My email flooded with questions from readers this weekend regarding the shootings in Portland, Oregon and Newtown, Conneticut. As always, I offer answers not to close a conversation, but to broaden one. Here are some of the questions, and my answers:
"My third grader asks why God didn’t prevent the Sandy Hook Elementary School slayings. Our pastor told us what to say to our son, and the answers satisfy him, but not me. Why didn’t God spare these people? Why is there evil?"
This may be difficult to hear, but your questions are the shadow side of your theology. Because you imagine a God who could stop the killings, you wonder why he didn’t. Because you imagine a God who is all–good, you wonder why there’s evil. Imagine differently. In Isaiah 45:7, God says, “I fashion light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil.” God contains all opposites, and creation actualizes them. Reality is what reality is because God is who God is: the source of all things, evil as well as good.
"Can you help me find Bible passages explaining these killings?"
Don’t search the Bible to explain what happened; search it for wisdom that helps you respond well to what happened. Start with Job 2:9—“Shouldn’t we accept the bad as well as the good from God?” Job realizes the “yin–yang” nature of God and creation, and teaches radical acceptance: facing the truth of what is as the first step toward positively engaging with what is. Without the distraction of “why,” we are free to grieve more fully. The healing is in the grieving, not the explaining.
I’m openly gay and openly Christian. I don’t believe I had a choice in either matter: everything is God’s will. Yet what the Bible has to say about homosexuals hurts and confuses me. Why would God make me only to hate me?
As the election season rolls on I become more jaded. I am troubled most by the absence of truth in our politics. Facts don’t matter in America anymore. Truth doesn’t matter in America any more. Maybe it never did, but as Romney pollster Neil Newhouse putsit: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” 'F' the truth.
Mirabai Starr has always been drawn to the heart of love that resides at the center of all religions.
Religion is often about who’s in and who’s out, creating a worldview steeped in “us against them.” Spirituality rejects this dualism and speaks of us and them. Religion is often about loyalty to institutions, clergy, and rules. Spirituality is about loyalty to justice and compassion. Religion talks about God. Spirituality helps to make us godly. The two need not be at odds. Religion at its best is spirituality in community.
I seem to have opened a can of worms, and I invite you worms to post your comments on the blog rather than emailing me directly. I can’t respond to each writer, and I have to move on to other matters, but I have been getting some email about my anti-religion attitude. But this is the last post for awhile. (If you're new to this blog, you can read up on the other posts, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)
I split this blog post into two sections so as to not lose the import of the second part. In “I Have Failed, Part 1” I bemoaned the fact that try as I did to get my students to think critically about the Bible and the God it offers, they still held to their belief that God can do no evil, and all apparent evil done by God and in God’s name is just that, apparent evil, and in fact, when we learn the truth, isn’t evil at all.
I’m grading papers this week. One assignment in my Bible class was to rewrite the end of the Book of Job beginning with the premise that God actually tells Job the truth about Job’s suffering: that it was the result of a wager God made with the Devil to see how much punishment and horror Job could endure before losing faith in God. In the Bible, God never fesses up to Job about this bet.
What spiritual practice does is reveal the essential unity and interdependence of life. Unity is a given. It is only ignorance that perpetuates the illusion that something can exist apart from anything else.
Are you interested in learning more about spiritual confession? If you are a member of a particular spiritual community, chances are that there is some ritual of confession within your tradition.