Anyone else confused by this?

Once again, Monday morning rolls around and awakens me from a groggy sleep. The prior two days of sleeping in have thrown off my body’s schedule, causing me to once again wonder why it is that I spend 5 days of the week rolling out of my comfortable bed to drive to work and spend a day in meetings or in front of my computer. Then I remember what its like to eat ramen for meals, and I realize work might not be so bad.

My daily commute is sped along by daily doses of NPR. Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace are the breaks in the monotony of construction and idiot drivers all around me. If it were not for those three friends, the drive would just not be the same.

So this morning, I hear a story which seems to be a piece of fluff until one quote really catches my ear. The story is set in the Philippines and the fallout from a series of recent natural disasters that have struck that land. The story is about how people use their faith when dealing with a catastrophe.

The quote that really catches me is when a man who lost 8 members of his family in a recent mudslide:

“It was the will of God,” Valderrama says. “It was not because of man.”

Now, the story is part of a series on climate change, so much of it is centered on man’s pollution and mishandling of the world is causing natural disasters to increase and hurt the poorest of the poor, one of whom gave the above quote. While that is interesting, a priest’s rebuttal to the quote started me on a different, yet related, train of thought:

Father Jovic says he understands why people blame God for volcanoes and typhoons. “This is the simplest way of rationalizing what happened,” Jovic says. “Because if you do that, then you don’t blame anybody else but God.”

I think the priest has it right here, but what about the opposite of this? We often hear clergy and our brethren speaking of how God has nothing but good plans for us, plans to prosper us and for our good. We hear messages of how God did not cause that school shooting or our relative to develop and die from cancer.

What I wonder is, if God isn’t the direct cause of all of our suffering, is he the direct cause of all of our happiness? Now, first off, lets just baseline here and say that, if we believe God created all of the universe, then he is the indirect cause for everything. He started the ball rolling, but all of us who the ball nears gets a chance to kick it off course. In the same way, our kicks may be bad (moving the ball away from God’s intended course) or they may be good (nudging the ball back towards God’s course after some nimrod set it awry).

Lets go back to the cancer example for a moment. Developing cancer is generally thought of as a bad thing. So, lets say that a family member has cancer and needs at home care 24/7. That’s bad. So another family member quits their job to stay home and take care of the one in need. That could be good or bad, depending upon the job that is being left and depending upon the relationship between the one with cancer and the one leaving their job. If the job is being a brain surgeon, who saves people’s lives regularly, then maybe it is bad they are focusing on only one person when they could be helping many people. If the relationship between the two people is strained, maybe it is good because the time together could bring the two back together.

Now, I will acknowledge the argument used that says God’s plan takes into account all the possible bad and figures out a way to use those unhappy times for good. To return to the ball example above, imagine a bowling lane, but instead of a gutter or the lane bumpers, there are people standing side by side on either side of the lane. God pushes the ball down the lane. The people on the sides give kicks and nudge the ball one way or the other. However, that bowling ball is quite heavy and while no human can really stop it totally, they can move it quite a bit. But at some point, that ball will reach the pins and be beyond reach of anyone nudging it. It all will end up ‘good’ even if all the kicks along the way are not good.

But even then, its still humans kicking the ball towards the pins. Yes, I believe there are many times God does directly send people to make good kicks, to keep the ball rolling, but I wonder if there are not many times when a bad kicker messes up and does some unintentional good, like when a soccer player fouls a kick and the ball lands in their own goal.

In the end, I believe how we see the issue comes down to how much of a direct connection God has to everyday events. If he’s not only rolling the ball but being a puppetmaster controlling all the kicking people from the ceiling, then you have to credit him with the bad and the good. If you believe he’s smart enough to design a quality bowling alley and to put people in the game to keep the ball moving in the right direction, then its hard for him to take direct credit for each kick of the ball.

Just my thoughts.