It is wrong to exploit another’s tragedy, and I hope no one reading this blog will accuse me of doing so. Yet I saw something on television yesterday that begs for comment.
At the height of her distress, with a camera shoved into her grief, one of the wives of the West Virginian miners lost in the recent Sago mine disaster admitted that it is hard to believe in God.
What do you say to someone whose pain overwhelms her theology? How do you rescue God for this poor woman? You don’t. You can’t. She will work this out for herself, and more than likely she will find a way to reconcile her God with her loss.
But what about the rest of us? What about the millions of video voyeurs who are not personally touched by the tragedy? What can we say to ourselves about God? How can an all-loving and all-powerful God allow such suffering? He can’t.
Either God is not all-loving or God is not all-powerful. Either God is all-powerful and cruel, or God is all-loving and impotent. This is the argument Rabbi Harold Kushner makes in his book When Bad Things Happen To Good People (notice he says “when” and not “why.”) He argues for the second option: God wants to prevent such tragedies, but does not have the power to do so.
While I agree with Kushner that this is the better of the two choices, I think there is a third option that is better still.
Kushner’s theology rests on the assumption that God is separate from creation. I cannot accept this assumption. For me creation is God manifest in time and space. God is the tsunami, the hurricane, the earthquake, and the mine explosion. God is the hundreds of thousands killed on the surface of the earth and the twelve killed beneath it. God is the dead and God is the mourner. And, because God cannot be other than God, all that happens is God’s nature. When the conditions that make for mine explosions are present, mines explode. God cannot change reality. God is reality. Why do bad things happen to good people? For the same reason good things happen to good people: things happen. God is what happens, good and bad.
While those whose lives have been ripped apart must struggle to make sense of their reality, the rest of us should use these horrors to challenge the easy grace of a god we have yoked to piety and politics; a god who rewards and punishes, who has friends and enemies, who prefers one gender, one sexual preference, one people, one patch of dirt over another; a god who is our cosmic concierge.
Making sense is an act of faith. Making excuses is an act of religion. I hope the miner’s wife doesn’t lose her faith, but I hope we all lose our religion.