The mystery of the providence of God
The horrible slush keeps pouring out as if from a broken sewer pipe.
Instead of admitting that we do not know how to reconcile a loving God with terrible disasters like Haiti and Indonesia, some theologians come up with cruel solutions…We do not know the answer to this conundrum except to say that is the nature of freedom in an imperfect world and that is the mystery of the providence of God. God will work all things for our good even if we don’t understand. That is what faith is: the moment we say we understand, there is no longer any faith.
We do not know except to say – it’s always ‘except to say,’ isn’t it – it’s never just we do not know. What’s really meant is They don’t know but I do. We do not know except to say ‘that is the mystery of the providence of God.’ That’s knowing a hell of a lot! And it is of course knowing way more than we do in fact know. We don’t know if there is anything that matches the name ‘God’ and we certainly don’t know anything about what such a god’s ‘providence’ might be, or that what happened in Haiti is some of it. We don’t know jack shit, and saying ‘all we know is that that is the mystery of the providence of God’ is the very opposite of saying we do not know. It’s just part of the endlessly tiresome conceit of religious people to think they can get away with saying ‘we don’t know except for just this one big thing’ – to think they can get away with eating their cake and having it in that brazen way. I’m so humble, I know we don’t know, and also, I have the knowledge of ‘faith,’ so I do know, so I get the credit for both – humbleness and faithy knowledge.
And the upshot of this contemptible enterprise is still to end up in the same place – God will work all things for our good even if we don’t understand – so it’s okay that God crushed a lot of people to death at once and let a lot of others die very slowly in pain and thirst and fear. Well fuck that. It’s not okay. If God exists and did that, God is a monster. Don’t explain away horrors.
James Wood, in his alternately insightful and contemptuous Op-Ed article, concludes by dismissing the views of a Haitian bishop — who affirms that “what happened is the will of God” and “we are in the hands of God now” — as “little more than a piece of helpless mystification, a contradictory cry of optimistic despair.”…The bishop’s theology is neither mystifying nor contradictory, and in fact represents one version of a view held by many Christians and other religious people: namely, that God is deeply present in and through the events of the world — often inscrutably, but always powerfully and lovingly — and though we cannot for the life of us see how, even catastrophes include divine presence and power.
Yes, of course that’s a view held by many Christians and other religious people; it’s still both wrong and cruel. Dressing it up in unctuous churchy language doesn’t make it any less of either. Telling people that smashing tens of thousands of people to death is something to do with a God who is loving is just to sanctify a nightmare.
The perpetrator of that second one is an associate professor of ministry studies at Harvard Divinity School.