Speaking for God in the Midst of Tragedy

Before I began this post (or rant), I want to say first and foremost that I’m so deeply sorry and grieved for all Hurricane Sandy victims; I am praying for everyone. The pictures of the aftermath are haunting.

This particular picture was posted on on the FDNY Incidents Facebook pages. There was much discussion about whether or not the picture was real. I did some digging and it looks like it is, in fact, from Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY.

Secondly, this picture aroused a myriad of narrow and naïve theological remarks. The kind that turn elicit angry and offense remarks from non-believers, and even angrier rebuttals! Like with most disasters—9-11 and Hurricane Katrina for example—religious people tend to speak out about God’s will, God’s hand of judgment, or that God’s with us, God’s always watching over, and so on.

As I expected, the web’s littered with religious statements about Hurricane Sandy. This particular picture spawned thousands of spiritual remarks. The statue of Mary with her arms open, standing tall and compassionate, against the backdrop of tragic wreckage does seem to speak volumes. But what does it say?

Here are just a few of the remarks I found:

“OMG! Proof for those with faith!”
“OMG! Such a devastation yet look what remains. That’s God working there to remind everyone He was watching over.”
“An eye opener for our country . . . the divine mother hands outstretched . . . as if to say “Look, look what my Son can do!” We better heed to God’s warning, this is only the beginning.”
“To me, this proves that GOD will protect everyone there!”
“Wow, just like the Ground Zero Cross, you can’t tell me God’s not watching NYC.”

I’m not opposed to spiritual sentiment, I have my own sentimental spiritual thoughts when I see this picture, but these remarks unsettle me. These posts practically beg for the-gloves-are-off kind of follow up comments like  these:

“You schmuck. You have no idea about God. I suggest you go to church and learn something. God does not bring bad things on us, just a way out.”
“Mike, you know no concept of God. So shut your f’n mouth.”

My three main points I want to make out of this:

I was shocked at the lack of tact, graciousness, and love from professing Christians.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked. Sadly I have been just as guilty of such sin:  “And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” James 3:10.  From one side of our mouth we praise the Lord for His presence, and out of the other side of our mouth we curse out those who disagree with us. It saddens me deeply that the Christian presence on social media networks causes such damage to the name of Christ.
If we are going to write any kind of one-liner comment about disaster, destruction—or lets also not forget to include the election coming up—that has ANYTHING to do with

a) The will of God
b) the existence of God
c) the Favor of God or
d) the Judgment of God

– be prepared for an onslaught of remarks that may not be very friendly.
When we allow ourselves the luxury of trite platitudes, we promote a God who enters into our pain and tragedies as an incompetent benefactor, detached spectator, or mean-spirited bully.

Best choice? Be careful of offering simple truisms. If you’re not prepared to give a follow up paragraph, essay, conversation, blog, or whatever that details what you mean in a logical, reasonable, biblical presentation, then best not to say it. If you want to point at Mary and say that God exists, fine, but do so with intelligence and more than just a sling-shot throw of a theological stone that is bound to cause rapid-fire remarks about your stupidity and narrow vision.

If you choose to say that God is watching over us, than again, detail what that looks like – How does God watch over? What does it mean that God is with us in the middle of suffering? What does it mean biblically that God is in control when these kinds of things happen?

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect  (Peter 3:15 NIV)
Let your words be few.  The “Christian” remark above that said, “See what my Son can do? This is just the beginning” deeply grieves me. We speak of what we do not know.  Remember, when Job’s friends began to explain to Job why he was suffering, using a narrow understanding of God’s will, God shut them up right away, and challenged them for speaking of that which they simply did not know.“After the LORD had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.”—Job 42:7. Then he declares that they are the ones in need of prayer, and asks Job to pray for his friends.
Be not rash with your mouth, (hasty in word or impulsive in thought) nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.   (Ecclesiastes 5:2, ESV/NAB ).

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