The ring of fire

From the preface to How God Acts by Denis Edwards*:

When a natural tragedy brings death and destruction … one of the responses is the question ‘Why is God doing this? The question is asked by both churchgoers and by those who have abandoned church practice. Sometimes it appears in the secular press, along with answer from a range of religious authorities.

All of these answers seem at best inadequate, and some of them can be extremely damaging. They intensify the pain of the sufferers, either by making them feel they are responsible for the suffering or by making them feel that God is punishing them or has in some way targeted them. Such answers can distort the Christian gospel of God. There is little of the good news of the God proclaimed by Jesus. In particular it is essential to ask whether it is appropriate to think of God, the God of Jesus, as deliberately sending disaster to some people while saving others from them. This, of course, raises a fundamental question about how we think of God acting in our world.

There is a new intensity o the problem of evil in our day, however, because of our twenty-first-century scientific worldview. We now know that the evolution of life, with all its abundance and beauty, has been accompanied by terrible costs, not only to human beings, but also to many other species, most of which are now extinct. The costs are built into the system, into the physical processes at work in the geology of our planet, such as the meeting of tectonic plates that give rise not only to mountain ranges and new habitats but also to deadly earth quakes and tsunamis … We know, as no generation has known before us, that these costs are intrinsic to the processes that give rise to life on earth in all its wonderful diversity.

I find it hard to believe in an interventionist God so praying for God to intervene in Japan and ‘help’ the devastation of life and land just doesn’t make sense to me. But I do want to express a ‘connection’ to those people, perhaps a sense of ‘praying with’ rather than ‘praying for’.

So I pray with the people of Japan as they bear the burden of the costs of being part of life and I hope they soon see its abundance and beauty.

I also offer this image** as an Australian symbol of beauty and abundance emerging from the devastation of fire.

bud emerges from burnt gum tree

* How God Acts: Creation, Redemption and Special Divine Action by Denis Edwards
** Photo is sourced from flickr.

3 Responses to The ring of fire

  1. Stephen K says:

    Tony, I shrink a little from the thought that, believing in God, I should never seek support and aid from the sustainer of the universe of which I am a part on the grounds it might be arrogant. Moreover I think praying in a spirit of need is a reflection of our human condition and the relation we desire with a personal God.

    Nonetheless I think the notion of an intervening God is problematic. That means I think the Incarnation has to be re-evaluated and imagined. I think it is much more plausible that God incarnates either never or all the time. This means, in theory, that classic Christian faith has to be jettisoned, as a logical consequence, and Buddhism begins to look much more reasonable. Jesus can still be embraced as a Way but only with due acknowledgment of the culture-specificity of our understanding, and circumstantial accidence of our birth and experience. (Of course, we do not approach matters of the spirit and religion just with logic, but holistically, with our personality and emotion, so Christianity need not after all be jettisoned but simply embraced in a differently aware way).

    As to how we view things that happen in the world, I think it may be healthy to periodically reject the anthropomorphism of our usual ways of framing God solely in terms of Trinity, Persons and Incarnation and see God immanently as the creative and sustaining impulse of the cosmos. Just my own thoughts of course.

    • Faz says:

      Just before I read your response, Stephen, I caught the tail end of an archived story from Foreign Correspondent on ABC News 24. The story Lourdes, Miracle City reminded me of my own visit there a couple of years ago.

      I was with friends and we had two cars. Generally we travelled together but this time we separated. Our car went on to Lourdes and the other headed back to France. Truth be known, I wanted to be in the other car because I knew they were going to experience the miracle of the Millau Viaduct.

      But I was with the car that stayed for one night in Lourdes. I wrote about it a few times on Catholica (including here and here) and, I guess, I come away from that experience with humilty rather than arrogance. Arrogance would have dismissed it as rubbish — which, I think, a lot of it is! — but humility enabled me to be touched by a tangible faith and love.

      It’s a paradox and, I agree with you, it can’t be resolved by arrogance. You’ve got to hold on to it with humility.

      How does that verse go? Lord I don’t believe, help me in my belief. Or is it the other way round?

      • Stephen K says:

        Thanks for the links, Tony. I’m truly amazed at the Millau Viaduct (so that makes it a miracle=wonder) and I understand and endorse your comments on the Lourdes stuff. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say things we can’t quite get our heads around are salutary reminders that we can never be on top of the divine, which is what gets me about all the insistence on definitions and doctrine. I mean, what’s more important: an embrace of the presence of the holy and divine, or transubstantiation? And if we can’t tell Mary McKillop was a holy woman without an obscure medical reversal (or two!) 100 years later, you can see why many people would think the Church founded on exotic wonders common to “pagan” cults.

        I don’t deride people’s sense of the numinous and wonderful especially if it arouses reverence and awe and a sense of humility at the limits of our abilities and knowledge. After all, if I think they can’t box in God, who am I to say ultimately what all this means?

        I’m familiar with the verse you cite (it’s the other way round though – “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief!”) and think it’s a fair call. My only qualification is, the belief referred to can hardly be co-extensive with one particular creed: I think, looking at the way we develop and assimilate a myriad of experience through the course of our lives that it’s much more dynamic and evolving than that.

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