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God’s Providence?

Not long after the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colorado the religious community started generating miracle stories bizarrely “proving” God’s providential hand at work in the tragedy.   One young woman who was struck in the head will make a full recovery because the bullet fragment lodged just millimeters away from vital areas of the brain without damaging them.  Her pastor expressed his amazement that twenty-two years ago when this woman was born God had perfectly designed the structure of her brain knowing the bullet would hit it.

But what about all the dead and maimed?  Was God asleep at the wheel when he designed their bodies?   How can people so blithely claim divine favor in an event where many others were not so fortunate?  This sentiment is deeply engrained in Christian piety.  We hear it all the time.   Just this week in three different conversations I heard people utter the phrase “There but for the grace of God go I”–which, when you think about it, basically means “God must like me better than that other poor slob with all his/her problems.”  Really, there is no other way to take this phrase.

Of course a big part of the search for signs of God’s providence is a desperate need to find some kind of meaning in a world that often seems meaningless.  Homo Sapiens is a meaning-seeking machine.    Clearly the need to find meaning is so overwhelming that we will settle for almost any explanation even when the explanation doesn’t make any sense at all.

Christians who have a very high view of God’s sovereignty, such as the Neo-Calvinist guru John Piper, even claim that every single death is ordained by God, no matter how the death happens.

“Children of the Heavenly Father” is a very popular hymn in some traditions.   People like it for its catchy, singable tune and for it’s reassuring message of God’s love and protection.   Over the years, however, the song started to really irk me as I became more and more aware of the lyric’s sinister implications.   Here’s the second verse: “God his own doth tend and nourish, In his holy courts they flourish./ From all evil things he spares them.  In his mighty arms he bears them.”

“From all evil things he spares them?”  OK, that is just manifestly not true.  146 people drowned when an overcrowded ferry capsized in Tanzania last week.

No matter how desperately we may want to believe that the stars are aligned in our favor and God smiles down from heaven on upon us,  the reality is, of course, that the universe is indifferent to human suffering.    To think otherwise is dangerous.

I think Ingersoll once said something like this:  “Only human hands can solve human problems.”   The gods aren’t likely to step in and save the day.  They certainly haven’t yet.  The love we need can only come from other people.  It’s up to us.


  1. July 28, 2012 at 11:11 am

    welll thats what the church does, they try to find the hand of god in everything

  2. July 28, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    “Clearly the need to find meaning is so overwhelming that we will settle for almost any explanation even when the explanation doesn’t make any sense at all.”

    Theodicy aside, people “settle” for all sorts of things for all sorts of different reasons that others will never understand. I think it’s human nature to “settle” probably as much as it is to find meaning, and the balance is different for each individual. When I was young and more idealistic, I would have vehemently said that “settling” is not an option. (Interesting that I was fully indoctrinated as a Christian at that time.) As I have aged and experienced enough pain (without clear explanation) settling actually becomes easier because I know that things could always be worse at the hands of fellow humans. And sadly, I expect fewer solutions from others.

    So, maybe I need to watch the Olympics and get a nice refresher for people coming together for a common purpose. With all the shootings, human error, government denial of suffering, disparity of wealth (and health), war, genocide – I could use something to boost my faith in humanity since it’s up to us.

  3. John Stutzer
    July 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    “The love we need can only come from other people. It’s up to us.”

    “So, maybe I need to watch the Olympics and get a nice refresher for people coming together for a common purpose. ”

    Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive
    – Words and Music by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer

    Gather ’round me, everybody
    Gather ’round me while I’m preachin’
    Feel a sermon comin’ on me
    The topic will be sin and that’s what I’m ag’in’
    If you wanna hear my story
    The settle back and just sit tight
    While I start reviewin’
    The attitude of doin’ right

    You’ve got to accentuate the positive
    Eliminate the negative
    And latch on to the affirmative
    Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

    You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
    Bring gloom down to the minimum
    Have faith or pandemonium’s
    Liable to walk upon the scene

  4. Katherine
    August 11, 2012 at 1:23 am

    I wonder that as well. Why would you believe in a deity who would stand around and say “you, you and you…dead. You guys over here, alive. Nope, not you. You’re dead too.”? And if it was your family member that said deity decided should die, why would you keep on believing in that deity?

  5. J Rhodes
    August 29, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Classic case of blaming the victim. “God did not intervene with that guy who was shot and killed. God loved that woman enough to allow the bullet to destroy only the less critical parts of her brain. And of course, God loves me SO MUCH that he made sure I was thousands of miles away from that Colorado movie theater.” It’s so disgusting when people praise God for not treating them as badly as he treats others.

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