How can a loving God allow sin, despair and
I wrote last week about how the trauma of a cancer diagnosis affects not only the person with cancer, but also, all with whom they are associated. As part of the ensuing conversation, one friend asked: “how can a loving God allow such a thing?” Of course, one can extrapolate that question to how can a loving God allow the tragedy of Syria to continue to unfold, or the drought and famine in southern Africa or pick any number of disasters. Broadly stated, how can a loving and omnipotent God allow sin, despair and destruction to abound and affect so many, so dramatically.
I don’t know “the answer” but I can share with you what I believe. I don’t believe that God routinely plays favorites and intervenes directly in the course of history or in the course of any one person’s life. I believe that history and disease and natural or man-made disasters unfold of their own accord. Where God can be found is at the personal level. I believe that God is present during all of these events and is whispering his love and guidance to everyone affected. For example, I believe that right this moment, God is telling the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad that maybe there is another way to approach this struggle for power. And God doesn’t stop there, he is providing the same message to all who are party to the Syrian disaster: the Russians, ISIS, the Kurds, America and all others fighting for land, resources and power.
So, if God is doing all this whispering and guiding, why is there no change? Is God impotent instead of omnipotent? What I think is that God takes seriously our freedom of choice and that he will not impose his will on us. We must be willing to hear his guidance and to act on it. It is through us and our actions that the kingdom of God will prevail on earth. After all, what worth is freedom of choice if that freedom can be overridden at any moment? It’s like saying to your teenager, you can have the keys to the car, just as long as you do what I say. There are no conditions to God’s love or to our freedom of choice. God loves us so much that he allows us to fail. But he never abandons us and especially not when we do fail.
Where I struggle in this question of God’s benevolence is on the concept of miracles. On the one hand, I say that God doesn’t play favorites and intervene in human activities, yet the bible is full of stories about God performing miracles to affect the outcome of history and of individual lives. How can God be both hands off when it comes to freedom of choice but also hands on when it comes to certain interventions through miracles?
Maybe a miracle is just God’s way of saying “Pay Attention”. Maybe miracles are God’s message telling us that he is calling us; that he is speaking to and through each of us and that we need to wake up and listen. Maybe we are so stubborn and so wrapped up in ourselves that we don’t hear the call of God and miracles are God’s big, red, pulsing neon sign saying, “this way home.”
Those are the “big” miracles. But there are thousands upon thousands of “little” miracles we experience each and every day. Take for example the miracle of child birth, or how a seed becomes a luscious tomato plant, or the sense of holiness when standing in a redwood forest surrounded by giant trees that are hundreds of years old.
I had an epiphany once while sailing that I wrote about before but want to share again. We were coming back from a Wednesday night regatta one summer evening. The wind was light and warm. The full moon was rising from the horizon of Lake Michigan just as the sun was setting over the city. As I stood in the back of the boat to absorb it all, these words came to me: “This and thee are the glory of God.”
I don’t understand miracles; how they happen and how one person may be healed and another left unhealed. But I do understand this: I am God’s beloved. We are each God’s beloved. All the world and each of us are miracles. And as miracles, we each manifest the glory of God. What we do with that miracle is entirely up to us.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.