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1/07/2005

 

God doesn't owe you a thing



people tend to judge God the way they judge a president. bountiful harvest? God is great. locusts ate your crops? God is dead. up, down, up, down. i'm surprised gallup isn't out there polling His job approval numbers.

when bad things happen to us, we think God is doing a bad job. it's not unreasonable to expect people to feel that way, i suppose, but let's examine that logic a bit closer.

hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis...the dreadful exclamation points punctuating the routine of existence. to some, whenever one of these pops up God becomes a monster, a madman, hitler. i'd be willing to bet my bottom dollar that the ones doing all the complaining have 1. got things pretty good overall and 2. never bothered to consider the comparatively easy circumstances of their own existences and thank Him--to them, God is vacationing around the cosmos on sunny days, only shows up when the rains start, and falls asleep just in time for the flood.

their supposition is that God owes humanity peace and prosperity every day, all the time. He has no right to throw in a natural disaster now and then. that's unjust. we deserve better.

"no," i hear someone say "but we don't deserve that. we don't deserve hundreds of thousands of innocent dead."

why don't we? if any of us were God we would have pulled the plug on this race-gone-wrong a long time ago. i can't pretend not to sympathize with those who get angry at God. i've been angry with Him many times--and over infinitely less tragic happenings than, say, the recent tsunami and the almost incomprehensible havoc it wreaked. as a general rule, my first response to everything--including God--is anger. but would we really do things differently?

let's suppose for a moment that God really does owe us all a peaceful death in our sleep at a ripe old age with a lifetime of happy memories behind us. does that rule out the occasional tsunami? i've read that these things are the results of tectonic shifts. ok. i'm no geologist, but it's not hard to see that, in the long run, we'd probably be a lot worse off if the great transmission of engine earth wasn't allowed to occasionally grind a gear. that might sound a bit glib to you, but it's not inconsistent with a God whose doing what's best for humanity as a whole and for all time. we don't know that the disaster we just witnessed, as awful as it was, wasn't the alternative to some far worse disaster that would have befell us had God plotted out the lines of our reality along some alternate course.

a tsumani feels cruel to us because of the pain it causes, yes, but also because of how arbitrary it seems. we've invented the phrase "act of God" to describe events like this--the whimsical workings of creation gone awry (or so we think), capriciously snapping up tens or hundreds of thousands of us with no explanations, and no apologies. every one of us thinks we could do a better job. if i was God, i wouldn't have allowed that to happen, i think to myself, and i truly believe i would not have. but we all think that way. and we all think that we could do a better job than the pope and the president and the coach of the local football team. faith demands something different.

as a wise soul once put it, if you knew what God knows, you would do what God does. as a Christian, i must believe that God is shepherding humanity towards its collective fate along the path of least resistance. that in the cursed cosmos where every single one of us is going to die, whether from tsunamis or hurricanes or choking on a chicken bone at dinner, He really is doing the best work possible with what we've given him to work with.

"what we've given him," i hear someone ask incredulously. "don't you mean what He's given us?"

no, and that's why i'll return to my question of a few paragraphs ago: why don't we deserve tsunamis? why don't we deserve floods and pestilence and war--especially war. oy vey, if i had a nickel for every hypocrite who ever asked how God could let a war happen. as if God is obligated to hold humanity together when we're hell bent on blowing ourselves apart. why should He keep us from killing ourselves--even though, in His benevolence, He's chosen to do just that. war is our choice--and i think He shields us from most of its consequences in spite of that. i have no proof, of course, but i've always had a sneaking suspicion that, since we've acquired the power to eradicate ourselves, we would have done so decades ago had He not prevented us. it just seems like the sort of thing we would do to me.

ok, that's war, but what about the natural side of things? as a Christian i'll tell you that God cursed creation after the fall of man in the garden of eden and you'll tell me that that's a myth. so be it. but do you, dear reader, deserve a perfect creation? do you deserve eden?

we have this karmic notion of divine justice, that God adds up all the good and bad we've done and as long as the good outweighs the bad, we deserve eden. we deserve perfection. that's some logic. i suppose that a banker should allow customers to own their homes as long as they make more mortgage payments than they miss? we don't deserve eden. not even close. sure, most of us think we're pretty good people. we do what's right most of the time. ok then. why should we have anything more than a creation that does what's right most of the time? that most of the time nurtures us and sustains us and provides us resources, and only occasionally does wrong, and never in such a way as to wipe us all out? seems to me that's exactly what we've got.

in point of fact, God has given us far better than what we deserve. here we have an inherently self-destructive species placed in a world that on balance, exhibits the opposite tendencies: in spite of the odd rampage, it's permitted us to thrive. and not only that, but humanity has been able to use this creation to better ourselves. we've made technological progress that has greatly improved our standard of living, if not moral progress, but then, that proves my point.

i wouldn't pretend for an instant that anything i've written here could rob the grief from those suffering in thailand and sri lanka and india right now. but for those of us sitting at a critical distance wondering if God has gone mad, let's stop and think for a moment. God doesn't owe us anything, but He's given each of us far more than we are owed. He's given us the greatest gift of all, charity. charity being unconditional love, the kind His Son demonstrated in dying for a world that had rejected Him. we see echoes of that love today in the charitable actions of people the world over, and i'm reminded of perhaps the most paradoxical truth of human existence and perhaps the best argument for the co-existence of evil and a benevolent God: the greatest good could never have existed without evil. in a perfect world, we can't love unconditionally because everything and everyone is essentially lovable and there's no possibility of sacrifice. here, it's a lot harder. but it is possible.

locdog bids you all a pleasant friday




1/04/2005

 

stingy is as stingy does



there's been a lot of good ole american indignation stirred up in the wake of UN uber-bureaucrat jan egeland's "stingy" remark. bout damn time. if we don't toot our horn, who will?

just to refresh your memory, mr. egeland called the world's richest nations (read "america") "stingy" on the basis of global charitable contributions as a percentage of gross national product. using this scale, america comes in dead last at a (seemingly) paltry 0.14%. and--oh what a coincidence--egeland's homeland of norway comes in first at a (seemingly) astounding 0.92%. egeland's scale is meaningless since it fails to take into consideration the disproportionately vast size of our gross national product--in terms of actual dollars and cents, the united states' donations far exceed those of all other nations. and beyond direct cash contributions to suffering nations, we send billions in food, water, and medical supplies, billions on AIDS programs, and billions through other UN humanitarian ventures. this is to say nothing of the billions in private charitable contributions from corporate and individual donors.

i won't waste any more time on egeland's dead horse since it's been beaten to death by a surprisingly (and rightfully) chagrined media. there are, however, two points which have not gotten the attention they deserve.

point the first: axe grinding.

how shameful that a natural disaster of nearly unprecedented scale should be exploited as a battlefield for marxist ideologues intent on waging class warfare. egeland's problem isn't with the amount the united states is giving, it's with the amount we're keeping. why should we have such wealth--not just in time of disaster, but ever? why should we have air conditioned homes and swimming pools and SUVs when people in the third world are starving? egeland couldn't have made a more naked appeal for wealth redistribution had he tried, but like all marxists, he's can't see the economic forest for the trees.

the united states is the most generous nation in the world because we can afford to be the most generous nation in the world, and we can afford to be because of our evil, greedy capitalist economy. jan might puff his chest over norway's 0.92% donation, but when it comes down to cash on the barrel head, they've given a pittance. why? because the socialist system they pride themselves on has choked the life out of their economy. they've rendered themselves powerless to make any meaningful contributions to global relief--but then, this is norway we're talking about. when haven't they washed their hands of this planet?

which brings me to point the second: what have you done for us lately?

before we go off on another america bashing tirade, let's pause to consider the indisputable fact that no nation has done so much to better the baseline existence of humanity over the past hundred years as the united states. nearly every major medical, scientific, and technological innovation of the last century has happened here: automobiles, computers, MRI machines...it's impossible to reckon the depths of contributions the united states has made and the myriad of ways they've bettered human civilization. charity is practically an afterthought.

but there's a much more obvious and direct contribution to our fellow man the united states has made and is continuing to make today: military protection. norway spends 0.92% of its GNP on foreign aid then clucks its tongue at those gluttons over in the u.s.--not hard to do when you've never lifted a finger in your own national defense. when madmen bent on world domination appeared early in the twentieth century, norway sniffed and left the dead to bury the dead. a couple of decades later, when a far worse madman arose, they assumed the blanket of allied protection would allow them to preserve their "neutrality" once more and found out the hard way just how wrong they were. millions of dead allies and untold billions in military spending later (neither of which had come much from norway), they had been wrenched free of hitler's grasp...just long enough to wind up on the edge of stalin's, but, once more, they remained "neutral" as the united states waged a cold war that kept the iron curtain safely outside their borders. today they sip the sweet nectar of american industrialization on the sunny veranda of american freedom and wonder why america is so stingy. norway would gladly watch every house in the neighborhood burn to the ground so long as it was not their own, then expect the bucket brigade to come running when it's their precious memories going up in smoke.

locdog can't say he's glad to be back from Christmas break, but he's back