I’ve checked out an interesting online discussion that’s been attracting a lot of noise this week. Why does God allow tornadoes that kill children and adults in Oklahoma? It’s not a new discussion of course. Why does God allow horrific events like the massacre at Newtown’s elementary school or Super Storm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina to mention just a few of the more recent calamities — not to ignore probably millions of large and small tragedies that happen every day all over the world?
Since there is no God, loving or vengeful or otherwise, it’s a ludicrous conversation, some say. Others go through mental and emotional gyrations to assure that God allows such things when He or She or It needs a bunch of “new angels or another little quarterback or ballerina in heaven.” That conjures an image of God playing a giant, cosmic video game, picking off specific individuals to fill vacancies in heaven. (Why heaven would have vacancies is yet another mystery for another time.) Still others suggest that using such a concept to try to comfort loved-ones does a huge disservice to what they really need — acceptance and acknowledgement of their grief — not a justification for why they shouldn’t grieve.
Others who apparently figure they’re in the know say God doesn’t interfere with natural disasters because they are in the natural order of things. And if H/S/I was going to interfere, a reasonable question might be, why allow natural disasters to occur in the first place? Exactly. And if H/S/I didn’t want children to be slaughtered by madmen, why does H/S/I not put a stop to madmen who are inclined to slaughter children? Exactly.
Questioning the motivations of God has sustained campfire talks for ages. And for most of human history, it wasn’t God at all. It was a host of gods, large and small, trivial and significant, magnificent and garden-variety, petty and even playful. We didn’t decide there was just one God until we became all sophisticated and modern. Modern being a relative concept (in time and space) that began a little over 2,000 years ago in what we call the Middle East, as best we know. Back then God was a jealous God who sent plagues and locusts and drought and famine and the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse, parted the Red Sea and drowned an entire Egyptian army in hot pursuit of the fleeing Hebrews. There was a God who stood right up for H/H/I people — well, not Egyptians obviously.
That was the Hebrew and later the Christian God of course. I know more about that God than I do about other gods that boast millions or billions of believers. A strong belief in God is probably deeply coded into my DNA since my great grandfather and my father both were men of the cloth, as they say. They’re both long-gone, so I can’t ask their spiritual opinions on tornadoes in Oklahoma or gun-toting madmen. But if I could, I suspect they would stand by the notions of “free will, the natural order of things and by the way, don’t try to figure out God, because He can’t be figured out by the puny likes of us, and frankly, He gets a little p-o’d when we keep questioning His motives.”
“Well, what the heck kind of answer is that?” I’d probably say.
I read Victor Frankl’s “From Death Camp to Existentialism” aka “Man’s Search for Meaning“ decades ago, and I believe Frankl mostly got it right. Basically and simply put, there’s no grand design and no Grand Architect. We’re here by a chance of nature. “This life is all you’ve got and there’s nothing after it, so do your best to make it meaningful.”
Whether or not God causes stuff to happen or simply let’s things happen or whether or not stuff just happens unrelated to God or non-God has tickled and stumped theologians and regular folk for centuries and is likely to keep them and us intrigued for centuries to come. And some will say, “What the heck kind of answer is that?” And I can only say, “Exactly!”
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.