“All the creatures look expectantly to you
to give them their meals on time.
You come, and they gather around;
you open your hand and they eat from it.
If you turned your back,
they’d die in a minute—
Take back your Spirit and they die.”
Last week I watched a mother, a friend of mine, shovel earth onto her 8-year-old’s grave. He died from complications after contracting the flu, strep and pneumonia all at the same time. He was the light of his parents’ and brothers’ life, and now his light has gone out of the world. His family, who are atheists, in fact believes his light has gone out forever.
The week before that I met a man, an ebullient self-made immigrant with a successful business, who told me that God had allowed me to survive cancer because He (sic) had important plans for me. God had selected me, from among the many other people who contract cancer every year, to live.
The relative power of God to intervene in the happenings of our world is perhaps one of the most unresolved tenets of progressive Christianity. We all want to believe in God’s interested involvement in our lives. And yet we can’t believe that God interferes on behalf of some (especially, as it often plays: white, abled and Christian) while permitting others to go broke, get sick, lose children and/or die themselves.
How can we have it both ways? How can we believe in a God who answers prayer, while not believing in a God who takes sides and picks favorites?
I don’t have an easy answer for this, except that I do believe God is with us and very much at work. What I often tell people (with a secular translation for my atheist friends) is that God doesn’t send the catastrophe, but God sure will use it, to strengthen, reveal, transform, or heal. Sometimes what the healing God sends is, in fact, death—which is not the end. And sometimes, it’s a life we never imagined would be ours—different, and often better, than the one we were living.
God-With-Us, interfere in our lives as You will, and not as we will—trusting that Your goodness undergirds it all. Amen.