Since the advent of the internet, a political event occurs and everyone is a pundit. After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and the imminent threat of Irma, it looks like everyone is a theologian as well. Naturally, most posts are not worthy of response from an intellectual point of view. They fall into some basic categories.
- A sort of Deist resignation if religious or Atheist resignation if not. The world is operating according to some pre-established laws, and no one is at fault or blame. (This response has become complicated in recent years by the contributing factors of global warming, so we may, ourselves, be to some degree at fault.)
- Evangelicals saying things about “God’s plan” and imagining that some being is behind the curtain pushing the levers and pulling the knobs to create hurricanes to destroy people. (As with most evangelical approaches toward theology, it drifts toward cruelty pretty quickly with statements of “comfort” to people who have experienced loss that are downright mean.)
Of course, neither one of these solutions has much to do with traditional theological approaches to the problem. For one, both of these take as a starting point the idea that God is a being who is either present or absent or existent or non-existent. In traditional theism, God does not “exist.” God is not a being among beings. God is the “ground of being” or “being itself.” In the traditional position, God is as much in the hurricane as God is in the victim as God is in the hero that rescues as God is in the crops that grow from the water. This does not, of course, answer the question of why there is a victim. It does not answer why people should die. It does not answer why there is evil in the world. It does start from a different point, though. It starts from imagining a God that is much more intimate and immanent. If the God you are imagining is either distant from the clock that was wound, or is a being that is controlling the weather from some place called heaven, that’s fine, but it’s not what theologians mean when they use the word “God.”
The traditional response is also somewhat counter-cultural too. If the Scriptures are any clue, the correct response (aside from helping victims) is to complain bitterly. It is too accuse God of behaving unjustly. It is to take the discontinuity between our experience of the infinite as a place of unmerited favor and the world as a place of unmerited cruelty into our prayers and meditations and have a fight about it. It is a tension that can’t be resolved, but it can be lived into. When I come up with easy solutions and resolve the tension in an easy way (either from a religious or a non-religious perspective), I wind up speaking cruel and easy aphorisms. I look for people to blame, and I close myself off from the work of God that might be revealed in the tension.
“O LORD, thou hast seduced me, and I was seduced”
“And Abraham drew near and said, “Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there be fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from Thee to do in this manner — to slay the righteous with the wicked; and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from Thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
“O Lord, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear? Even cry out unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save?Why dost Thou show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? For despoiling and violence are before me, and there are those that raise up strife and contention.”