Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A God Too Small: The Christian Response to Newtown

I really don't want to write this. But I have to.

Pastor Jim Solomon of the New Hope Church in Newtown CT told the story of a six year old survivor of the Newtown tragedy who played dead to avoid death. The Pastor, on ABC News, said, "Somehow, in that moment, by God’s grace, [she] was able to act as she was already deceased... How at 6 1/2 years old can you be that smart, that brave? I think it's impossible outside of divine intervention. She has wisdom beyond her years."

It is an incredible tale of survival and quick thinking on the part of a child who should be too young to have to take such actions. And my heart goes out to Pastor Solomon, because he is so clearly out of his depth here. His willingness to chalk the girl's survival up to "God's grace" and "divine intervention" clearly demonstrate that his worldview and philosophy are too small to deal with the terrors of that day. He talks about the strength of the unnamed girl's parents in dealing with this terrible event, saying, “I don’t know that I would have the type of faith that they have if the same thing happened to me.”

It is a wise man who questions the value of faith and mythology at a time like this. The God of the Bible is indeed too small to contain the enormity of this tragedy. In truth, no God is big enough to contain the horrors of this world, and no attempt to build a big enough God can ever succeed, because every time we turn to God for answers to these problems and questions, we turn away from the only real solution:

Each other.

Violence may be an evolved response to ensure our survival on this natural world that is "red of tooth and claw," but guns were invented by humans. So was a culture that allows such violence to go on unchecked. These are human constructs, and as such, can be eradicated or modified. It might take a massive effort, but it can be done. We can change the world.

But if we look to a God to save us or doom us as He sees fit, what does it matter if we strive for change? The fix is in. The Divine Plan is unfolding, and we are merely cogs in a machine spinning in our predetermined grooves waiting to see what kind of cruel test God has planned for us. We are all just rats in God's maze, hoping for that bit of cheese in the end as our reward for pleasing our cosmic puppet mater.

But as the events in Newtown show, there is no God. What God grants his grace to one random child out of sixteen? What kind of God kills some children and lets others live through the terror and trauma of witnessing the event? Why do some children and parents get tested so terribly while others are let off so easily? Theologians call their approach to these problems theodicy, an attempt at reconciling the evil of the world with an all-good, all-powerful God. Despite what they will tell you, no theologian has produced a satisfying answer to the problem, because there is none. There is no God.

My Facebook friend Melody Hartwell wrote to Pastor Solomon. She took issue with his contention that God's grace and divine intervention were what saved the child from death. She asked that he retract his statement. To her surprise, Pastor Solomon replied.
Dear Melody,

Have we met? You addressed me as if a familiar friend. Do you live here in Newtown? 
Unfortunately the media hasn't shown "the rest of my story" regarding those children, all precious and dearly loved, who didn't have the opportunity to "play dead." Perhaps they were too good for this world and as another friend of mine has said, "heaven keeps getting better." I've ignored the media since many things are being taken out of context. I'm close friends with those who lost their children and have been for years and they all know as I've said since the day some of those children were born that I think each of those children were precious, wise, insightful, and beautiful gifts to us from God (James 1:17) and were tragically taken away from us (tragic for us, not them, as they are in a much better place) and they will live on with us in our hearts. At the same time, I am feeling very judged and condemned by people who don't even know me constantly critiquing a few words shared apart from their complete context by me while my two young daughters weep over people misunderstanding me as they've been very loved by me.

God's receiving those children into His hands is divine intervention and sovereignty (Psalm 139:16) and love (Romans 8:31-39) too. Please pray for the parents and siblings and other loved ones who remain and please encourage people not to be so judgmental of others hearts or minds based on a few words uttered from their mouths while they themselves are personally grieving. We live here. We love one another. The rest of the country and the world do not have personal relationships with these precious people and so we respectfully ask you all to "back off" and give us some space and time to heal (Matthew 7:1-6).

Under God's Mercy,

Jim
As is clear from Pastor Solomon's response, gone is the man who once questioned his faith. Instead we have here evidence of a man who has doubled down on his Biblical beliefs. It breaks my heart to see it...

I want to tread lightly here. I have no wish to add to this man's personal grief. But how can I let go such statements as, "Perhaps they [the children who died] were too good for this world and as another friend of mine has said, 'heaven keeps getting better.'" Is the pastor implying that the children who survived are now somehow now lacking in God's eyes? They aren't good enough for heaven?

God, we are assured, took these children out of His sense of divine sovereignty, i.e., because he is the king of all things, and can wield his power any way He pleases. He also took the children out of love. 

There is a confusion here, an intellectually stifling cognitive dissonance that allows God to be both capricious and loving, merciful and cruel. The children who survived are either blessed with God's grace or not good enough for heaven. The children who died are objects to be given and taken away, but also worthy of love. The mass killing is tragic, but not for the victims, because they are in "a better place."

I pause here to get my anger under control, that I do not say something bitter and cruel about a man I know must be suffering.

Believing such things and spreading such ideas as the pastor has in his TV interview and his explanatory email, is the height of immorality. The concepts expressed by Pastor Solomon are so confused they are not even wrong. They are simply a series of contradictory and meaningless platitudes piled atop each other like sandbags to hold off an approaching flood of reality. The Bible verses the pastor throws out are picked not only to justify God's mercy and God's plan, but also to insulate his opinions from criticism. 

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged."

In other words, think too hard on this stuff, and you might see it for what it really is: The small rationalizations of a mythology incapable of withstanding the terrors of reality.

I really didn't want to have to write this. I'm done.



Note: Here are the Bible verses Pastor Solomon refers to in his response:
James 1:17
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Psalm 139:16  
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Romans 8:31-39:
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 
32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 
34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 
36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 
39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 7:1-6:
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 
2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 
4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 
5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

2 comments:

  1. "6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."

    Bow-wow. So what is wrong with being a dog or a pig?

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  2. I'm not inclined to either blame God or claim God. I'm looking at the failure of adult America to acknowledge that the internal escalating arms race makes it possible for almost anyone to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This awful week follows years of children and youth shot by accident, in domestic violence, as 'collateral damage' to gun crime. It's long past time to say enough.

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