Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Where is God?

It's the end of my third day at the Whittlesea relief centre and though tired, I continue to be amazed at the outpouring of public support for victims of the Victorian bushfires. Christians, Buddhists and Scientologists were visibly present today amongst the people offering practical assistance and emotional support as required. Of course many of those helping have no visible faith representation and may not subscribe to any religious belief at all. Yet presently all are united in the task of helping people to cope with tragic loss and face the question of 'what next?'.

I have heard people publicly questioning the existence of God in the aftermath of these events. Some are able to maintain that despite their loss, they continue to have a sense of God's presence with them. An article by Joseph May in the Officer magazine some years ago entitled "Where is God in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attack?" captures a similar feeling to my own of late.
When I was at the Pentagon serving the men and women trying to rescue and recover the victims of the plane crash, I saw God. I saw God in the firemen who were trying to rescue hurt people… I saw God in the men and women, Salvation Army volunteers, who were providing meals to recovery workers, offering them a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.

It's significant that this definition doesn't only apply to God's presence in Christians. God is present in the helping encounter. There are no prerequisites or tests of faith for this. It is simply a reflection of the character of God, who is recorded in the Scriptures as caring particularly for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the vulnerable.


David said...

So God the arsonist started these fires so He could get a kick out of feeling needed again?

JDK said...

David, I don't know what you're reading but I have suggested nothing like this. As far as I'm concerned anyone who suggests that God is behind these devastating events is a lunatic.

David said...

Are you saying God is not responsible for His creation? Are you saying that God did not have the power to prevent these fires in the first place?

If so, that's a weak God you worship.

JDK said...

Hi David,

This is essentially the issue discussed in books like 'Why Bad Things Happen to Good People' by Rabbi Harold Kushner. Would you prefer an all powerful God that is arbitrary in reward and punishment? I certainly don't think that power is something to be worshipped. If you want to find a more reasonable concept of God, you'll need to move beyond the fundamentalist definitions which are currently constraining your understanding.

Regards, JDK

Jack said...

You say "God is present in the helping encounter", your quote from Joseph May states that he "saw God in the firemen...". Obviously many of those that help others are not Christian, so to me that shows that there is a level of goodness in humanity that flies in the face of the biblical idea that mankind without God/Jesus is evil. People are kind and generous, people are sometimes selfish, sometimes a few people do evil things. But in the main we share our lives with each other and try and make the best of what we have - events like this prove the fragility of our lives. So where does God really fit in? Are you just letting God fit into basic human kindness, which is really a product of our evolved society? If God exists, I cannot see him as one who intervenes in any circumstance, because as soon as you think he has in one instance then there is the automatic question of why didn't he intervene in the other? Yet Christians have been conditioned to believe that God really answers prayer, in spite of there being no evidence of it - they just believe that he said yes, no or wait, which of course will apply to any random event. Anyway I'm being to ramble all over the place so I'll stop. By the way, is this ever only me, you and David reading this blog? I hope not - I appreciate you taking the time to dialogue on things. I see a couple of the young fundies have been questioned on their association with Danny Nalliah's church, but they seem to have ignored the matter.

David said...

What does it mean to see God in someone's good deeds? Is the observer stating that the observed deeds are of such an advanced level of altruism that an external spiritual influence must be involved? So, jumbling Jack's perspective around a little, could the underlying theory here be that people are, indeed, evil, however God can act through anyone, Christian or not. It's just that the non-Christians are still going to "end up in Hell" (or the equivalent theologically liberal alternative).

This is a form of fundy cynicism, isn't it? Can even the most hard-nosed fundamentalist really believe that no-one is capable of doing good if they are not "born again"?

Jason, in reference to "worshipping power" and "why bad things happen to good people", no, I'm not suggesting that Christians worship power, although God's power is obviously one of His attributes they believe in. Hence, going along with the above position, it appears rather strange that God would influence people for good after the recent devastating fires, but not influence people in a way that prevented the fires happening in the first place.

Why would God not choose prevention instead of cure?

JDK said...

Thanks Jack and David for your comments. I will try to begin to address the questions around the human capacity for evil in today's blog. Is my attribution to God of the good which humanity does a potentially arbitrary one? Yes, it can certainly be seen that way. It is entirely a matter of perspective. I often have arguments with my wife about whether some shades are blue or green. My perspective on God may be similar. Maybe my understanding of what is green is based on a socialisation or inculturation. Perhaps its something in my brain that makes me lean that way. Perhaps 'green' doesn't exist but it makes sense to me because I continue to find myself nourished, inspired and stretched to grow in every way by the Christian tradition in which I live.

Regards, JDK

kmy said...

Fair dinkum, David, if you don't believe in God that's cool mate. Why do you feel so threatened by those of us, as Jase says, who are inspired by the Christian tradition of loving our neighbour. Its cool mate, if you don't agree with us. Were not out to get you, we're just trying to make some sense of life and the world we live in. If that doesn't work for you, that's cool. Why are you so determined to disprove God? You're protests, for me are similar to those fundie religious folk who want to eradicate the world of sexual imorality and then find themselves caught up in some sort of sex scandal. Why do you protest so much? Who are you really trying to convince?
I wish you all the best in your atheism, if that works for you go for it but sorry to disappoint you - it doesn't work for me. I hope you find peace in your searching or non-searching.

Anonymous said...

We can’t be too angry at pain or injustice – they exist so contentment and justice can exist. We can’t be too angry at God – this energy doesn’t meddle in the lives of men. HE wasn’t there to save the people of Rwanda in 1997, nor the Jews in WWII, just like he wasn't there to stop the bushfires. I can’t imagine that God invented the definition of right or wrong, good or evil – man did this. We are here alone amongst our beliefs, definitions of who or what is or is not worthy and only temporarily for a reason. If we live happily to an old age we should count our blessings. Everyday people die from disease, starvation, suicide, accidents, torture, or murder. We may glimpse this on TV or the radio – but to experience the sensation of life slipping away from your fingers, what fear. We fear so much that end that is waiting in the shadows to take us all.

We are more at mercy of fate then we realise. In prosperous nations people believe they can influence their destiny. How many times do we hear people say that positive thinking did this or that for me. I am happy for these people because they have the luxury to think like this but deep down I can’t help to think that it is somehow selfish and narrow minded. In extreme poverty the mind only cares about survival. A child born into an abusive family or poverty didn’t influence this chance of birth with their minds. Parents who lose their child to an illness or accident... did they not think positively enough or have enough faith?? We forget these things easily when life has been bearable for us. We forget the struggles and start to judge. The women born into Arab nations where the law permit their rape and murder in the name of religion – what can positive thinking do for them when sitting in a cell awaiting their next round of torture. Where is the United Nations, where is that Super Power, where are the humanitarian organisations. What can I do as one person??? I find it so difficult to live in this world sometimes. Other times I simply don’t focus so much on the world around me and I find it bearable. After a while in this state of mind I start to forget the struggles and think about what to buy when I go shopping, or dam I broke my nail, what a tragedy. But I still smile less than others, I still feel more distress because my quiet state is always temporary. Eventually I always find myself trying desperately to make sense of it all and I just can’t!!!!

In particle Physics even the smallest particles have opposing pairs. In that respect nature is built in symmetry. I believe God played a part in this. Could not the same principle apply to every aspect of life? On a grander scale it is obviously much harder to recognise or measure this symmetry but that’s not to say it doesn’t exist. This simple perfection will always give me hope. In my mind, I will try to break down the barriers of right and wrong, good and evil, therefore what should or shouldn’t be - they are things only of this world. If it is here it has a part to play. Now if only I can teach myself to apply this thinking to my suffering.

JDK said...

Thanks Anon for your comment and considered reflection. It has inspired me to post something today that I've been thinking about for a while.

JDK said...
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