Dogma Alert

Monday, January 10, 2005

Where Was God?


Published: January 10, 2005

Washington - In the aftermath of a cataclysm, with pictures of parents sobbing over dead infants driven into human consciousness around the globe, faith-shaking questions arise: Where was God?

Where was God indeed? Perhaps "God", or what is commonly known as "God" was right there all along? Perhaps "God", having knowledge of time and space, "knew" that the tsunami would strike on that day and was waiting, in predatory fashion, for the harvesting of souls so that "He" could enjoy a tasty feast from the pain and suffering that would result?


Why does a good and all-powerful deity permit such evil and grief to fall on so many thousands of innocents?

First of all, while "God" may be "all powerful" (at least in this density), it is an enormous assumption to describe Him as being "good". If he has "dominion" over this world, then it seems quite obvious that his agenda is far from being "good". It is this kind of automatic assumption, repeated ad nauseum in the media, that adds to the lie of consensus reality.

It is because we have been repeatedly conditioned with the idea of a compassionate, loving God, that the assumption is accepted without question.

But what if it isn't true?

What if what we have been told about God is all a lie? And I'm not taking an atheist position and assuming that God does not exist. What I'm suggesting is that perhaps everything we've been taught about "God" may be completely ass backwards. He is real enough, for an objective assessment of the dire straits we presently find ourselves in does seem to indicate a kind of "invisible hand" guiding human affairs that enjoys the misery and suffering of others.

The notion of a kind, compassionate God just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. There is no evidence that such a being exists.

It seems that the "God" that rules this world is in fact the Devil himself. A cold sinister evil whose depths of cunning and depravity seemingly knows no bounds.

This is the reality of our world.

What did these people do to deserve such suffering?

All is lessons.

After a similar natural disaster wiped out tens of thousands of lives in Lisbon in the 18th century, the philosopher Voltaire wrote "Candide," savagely satirizing optimists who still found comfort and hope in God.

Well, perhaps Voltaire was onto something. Perhaps he wasn't one to seek comfort in belief and illusion, and desired to know the truth of this world. Perhaps he could SEE that choosing the "comfort and hope" of an lie was waste of valuable energy.


After last month's Indian Ocean tsunami, the same anguished questioning is in the minds of millions of religious believers.

If "millions of religious believers" were experiencing "anguish" because of a faulty belief system, then it is only the belief system that needs to be changed in order for the anguish to go away.

Or so it seems to me.

The rest of this essay deals with the Book of Job and how the faithful should remain good obediant servants to the omnipotent One in spite of any number of calamities and disasters that befall them.

In other words, advice on how to shut up and not ask questions, no matter what evidence exists that this loving and compassionate "God" is not at all how he is presented to be.

In the end, a recipe for continued slumber.

Turn to the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible. It was written some 2,500 years ago during what must have been a crisis of faith. The covenant with Abraham - worship the one God, and his people would be protected - didn't seem to be working. The good died young, the wicked prospered; where was the promised justice?

The poet-priest who wrote this book began with a dialogue between God and the Satan, then a kind of prosecuting angel. When God pointed to "my servant Job" as most upright and devout, the Satan suggested Job worshipped God only because he had been given power and riches. On a bet that Job would stay faithful, God let the angel take the good man's possessions, kill his children and afflict him with loathsome boils.

The first point the Book of Job made was that suffering is not evidence of sin. When Job's friends said that he must have done something awful to deserve such misery, the reader knows that is false. Job's suffering was a test of his faith: even as he grew angry with God for being unjust - wishing he could sue him in a court of law - he never abandoned his belief.

And did this righteous Gentile get furious: "Damn the day that I was born!" Forget the so-called "patience of Job"; that legend is blown away by the shockingly irreverent biblical narrative. Job's famous expression of meek acceptance in the 1611 King James Version - "though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" - was a blatant misreading by nervous translators. Modern scholarship offers a much different translation: "He may slay me, I'll not quaver."

The point of Job's gutsy defiance of God's injustice - right there in the Bible - is that it is not blasphemous to challenge the highest authority when it inflicts a moral wrong. (I titled a book on this "The First Dissident.") Indeed, Job's demand that his unseen adversary show up at a trial with a written indictment gets an unexpected reaction: in a thunderous theophany, God appears before the startled man with the longest and most beautifully poetic speech attributed directly to him in Scripture.

Frankly, God's voice "out of the whirlwind" carries a message not all that satisfying to those wondering about moral mismanagement. Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal "I read the Book of Job last night - I don't think God comes well out of it."


The powerful voice demands of puny Man: "Where were you when I laid the Earth's foundations?" Summoning an image of the mythic sea-monster symbolizing Chaos, God asks, "Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook?" The poet-priest's point, I think, is that God is occupied bringing light to darkness, imposing physical order on chaos, and leaves his human creations free to work out moral justice on their own.

Job's moral outrage caused God to appear, thereby demonstrating that the sufferer who believes is never alone. Job abruptly stops complaining, and - in a prosaic happy ending that strikes me as tacked on by other sages so as to get the troublesome book accepted in the Hebrew canon - he is rewarded. (Christianity promises to rectify earthly injustice in an afterlife.)

Ah, there's the rub. Mere mortal man shall not question those trials and tribulations that seem to beset even the most fortunate among us. It is not our place to question the works of the Almighty, just place your blind unwavering obediance and faith in this most sadistic of Deities, and maybe (no guarantees of course), just maybe we will be rewarded in the afterlife.

Let me be the first to say no thank you to that Faustian bargain.

Job's lessons for today:

(1) Victims of this cataclysm in no way "deserved" a fate inflicted by the Leviathanic force of nature.

(2) Questioning God's inscrutable ways has its exemplar in the Bible and need not undermine faith.

(3) Humanity's obligation to ameliorate injustice on earth is being expressed in a surge of generosity that refutes Voltaire's cynicism.

More grist for that millstone around your neck.



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