Rev. Sam Storey, Columnist.
Candidate Richard Mourdock in his losing attempt to win a Senate seat in Indiana, said this: “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” Excuse me? If something happens, then God intends it to happen? Sandy Hook Elementary? Hurricane Sandy? God willed these things to happen?
Where do professed Christians get this stuff? Where do they learn their theology? If there is any greater evidence of the failure of Sunday school, it is the theology that gets expressed in the wake of a tragedy. What Christians say right after a disaster is disastrous and downright embarrassing. The most horrible things are said about God when people try to say the nicest things about Him. Here are some of the worst offenders:
1) “They didn’t deserve this.” Especially said after a murder. Does anyone ever deserve suffering, pain, evil, rape, much less murder?
2) “It’s part of God’s plan.” Evil and suffering are a part of God’s plan? Hello!?! Madness, mayhem, murder are NEVER part of God’s “plan.”
3) “They’re in a better place.” God values this life, and expects us to value and not take this life for granted. How dare we insult the Giver by not enjoying the gifts we’ve been given here?
4) “It’s punishment for the sins of our nation” or “it’s a reflection of how far we’ve fallen away from God.” Do you really think that a good, beautiful, true God would raise up a shooter to kill children to make us repent? Acts of God are not hurricanes, rapes, murders, disasters. Acts of God are love, compassion and mercy.
This is what Jesus was communicating in Luke 13:1-9 which shows that Jesus knows what’s on the front page of the paper and that people engage him in conversation about the hottest news. Luke records both the crowd’s listening to Jesus and Jesus himself using events “ripped from the headlines” to inform and form faithfulness.
Jesus used these up-to-the-minute examples to show his listeners that all human beings were trapped in the same leaking boat. All are doomed for disaster. All need the merciful hand of God. Repentance is a grace and mercy that God extends towards all of us. God loves us and wants us to be in a safe, saving, sanctified relationship with the Divine. The greatest current event is the currency of God’s love.
In the words of Rev. Emily Heath, whose Vermont church was destroyed in hurricane Irene: “I know God will be there tomorrow, because I know that wherever there is hope, there is God. And while the flood ‘was,’ God ‘is’ and God will be.”
Let me end with a 5th disaster theology phrase and comfort. It’s a variation of #2:
5) “God has a plan for your life.” Really? Only one? Do I get a say? Do I find it by trial and error? Is finding that “plan” like hunting for a needle in the haystack? Want to know “God’s Plan?” God’s “Perfect Plan” has a name: Jesus, who came to show us how much God loves us and wants to share the divine life with us. This is God’s plan for you and your life.
Got any rivers you think are uncrossable? Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through? God specializes in things thought impossible. God does things that others cannot do!
(Rev. Sam Storey is Senior Associate Minister, Emeritus of Marietta First United Methodist Church. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)