Tony Jones wrote this:
A standard issue in theodicy has been an attempt to protect the sovereignty of God. Consider that theological shorthand for the omni’s: omnipotence, omniscence, and omnipresence. Combine that with God’s benevolence and immutability, and you’ve got a divine being who’s a lot closer to Plato’s Nous than to Moses’ Yahweh.
What if, instead, God is traveling through time with us?
What if God abdicated all the sovereignty so as to give creation room to flourish?
What if God is in a dynamic love-relationship with us, and both we and God are being changed as a result?
If this is the case — and there’s ample biblical evidence that it is — then the earthquake in Nepal caught God by surprise. God is neither planning earthquakes nor sitting back and allowing them to happen. God is a victim of the earthquake because thousands of God’s beloved children perished.
For some folks, Tony is a troublemaker, some would even say he’s dangerous.
But I think that’s because they don’t know him. I don’t claim to be close to Tony, but we’re acquaintances enough where I frame Tony more as an instigator than a troublemaker. (If you’ve met him you know he isn’t dangerous. Professorial? Yes. Dangerous? Nah.)
He asks and says things that need to be said in a way that demands to be heard. He forces folks to think about what they’ve been taught and challenge assumptions, and in an age where everyone is circling the wagons around what they believe that’s a very good thing.
I like the way Tony thinks and stirs me even if I don’t always agree. (Let me be blunt: I don’t want to be friends with only people I agree with. That’d be boring.)
So, given what I know about Tony, his work, and even his most recent book– his post today didn’t take me by surprise.
But I disagreed with him to the point where my Facebook comment stretched into 600 words… which is more of a blog post than a Facebook comment.
Here’s my response for Tony, one that I don’t think he’ll be uncomfortable with and am positive he’ll dismiss as just a typical evangelical’s response: I think God’s ways are bigger than our ways. He acts at a level our processors can’t handle… And yes, He can even author an earthquake for His glory because He’s all those omni’s without the constraints of our philosophical limitations.
He’s big enough for us to describe His actions as evil.
And He’s “omni-enough” to be patient for us to get it.
God is no more afraid of being blamed for what we perceive as evil than He’s excited about being constrained to the rigors of 20th century systematic theology’s attempt to define Him.
My respectful disagreement isn’t born merely in my far-less-educated study of every theological vantage point.
It’s informed by having walked down the same path already and allowing my experience to correct my incorrect thinking. (Something I believe would be good for Tony, as well.)
The Surprise of Haiti
I must confess that I wrestled with Tony’s concept in the aftermath of what happened in Port-au-Prince in 2010. Hearing about what happened and the wall-to-wall post-Earthquake television coverage shook my walk with God more than I was willing to admit in the moment. As news continued to roll in that the death count was thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands I started to doubt that God was truly good. In the aftermath I was left with big, gaping holes in a matter-of-fact, indoctrinated evangelical theology, kind of way.
For lack of a better term– God disappointed me with what happened in Haiti.
I was left blaming God because that’s where my theology lead me– then I quickly forced myself to walk back because I know God is ultimately good and benevolent and cannot, by His very nature, also be the author of something so tragic as mass loss of life. It was all so senseless.
So I get what Tony is writing about. I really do… I don’t want to “blame God” for an earthquake because it just feels so un-God-like of Him. Morally speaking, blaming God for a natural disaster just feels wrong.
But that changed when I went to Haiti.
Walking among the rubble, seeing destruction no TV camera could convey, smelling the death still hanging in the air, I remember looking out the window of our beat-up white minivan and wondering to myself… “No… really… How could a loving God allow this to happen?” and even bigger “Where was God in that moment? Because He surely wasn’t here.”
As a witness I was left wondering if God was even there. But when we got out of the van and started talking to people, I realized that my judgement was grounded in assumptions about what was going on, not what was going on when you really talked to people and listened.
The answers to those minivan questions took my breath away. Over and over again as we heard stories… our minds were blown to learn that He was right there with people, some of whom were believers but most of whom were not.
God wasn’t surprised by the Haitian earthquake in 2010. Yes, many died. But even more were saved. Over and over again we heard people’s testimony that in the moment… literally with everything falling around them… they heard the voice of God. We heard testimony from people who can’t explain how they escaped, that they were picked up and carried out of a collapsing building.
We met common people who had uncommon encounters with God that day. God wasn’t surprised. God wasn’t absent. He was fully present because that’s is, by His definition, who He is.
More than five years after the earthquake in Haiti– the rubble is long gone. But what has endured is the revival that was sparked by the earthquake. To outside eyes it looked like an unloving God was responsible for the senseless loss of more than 200,000 people. But to people on the ground? I’ve heard five year’s of testimonies from people in Haiti that the earthquake was the closing of one chapter of a nations relationship with God and the beginning of a new one.
As hard as it is to understand with humanity– usually the death of one thing leads to the birth of something new– new life was born out of death in 2010. We see it all the time in life’s great hardships. (Loss of a child, loss of a relationship, loss of a loved one, loss of an identity, on and on.) Death brings forth new life. It’s this universal expression of the Gospel which points us to an ultimately loving, knowing God who operates in dimensions we simply can’t comprehend.
In Haiti… this is what you’ll hear from Christians and non-Christians alike:
Where did people run to and find food and shelter in 2010? The church.
Who was there to help? Christians.
In the aftermath, who came down to help after the NGOs left? North American Christians.
Who has continued to help re-build and now plant new churches? North American and Haitian Christians.
Who is now sending missionaries to remote areas of their own country, neighboring islands, and even the United States? Haitian Christians.
To quote a friend of mine, Sister Mona at Good Shepherd Orphanage in Carrefour, “The earthquake was a wake up call.”
In the aftermath of Haiti no one would have blamed Haitians for seeing only darkness and despair. But what actually emerged? Hope and new life.
In closing, I don’t claim to know what’s going on in Nepal. But my experience in Haiti over the past five years has confirmed for me, beyond my own comfort level, that God was not surprised by the earthquake in Nepal.
He was right there, loving His children like He always does.
My hope and prayer for Nepal is the same today as my hope and prayer was for Haiti in 2010: That the Author and Finisher of all things, life itself, is revealed through the earthquake and it’s aftermath.
Tony ended his post by linking to some resources to get involved with Nepalese relief efforts. Here’s the link.
If you want to get your church or youth group involved in World Vision’s relief efforts, here’s the link.
And if you would like to learn more about taking a team to Haiti, to be a part of the work I described in this post, fill out the form below.