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Whose Money Is It? A Meditation on April 15th

20 April 2005: Start the discussion! »

Dear Friends, The College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church has made its decision in the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the See of Rome. That action occurred after the deadline for this column, so I simply take note of it today and will comment next week on both the pontificate of John …

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Question & Answer

Katy York, PA,

Question:

I recently read intently your article about God and the tsunami. Yes, you are so correct that we are in the process of a "God" revolution. I studied Job at the Lancaster Theological Seminary and at last realized that we humans are just that - human. God is God and we have little comprehension of who God is or what God's purpose is. Job was not patient as was commonly believed but suffered mightily in spite of his "good" deeds and godly life. I don't care for the magic ending; however theologically the book offered many insights into the age-old question of what kind of God could allow the tsunami to occur. Perhaps if we view life as a Pollyanna, we can say that the world has come together to assist the suffering people and that the lives lost were martyred to that cause. Perhaps the disaster points into the direction that the hideous war in Iraq has no meaning and should end immediately.

Answer:

Like you I regard Job as one of the special and insightful books of the entire Bible. However, I do not think that Job addresses the theological issues raised by the tsunami. Job and his comforters are still stuck in a theistic definition of God so they seek to make sense out of life's tragedies without sacrificing theism. I no longer think that is a possibility. Once you define God as a being, supernatural in power, dwelling outside the world but capable of intervening from time to time to reward or punish, then you must spend great amounts of time seeking to explain why God did this or did not do that. That is the Job debate and it ends about where your letter does. You say we will never understand "because we humans are just that, human."

It may be both real and comforting to contemplate that God is present in the human response of coming together to address the need. But that does not really answer the question raised by the tsunami. That question is, "Is God in charge?" Is there a Being who has the power to direct the affairs of history? If your answer to that question is no, as I believe most contemporary theologians are prone to say, then people assume you are saying that at worst, there is no God or if there is, it doesn't matter because God has no power. That is what drives us to recognize that theism, as a definition of God, is a human creation and that the time has come for us to lay our creation aside and to move beyond it into a radically new theological quest. I am working on a column now that should appear before June, on a question addressed to me several years ago: Can one be a Christian without being a Theist? My answer is a resounding yes, but I will try to put more flesh on those bare bones later.

Thank you for continuing the probe.

--John Shelby Spong

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