Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Punitive Nature of God

The Punitive Nature of God

According to this article, found in the British Newspaper, The Telegraph.co.uk, extramarital sex causes earthquakes in Iran. I'm not kidding. Here's the quote:

Attractive women who snub traditional Islamic clothing to instead wear fashionable clothes and apply heavy make-up, caused youths in the country to “go astray” and have affairs, Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi said.

The hard-line cleric said as a result the country, bounded by several fault lines, experienced more “calamities” such as earthquakes, the reformist Aftab-e Yazd newspaper reported him saying.

Wow--that will keep them submissive to religious law, won't it?  Have extramarital sex, and be guilty for causing massive death and destruction to wholly innocent others.  

On the surface, this sounds pretty ridiculous to most people I know.  Yet, as extreme as this sounds, I hear such thinking about God and God's punitive nature all the time.  Something happens that is bad or unwanted, and many will immediate jump to, "God is punishing me . . . (or you or someone else) because of my actions." 

Is that what God is about?  Does God work with nature and events to hurt and destroy so that fear of punishment will encourage certain behavioral standards?  Does God manipulate clouds, storms, tectonic plates, volcanoes, other people, automobiles, airplane electronics, world politics, etc., in order to keep people from crossing some moral line?  Did riotous living in New Orleans bring about Hurricane Katrina?  Are the sexually promiscuous responsible for the downing of the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001? Did the recent earthquakes and Haiti and Chile occur because some unmarried people couldn't restrain their urges? 

Don't get me wrong--I do think sexual intimacy outside the covenant of marriage is problematic and unhealthy.  Human beings are created for the kind of relational activity where physical intimacy is an expression of trust and vulnerability already built emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually.   That kind of trust and openness doesn't happen outside covenant and commitment.  Without that kind of connection, sexual encounters offer momentary pleasure at the cost of long-term hurt.  Nonetheless, are thoughtless sexual encounters adequately evil so as to cause the kinds of death and destruction that earthquakes in urban areas bring? I don't think so.

There is something more going on here and I contend it is the need control the behavior of others in order to keep ourselves in a bubble of unquestioned comfort and power.  If, by the use of fear and threats, we can force others to do what we want them to do, then we do not have to face our own demons and our own ability to be destructive.  The vicissitudes of life lay squarely at the feet of someone else--be they seductive women, punitive and nasty deities, or poor, helpless men who can't control their sexual urges.  

Again, I ask, "Is this what God is about?"  I've recently been re-reading the Gospel of Mark, an exciting narrative about Jesus' many encounters with the ailing, oppressed population in ancient Israel.  There is no indication he came to enforce perfect morality.  Instead, there is much emphasis on a holy healing, a freedom from oppression, and an extravagant love that invites everyone to take part.  Everyone--not just the morally or doctrinally elite.  Everyone--the broken, the sick, the troubled, the outcast.  Everyone--including you and me.  I'm saying "yes" to this healing  I hope you will as well.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Well, I am slowly easing my way back into work again.  It was a needed time off.  I'm also grateful I made the decision NOT to go to London, as much as I missed seeing the family over there, as the chances are I would not be returning for quite some time!  Instead, I experienced a time of much solitude and silence, rhythmic work and rest, and much restoration.

Here's a video link that was sent to me recently that is worth watching.


After you watch that one, please consider watching this one:

They are both thought provoking pieces.  After viewing them I encourage you to consider how to continue to offer the wonderful timelessness of the Gospel message to a world where nothing stays the same minute to minute and yet we are still creatures who need to be able to hear God's voice.  Please make comments--I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010



Grounded--that's been the word for many European passengers who had booked airline flights in the last week. As of right now, some of the flight restrictions have been lifted, but no one really knows what will happen in the next hour--or days. The last time this particular volcano in Iceland erupted, it kept spewing ash for eight months. Nature trumps all human plans.

Shortly after all the flights were grounded last week, my oldest son, who lives in London, phoned. As it turns out, he had been on the last flight into Heathrow that was permitted to land before that airport was completely shut down. He'd been working in the Middle East, and the rest of his team was stuck there--and stayed stuck there.

Although he lives quite a distance from Heathrow, his neighborhood is in the normal flight pattern for many landings and take-off's there. On Saturday, he called to tell me about a big picnic his family was having in their backyard and how nice it was not to have any planes flying overhead. He didn't realize until their disappearance what a constant background noise they made, even though the planes were still high above them. 

We also talked about the systemic effects of a prolonged European flight grounding. He predicted that soon less than seasonal fruits and vegetables would soon be in short supply for them--and probably over-supplied in the US since they have to go somewhere. Airlines and airports, of course, are being badly hurt financially over this, but trains are packed, hotels spilling over and anyone who owns a boat or ferry or taxi is cleaning up. He heard of one colleague who spent over $3,000 on a taxi to get from Paris to some place in Spain. And this is apparently not uncommon.

Big systemic effect--that's the situation. One thing affects another thing which affects many other things and everything ends up being changed. 

I think of those who are temporarily grounded right now, with their plans disrupted, and normal rhythms way out of sync. Will they be able to use this time to see things that have been invisible to them before? Just as my son suddenly discovered how nice it was not to have the background noise of the overhead flights for a while, will others find out that some of their patterns also might be bringing "background noise" that they'd might enjoy dispensing with for a while, or even longer? Will this forced stop give space to think more deeply about their lives, their choices, their relationship to things much larger than they are?

Many live as though their plans are all that matter. An event like this helps to re-evaluate such a mindset. We humans, who often think we have such power, really are pretty puny in the face of the natural world. Recognizing our puniness, in other words, some healthy humility, can serve as a big step to also recognizing the powerful love of God who was and is willing to accompany our puny little selves into every situation. A baby step, perhaps, but a way to see a temporary grounding as a huge blessing. 

We really are not in control of things. Our hope lies in a God who does hold all creation together, and One who can both laugh at our hubris when we chose to ignore or disparage the thought of such a God, and who also continually says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  That is the place to be, whether flying or grounded.