Friday, September 02, 2005

Oh My God!

I had this great post about joyful discontent that I might post later.

I'm overwhelmed by all the images from the hurricane this week and the stories that are coming out of New Orleans and the rest of the ravaged areas. I look at all of this and think:

Where are You? What are You thinking here? There are children, babies, dying that would not have died had this storm not come along! Is my idea of You so screwed up that I think You can or would flick Your mighty finger and push the storm off course? Where are You? What are You doing?

Are we to be You? Are we to be Your hands and feet in this? How do so many of us who don't have resources be this? Railing against an act of God feels useless and futile because many times I wonder if You respond! I feel guilty about worrying about $4 a gallon gas, but I do worry about it.

But I so much want to wake up from this nightmare. And I want to do something. And I want You to do something. I want You to act miraculously! I want You to wake up and smell the suffering, smell the stench, smell the death.



Clarissa said...

There are thousands of stories of where he is ... I just heard one of them tonight from a family member. There is a small motel in a rural community in northern Alabama that is filled with refugees from this disaster. They have lost everything. They don't know where they're going ... they don't know where the next meal is coming from. Correction ... they DIDN'T know where the next meal was coming from. A small church of loving women, who, like you, want to do SOMEthing, ANYthing ... gathered all their ladies and prepared food for these many rooms of people. They now have enough food at that motel to feed all those people for 5 days.

It's only 5 days ... but it's a start. I've heard story after story of churches taking in people and feeding and clothing them ... the church is being the hands and feet of Jesus all over the region. It's not as good of a news story as the awfulness that remains actually IN the submerged city. But there is Good at work ... there is God at work! Don't give up hope. He will prevail, and we will see his goodness in the land of the living.

Tony Arnold said...

It is so hard Phil. I know there are many stories of Christ being lived during this disaster. But it seems overwhelmed by the number who will die miserable deaths feeling totally abandoned.

What is worse for me is realizing that what we are seeing is everyday life in many parts of our world. Nairobi for example.

I will continue to trust and believe in God, but I will not pretend that I can make sense of any of it or that it doesn't cause great pain. Even David cried out, "Where are you God?"

In fact, wouldn't something be wrong with us if these situations do not hurt our soul so bad that we cry out to God in desperation?


Phil said...

I know. I know all of that. But doesn't it seem like something more can be happening?

I want to believe that God is at work and I know there are small stories happening. But for something this big, shouldn't God be really showing Himself?

Tony Arnold said...

I think the truth is we do not like the implications of questions like these. Yes God should be showing himself. But doesn't Christ call us to be that presence? So if God is not showing himself, is it not in a large measure the failure of Christians to show that presence? I think God is presenting Himself, but the media may not be showing that presence.

Also, how many of the people in New Orleans that are not behaving as Christ would call us to behave, go to a church? Are they what most would call Christians? But the Christianity they have been taught or wanted to accept was not true discipleship, so that it fails under stress. This was my point on the Mere Discipleship blog. Like Rwanda, when push came to shove, Christianity was superceeded by many other things. In New Orleans, it is being superceeded by survival desparation. "My survival is more important than my Christianity."

I think we can look at the situation and say that the church has not prepared people to handle horrible adversity. Worse, the church has ignored large segments of the poor in this country. So that when they are faced with tragic situations they have nothing spiritually to sustain them.

Also the principalities and powers are ill prepared and their response is lacking. This is directly the point I am trying to discuss at Mere Discipleship Discussion with my post today.


Phil said...

Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

Adam said...

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. It IS the small stuff. It's a individuals opening their homes. It's a sundayschool class of small children sending spare change and pictures drawn with crayons. It's God being born in a stable. It's Jesus leaving "turning the world right-side-up" in the hands of a handful of followers. I want the kingdom of heaven to be like an explosion. I want it to be something huge and spectacular. But the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. That is how we change the world

Larry said...

Having complete faith in God regardless of the situation is tough at times, but from the time sin entered the world disasters have occurred, and will always be just a second away.

We have no way of knowing the impact a dying child has on God, but we know He is a loving God, and unless it was absolutely necessary He would not tolerate suffering, especially in children.

God is awake! God is well aware of the smell of suffering, the stench, and smell of death.

Consider Job; he was innocent, yet reaped a whirlwind of problems. We see but faintly, while God sees all things completely.

Brent said...

So, my question is this: Does God actively interact with the world and DO things that have an effect in this world? If so, why doesn't he stop hurricanes from killing thousands, tsunamis from killing tens of thousands, and genocides from killing millions? If he doesn't, are WE the actual agents of God, whom through all good things can come? It is hard for me to accept the belief that God is ACTIVELY involved in all of this. There has to be a better way of viewing God's connection to us and this world.

The answer that I am not looking for is that God has some master plan and has a purpose for everything unbeknownst to us.

Phil said...


I hope it's ok for me to say, "I'm not sure."

There's a part of me that believes that people and creation are really screwed up, because of sin. Some would say that we saw the examples of this with the hurricane and then the looting after that. That part of me believes that we ARE the agents of God in this world. Does He still act supernaturally? I think so. It seems that He does. Maybe He did with Katrina. Maybe it was going to hit New Orleans dead on and He moved it east, the skeptic in me pointing out that thousands of people still died.

The other part of me leans toward the Deist side. The idea that God is a clockmaker who put the world together and then just lets it run, only intervening in special times (Moses, Jesus, etc.).

Does God have a plan? I think He does, but I'm not sure it's some big master plan where He wants to make sure everything to work out perfectly in every possible way. It's for His people to active in bringing the Kingdom.

Tony Arnold said...

Brent, you may not want to hear that answer, but it indeed might be the acutal answer, despite the discomfort it causes a believer.

I cannot speak to a master plan, but God tells us in Isaiah 55 that we do not understand His ways. Our ways are not His, our thoughts are not His thoughts.

I encourage each reader of this post to visit Stephen Meek's Good Soil Ministry Blog. I asked Phil's question of Stephen and I think he began a response, not necessarily answer, but response. Stephen speaks from direct experience of missionary work in places where daily life mirrors the current situation in New Orleans, so his words have more credibility than most. Second, he speaks from long study of the scriptures and from soul-searching prayer. Another measure of credibility.

I think his address of this issue may help others. These are real, faith challenging questions that we cannot be afraid to address. However, we cannot be afraid to accept the truth whether we like it or not.

I hope this comment came across in the loving, I-am-searching-too, spirit from which it flows. If it doesn't then it is my failure to communicate, not my failure of a loving heart to each of you.


Brent said...


Thanks for your insights. However, I'm not so sure I can see things that way. Too many assumptions that I don't share. I checked out Stephen Meeks' blog and felt the same thing. I'm not expecting you guys to answer my question - only to ponder the predicaments of choosing our orthodox Christian viewpoint.

I think that our definition of God may be wrong. We tweek scriptures in order to fit the conclusions we reach about this life - according to the scriptures themselves. It is a merry-go-round process that we are stuck in.

It is hard for me to adhere to Stephen's perspective that all the bad things in life are a result of Satan and the "fall of man." It is hard because the implication is that God ALLOWS things to happen. If he does, he allowed 6 million people to die in the holocaust and 120,000 to die in the tsunami. I also have a hard time accepting the view that destructive forces like hurricanes and tsunamis are caused by evil. Some things that are termed destructive could also be viewed as creative (i.e. forrest fires, seeds decomposing, animals eating other animals, stars colliding, etc.).

It seems like we have defined God to fit all the things that are unexplainable or difficult to explain. To use the Bible to back up our conclusions poses so many problems.

I'm not attempting to "figure it all out." I am, however, questioning those things that we have already claimed to figure out. I am seeking truth rather than trying to dismantle it.

Tony Arnold said...

I am convinced of one thing Brent: if you truly seek God and truth with an open and sincere heart, He will reveal Himself to you. He promised us this. Although, I have found this to be true in my life, it has never been in the time frame I wanted. But God has and continues to reveal Himself to me, despite my lack of patience.

I appreciate your openness, although we see things differently. I would love for you to ask Stephen some additional questions or make some comments. I always learn from his response and he will respond in a heartfelt manner. I know he would appreciate the opportunity for dialogue.


Brent said...

"He will reveal Himself to you. He promised us this. Although, I have found this to be true in my life, it has never been in the time frame I wanted."

How do I know that God has revealed himself to me? Do I "just know?" That seems so be so subjective - especially due to the fact that in my 20+ years of learning what it supposedly means to know God from the scriptures - what I used to think was God revealing himself to me was actually simply a creation of my own. I seemed to have created God in my own image, rather than the other way around.

My speculation is that Christianity has done just that - created God in its own image. We have done this by taking the documents of scripture and deified them. We have used them to paint a picture of God that is inconsistent at best. The same God who told King Saul to kill his enemies, leaving no women or children, is not the same God who was revealed by Jesus of Nazareth and many people since. Jesus saw a better view of God that his forefathers did not, one that preserved life instead of taking it away. Those who wrote about God in the Old Testament were not dictating the truth about God - they were only giving one that was commonly accepted at the time. It was inaccurate, in my opinion, and should not be taken as "God's perfect and holy word."

It all starts with one's view of scripture, in my opinion. If I hold onto a high view of scripture, I come away with a God that is not one of truth and justice but only man's blasphemous definition of it.

Tony Arnold said...

I can't speak to how you would know and wouldn't begin to suggest how God would show himself to you, specifically.

I can speak to my experiences and then you can draw what reality or delusion you see in my story. My belief in scripture has been enhanced by my experiences. If you want to see some of the ways God has reveled himself to me, you can do so at my Tony's Blog. I just finished a series of blogs recounting His action in my life.

I will also state that my view of the New Testatment has changed drastically over the last year and has departed from much of what I was taught in church. Thanks to Lee Camp and his book Mere Discipleship, I now see the ministry of Christ in a must more demainding light. A tough, challenging life that is not clean, pretty, nor wrapped in a nice theological package. I agree that man too often tries to create God in an image man wishes to see, rather than seeing God for what He reveals Himself to be.


Brent said...

Thanks, Tony. I'll have to look for Mere Discipleship.

It seems as though God would be more clear about things rather than giving us so many ways for us to bastardize truth. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Brent. It seems like WE'VE created this Christian religion that we are part of. So many people claim to speak with God's voice or tell others that God has shown them something. How arrogant we can be to think such rubbish. I'm sure God isn't too happy.

Phil said...


I'm very tempted by what you talk about in the way people create God in our image (particularly how we can do it today). To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I like the God of the Old Testament. I don't understand Him. In fact, in the wake of tragedies like Katrina or the tsunami, my tendency is to like Jesus a lot more than I like God, if God is the one that causes stuff like that, which I'm not sure is the case.

Something I've been pondering a lot is whether it's possible to have a high view of Scripture while still recognizing the historical context and human influence on it. Is the Bible a living document or is it cemented in time?

Clarissa said...

May I add this?

God allows everyone to die. Everyone will die. This world is not the be all and end all. This world will end. Death happens. Sometimes one at a time. Sometimes by the thousands. God is no respector of persons.

Just because people die, as they were made to do, is no reason to doubt that the God who created them IS, and that he is good.


Brent said...


I think that scripture SHOULD be viewed highly - but realistically. What I mean is scripture is valuable in discerning our forefathers' views about God. Their perspective was not necessarily handed or spoken down directly from God himself (where would it come down from - the vacuum of space?)

What if man's view of God is an evolving process? What if the earth is a creation in progress (rather than created at one moment in time as perfect only to be corrupted by the "fall of man") and the more man learns about the world and its people, the more it understands about God?

What if we moved WITH time, rather than remained in its past? Can "knowing God" be a process that all of mankind has been a vital part of throughout history rather than each individual's own narcicistic discovery? If so, we are all connected together in one journey instead of a bunch of individual ones. A united humanity can move forward and discover things that can benefit everyone. It can have hope for the future - not a fear of it. It can be on a journey to progressively discover the Kingdom of God.

Tony Arnold said...

To echo Clarissa, death is not the end all. In fact, because of Christ, death has no power of us. We have no reason to fear it. The only end in death, may be the end to suffering. (see, I don't always counter what you say Clarissa ;-).

Now I admit, this doesn't resolve the question of why people suffer, especially the innocent.

Some C.S. Lewis references that may help your search Brent:

Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and A Grief Observed


Brent said...

Mere Christianity - good book. The Problem of Pain - didn't like it at all because it assumes the things I don't assume anymore. A Grief Observed - haven't read.

A Grief Observed: Does this book take a look at how to deal with tragedy in life?

This is another problem I have with Christianity's orthodox view of God. If God truly blesses people for living lives that seek him, have faith in him and do good for him, then he decides NOT to bless those same people at certain times in their lives, resulting in tragedy. I presently don't subscribe to the Deuteronomy 29-31 way of defining how God works in this world. I'm sorry, but it seems rather silly.

Phil said...


How do you define "blessing"?

Brent said...

I guess I define it as something good that God gives to someone that he wouldn't have otherwise received. Deuteronomy depicts God as the "Candy Man," waiting to give good things to those who do what is right. He is also the "Boogie Man," waiting to punish those who do not do what is right.

I feel that it is practically impossible to reconcile the God we read about in the OT with the one that Jesus attempts to clean up in the NT.

Some people use the passage that says something like "...every good gift comes from God" to say that anything good that happens to someone is a direct result of the actions of God because the Fall corrupted mankind to do nothing but evil. That may be an attempt to grasp the concept of good & evil, but I don't think that it necessarily explains the situation absolutely or literally.

I don't feel like I'm making sense to anyone on this blog. I guess I'm just in a different life-place than the others here. If I'm correct, most of you here are Church of Christers. I grew up CofC and still go to one occasionally because of friends that I have there. However, most of them are similar to those here and think that I'm going to hell or that I have given up on God or something. And that's the problem - I have given up on God AS THEY DEFINE HIM. I see God differently and don't have to use Bible passages to feel confident in my conclusions. I am truly happy and free because I am no longer bogged down with all the doctrines, God-talk (sorry), and evangelical naivety that I grew up with. I'm sorry if that offends some of you, but I guess most of you aren't ready to truly examine those things you assume are true. I am not bitter toward anyone. I am frustrated, however, with my friends who don't even know why they believe what they believe.

Sorry for the tone of this response.

Tony Arnold said...


Try Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb. Our minister highly recommends it. It deals directly with how to handle tragedy in our lives and our view of God. He said many will hate it, but for many it is vital. He said it saved him, his faith, and his ministery during a dark time a few years ago. He uses it for grief and tragedy counseling. He says it is not the typical view of God that the church too often portrays.

Also, our ministry made a great point in his class that started last night about handling dark times of life. He said that every human at some point has scripted his or her life. And that not a single character in the Bible had his or her life turn out as they had scripted it. And we won't either. We went through a list of the major players in both the OT and NT, looking at what their life seemed to be scripted for and how it turned out.

Disclaimer: I have not this book. I just found out about it. I have ordered it.


Tony Arnold said...

P.S. A Grief Observed does deal with how to handle tragedy and grief. C.S. Lewis wrote after the woman he loved died of cancer relatively shortly after their relationship began. Have you ever seen Shadowland? This movie with Anthony Hopkins is about that part of Lewis' life.


Tony Arnold said...

Read this blog, it directly addresses the question we are debating, although you may not like the opinion.

Pain and Suffering--Who to blame

JMG said...

Hi Brett. Let me start by saying that I am not in church and have not been for some time. I have always questioned the "orthodox" views of what I guess would be called mainstream religion. I attend bible studies and find myself disagreeing with some of the statements that people make about what are the "essentials" of faith--I guess some would call me a heretic. But I attend because hearing other's beliefs helps me to feel more confident in my own.

My thoughts about God are constantly evolving, and I'm thinking that that's an OK thing. A static relationship between two humans seems to indicate that the two aren't learning about and from each other. I think a relationship with God is similar. And I think God is OK with my experimenting with different ways to understand him, so to speak. I think God is happy enough that I'd like to understand him, and he probably even laughs good-naturedly at most people's feeble attempts.

As far as bad things like hurricanes, I think it's a product of the way the world works. Hurricanes happen because of weather patterns. I think you mentioned forest fires--I think they serve a good purpose of refreshing the land. It's just too bad that humans haven't learned to live in harmony with God's creation.

God's blessings and curses: Perhaps to the writers of the OT, that was just a way of understanding God. When things weren't going well for them, maybe they didn't see it as simply a product of bad decisions on their part, but instead it was God punishing them for their sins. Other religions had/have similar ideas about their god/s smiting and blessing at will. Just a way to try to understand a power that is beyond our comprehension.

Has God revealed himself to me? Probably, but I'm likely too dense to get it. But like Crocodile Dundee said, "Me and God, we be mates."

BTW, I met Tony purely by chance through our blogs, and I'll say that even if he's at a "different life-place" than you, he certainly respects your opinion and more than likely is not offended by your tone. I'm sure Phil and the others feel the same.

Several us have been discussing Mere Discipleship--Tony introduced me to it. I feel fortunate to have a group of blogging friends that don't care that my beliefs don't really square with theirs.

Tony Arnold said...

Thanks for the kind words JMG. I am certainly not offended by Brent's comments or tone. In fact, I have been concerned because I sense pain in your tone Brent (if you can really sense tone in reading someone's words). Because of that I prayed for you last night Brent, hope you don't mind. You might be surprised what I prayed.

I prayed for God to reveal himself to you in a way that serves His will and you best. I prayed for comfort and healing for any pain you may be undergoing.

Now I could be totally wrong and you are just fine right now and just stating your views. I prayed that this was the case. That life is good for you right now.

Sorry to butt into your life with my prayers, but hey, that can happen in life when man has free will. :-)


Brent said...


Thanks for the suggestions. I clicked on the "Pain and Suffering - Who To Blame" link.

"Blame Satan and not God."
"Death is the work of Satan."

Statements like these don't explain anything for me. I no longer believe in any being called Satan. This is another one of those terms that I feel has come at our own fabrication (such as Zoroastrianism) rather than a literal truth. If I continue to entertain that Satan is part of the mix, I have to ponder questions like "where did he come from?" and "why does he seem to have more control over things than God does?"


I enjoyed your statements. I think you understand my hangups. Your thinking doesn't assume the presuppositions that I grew up around and still hear often.

Phil said...

To answer my own question from the beginning of this blog, I found this article by Tony Campolo:

Katrina: Not God's Wrath--or His Will

Tony Arnold said...

You say, "to find the answer to your own question", leading me to believe that you like Tony Campolo's article, which is very good.

However, when Clarissa said essentially the same thing in the first comment 6 days ago, you did not seem to accept it (referencing your response on 9/02). It did not seem to help. She pointed out how people are doing what Campolo implores us to do at the end of his article.

Is it the time that has gone by that makes it more palatable now? Or did it take someone with seemingly "more authority" or "more credibility" to say it for it to have weight.

I know this sounds a little harsh, but I don't mean it to be. I just think it is a fair question and I would like to understand your progression of feelings and understanding over the last few days.


Anonymous said...

a little harsh? and a little arrogant.

perhaps better handled privately

Phil said...

I think the statement that helped me in the article was this quote:

"Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. Instead, the Hebrew Bible contends that God is mighty. That means that God is a greater force in the universe than all the other forces combined."

I also think that time and space have given me perspective. I still feel the pain and frustration at God not acting the way I want Him too, but I'm also realizing that maybe God doesn't act in the way I expect Him to. Maybe He does work mainly through us and the miracles are smaller miracles that it takes a keener eye to notice.

Anonymous said...

Wow--what a load of garbage, from beginning to end.

Phil said...

The article? Which parts in particular didn't you appreciate?

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