS good and mighty – but not in terms of intervening in the events of the day; rather, in terms of making relationships with people.
It is the Spirit of God that works in the world – but not by stopping tsunamis or terrorist attacks. In such terms, God is powerless. What other conclusion can we make when we simply look at the awfulness all around us? Rather, God’s power on Earth is spiritual. Primarily, it’s the making of relationships.
Believers in the days of the Gospels adjusted their thinking about the Messiah. They had to. There was a disconnect between their former belief in a Savior vs. Jesus hanging helplessly on a cross. They adjusted their belief to match the realities all around them.
The same type of adjustment is needed today, but is resisted by so many believers. They think sticking to an image of God as good and almighty and all-wise and in control is “faithfulness” in spite of the disconnect with the awful things that go on every day.
Better to understand that God’s power is spiritual – God’s accomplishment is relationships. Let’s give up the human image of God. It only creates bewilderment. Belief is the lens through which we view life – by which we explain life. But this belief in God as being a “magnified man in heaven” only confuses us. WE would have intervened if we had the power – we can’t understand why GOD isn’t acting the way WE ourselves would.
How many terrorist attacks does it take before people concede that God is NOT going to step in? Because God’s influence is spiritual, and spirit is not vocal, nor visible, nor violent. Spirit CAN be ignored.