I’ve been out of the office with a cold and am just getting back into the swing of things, so today’s contact piece is brief. However, it is heavy on my heart to say something about the massive storms, earthquakes, and fires that have been devastating communities in our country and around the world. Natural disasters are faith-challenging experiences. A recent piece on NPR brought the word “theodicy” into national conversation again; theodicy is the question of how a good God can allow bad things to happen in the world.
What’s your theodicy? What do you say about God when truly awful things happen? I know that some of us have been on the receiving end of well-meaning but hurtful theodicies, when we experienced personal tragedy. Those saccharine “everything happens for a reason” comments can be so patronizing and frustrating. Or, even worse, some of us may have felt personally attacked by more vicious theodicies, such as when a particularly nasty commentator suggested blaming Houston’s weather on the city’s electing a lesbian mayor.
While our Bible contains some unhelpful theodicies, (the Bible does contain multitudes), there’s one gem of a theodicy just about smack in the middle of the Bible, to which I’d commend you: the book of Job. Job suffers needlessly and innocently for the majority of the book, and when his friends come to him saying “you must have sinned. This much suffering couldn’t possibly come to you unless you deserved it,” Job maintained that actually he did not deserve it. The friends persist in saying that the world must be fair — that suffering must only come to sinful people, and rewards only to righteous people — and Job persists in refuting them. And finally from a whirlwind God shouts at all of them “you don’t know why, do you? You don’t know!” which I believe is the truest statement we have on theodicy. We don’t know.
With Job we affirm that suffering happens randomly, and that we cannot use our suffering as a barometer for God being pleased or displeased with us. But please, let’s not get distracted just because we can’t know what God is thinking. We know why these hurricanes came. Climate change is real, and the severity of storms will continue to increase as we continue to trash the earth. That ought not to leave us paralyzed. We do know how to take care of one another and the earth, how to do better in offering solidarity and support, and how to prepare ourselves for other disasters that may come. Donate to support hurricane recovery efforts at Presbyterian Disaster Assistance: http://pda.pcusa.org
PS: And if you can tolerate a significant amount of slang and four-letter words in your Biblical interpretation, I offer you this alternative reading of the book of Job: http://www.thepoke.co.uk/2017/09/08/reddit-user-summarised-book-job-bible-hilarious/