If God is good, then why…?
Confirmands play stump the pastor
By Graham Standish
Too often we blame God for things we do to ourselves, for things others do to us, or for what others do to others. Then we credit ourselves for blessings that come from God, and others for the blessings that God gives to them. Wisdom comes when we take responsibility for human acts, and praise God for life.
Why do so many people today complains so much about God not being a good God? You know what I mean. Time and again people say, “Well,… if God was really a good God, God would…” OR they’ll ask, “If God is such a good God, why does God allow [insert tragic event here] to happen?”
Each year I lead our confirmation class on a one-day prayer retreat, teaching them spiritual practices such as lectio divina, spiritual reading, walking a labyrinth, discernment, and contemplative prayer. In the afternoon we play “stump the pastor,” where they get to ask me the questions about God and faith that they’ve been to shy to ask. Each year someone always asks, “If God is such a good God, why does God allow such-and-such to happen?”
Over the years I’ve condensed my answers to two basic things. First, when we ask the question, what we’re really asking is why God doesn’t revolve the universe around us. Last week I answered the question by saying, “So, if a tornado tears up a house in Oklahoma, that’s a something God should have prevented, right?”The student replied, “I think so,… I mean, if God is good, shouldn’t God keep us safe from tornadoes?”
I responded, “But tornadoes have been touching down there for thousands upon thousands of years. Should God have kept tornadoes from touching down there for thousands of years before it became Oklahoma? So God should just stop them once people move in and build cities, towns, and houses? In other words, we should be able to move anywhere, do anything, and never suffer the consequences because God should protect us from consequences.”
Almost all the natural calamities we want God to protect us from are in situations where humans move to places where earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other calamities have happened unnoticed for thousands, and even millions of years before we ever existed. Is it fair for us to demand that God’s goodness revolve around us? If an asteroid hits a planet three galaxies away, but we aren’t there, is that okay?
Second, most of the suffering we experience in life, which we want God to prevent, is suffering that comes from the hands of humans—muggings, wars, shootings, Ponzi schemes, cons, arguing, manipulations, indifference, etc… We desperately want God to keep people from being free to do those things, but we DO NOT want God to limit our freedom to do what we want, even if that leads to other people suffering and struggling because of what we do as spouses, parents, flighty friends, business partners, consumers, or just people driving our cars too fast.
So, we blame God for being a bad God when God allows us to suffer the consequences of the same life that also gives us so many blessings. We blame God for not preventing earthquakes that have been giving life to planet earth for millions of years, or didn’t you know that the movement of tectonic plates actually allows life to thrive on planet earth? Why aren’t we responsible for moving into earthquake zones?
We do risky things such as driving cars, climbing ladders, smoking, eating bags of potato chips and too many meatball subs, drinking too many beers, using chain saws, shooting guns, living a sedentary life, arguing politics in bars, and so much more that have consequences. Why is the definition of God’s goodness allowing us to live a consequence-free life? Shouldn’t the definition of a good God be a God who puts us in a consequence-filled life, but offers to guide us through this life to a better way of living?
We judge God for not blessing us more, and then we take credit for how God has blessed us. We look at the opportunities of our lives, and we credit ourselves for succeeding in whatever it is: “I lifted myself up from my bootstraps. I worked for everything I have. I’m responsible for everything I am.”
Didn’t God give us the lives we’re experiencing in the first place? Didn’t God create us to work TOGETHER to build, teach, share, farm, feed, laugh, cry, and so much more? Didn’t God create us in a way, and nurture us in a way, that has given us families (no matter how flawed they may be) that have raised us in a land where there are opportunities? What about giving us friends to share lives with? What about times when God has intervened with invisible hands, or guided us with a whispered voice? We see these things as so basic that we take them for granted, never acknowledging that all of this comes from God.
So, we blame God for the consequences of so much of what just is or that humans do. Then we take credit for so much of what God has blessed us with.
The key to wisdom is turning that around by recognizing the how we are often the root of struggling and suffering, while God breaks in with blessings that help us overcome hem. Real wisdom comes when we live in gratitude for what God does, and become responsible for what we do.
The Rev. N. Graham Standish, Ph.D., M.S.W. (www.ngrahamstandish.org) is senior pastor of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pennsylvania (www.calvinchurchzelie.org). He is the author of seven books on spirituality and church transformation, and is an adjunct faculty member of Pittsburgh Theological and Tyndale Seminaries. He also has a background as a spiritual director, and as an individual and family therapist.