Saturday, 16 January 2010

Perspective shift

The snow's all gone here.  The grass is green; roofs brown and grey; the cars have lost their white cushions...  Last week my friend Jerry commented on Facebook, 'Watching news coverage of the Haitian disaster - Puts our own snow woes into perspective eh? - Those people have it hard enough as it is without this disaster.'  I watched the DEC appeal yesterday and found some of hoary old 'Charity begins at home' excuses for doing nothing trotted out on a radio phone-in hard to bear.  I heard an interview with a Haitian woman who said she was praying a lot.  So she was asked whether the disaster hadn't shaken her faith, 'Not at all,' she said. 'The Bible told us these things would happen.'  

There's been a bit of discussion on the radio trying to understand the implications for belief in God of the earthquake.  Giles Fraser on Thursday's Thought for the Day talked about Leibniz's 'theodicy' and Voltaire's scathing caricature of Dr Pangloss who justifies God at any cost, after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.  Mr Fraser declined to get involved in a debate, preferring just to pray.  

I came across an article 'Where was God in the earthquake?' by Craig Ulfman, which included this:
'Theologian David Bentley Hart offers the best answer I know in his book The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?  He wrote it upon reflecting on the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004.  Hart reminds us that "we are to be guided by the full character of what is revealed of God in Christ.  For, after all, if it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers.  And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God."

'As we participate vicariously in the tormented tears of young girls, lost and alone in the Haitian darkness, as our hearts pour out tears for the thousands of sons and daughters and mothers and fathers who have died so suddenly and shockingly, and as we turn to our task of being the loving and living hands of Christ (my italics) in response to this tragedy,  let us never forget the urgent truth about God that it is our vocation to proclaim: God does not will our sickness or our death; God does not will that evil be done; God has conquered evil and death through the Cross.  This is the meaning of the empty tomb. This is our Easter faith.  As Hart says so well, "Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation.  Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue his creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces - whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance - that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with perfect hatred."

'Where, then, is God in the earthquake? Hart puts it well: "As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of his enemy.... for [ours] is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead....rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, [God] will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes - and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits upon the throne will say, 'Behold, I make all things new.'"' (  Yes, I like the distinction, not baseless optimism but well founded hope.

1 comment:

  1. Michael,

    I absolutely love your thoughts on this subject. There have been so many Christians here in the States who are of the persuasion that we should stay out of helping Haiti because they are under the Lord's judgement. It's so sad how the enemy distorts our sense of reality. The comments on hope were so beautiful. I have lost my optimistic approach because of the dire circumstances that I find myself in on a daily basis. However, I have not lost hope. What a profound realization, when we know that our hope is not in this life only.