Saturday, January 16, 2010
Obama and the Problem of Evil
In the aftermath of disaster, we are reminded that life can be unimaginably cruel. That pain and loss is so often meted out without any justice or mercy. That "time and chance" happen to us all. But it is also in these moments, when we are brought face to face with our own fragility, that we rediscover our common humanity. We look into the eyes of another and see ourselves.
Barack Obama, January 15, 2010
Yesterday, our President communicated the reasons behind the United States' massive donation and relief effort in the wake of Haiti's horrific tragedy. He has committed $100 million from the US government and appointed Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to head the American work in Haiti. What strikes me is Obama's theology that shines through his words. Obama is empathetic and humble. He does not offer answers, only a lament of solidarity. The earthquake that has killed more than 100,000 Haitians and left millions without home and work and food and water and medicine was a 'chance' event that is impossible to explain in terms of God.
One of Obama's great strengths as a Christian is his ability and willingness to convey the complexity of our world. He speaks with nuance. Conservative Evangelical Christians find this not a strength, but a weakness of Obama's faith. I heard this over and over after his appearance at Saddleback Church in August 2008, especially over his thoughtful response to the abortion question (in contrast to McCain's simplistic answer in front of a room full of 4,000 conservative Evangelicals: 'Life begins at conception, period.').
Of course, Pat Robertson took a different route this week, condemning the Haitian people to their fate, embracing an urban legend about Haitian leaders making a deal with the devil centuries ago in their fight for independence against France. In Robertson's world, there must be a reason for the pain and suffering of others.
Similiarly, John Piper had strong and certain words for why Hurricane Katrina broke the levees and flooded New Orleans and her people:
God sent Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners. He did not suffer massive shame and pain because Americans are pretty good people. The magnitude of Christ’s suffering is owing to how deeply we deserve Katrina—all of us.
Our guilt in the face of Katrina is not that we can’t see the intelligence in God’s design, but that we can’t see arrogance in our own heart. God will always be guilty of high crimes for those who think they’ve never committed any.
Piper follows the uber-Reformed route to respond to Daniel Schorr who was cleverly calling on George W. Bush to consistently apply 'intelligent design' to both the creation of the world and the terrible destruction in New Orleans. Piper basically writes that the intelligent Designer can do whatever he wants because we are all guilty and we all deserve Katrina. Piper's worldview is propelled by a bipolarity of justice and mercy. Things only turn out well due to God's mercy.
Piper also responded to a recent series of tornadoes in his homestate of Minnesota who was hosting the National Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) which was discussing the issue of homosexuality. His conclusion:
The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.
Wow. Sometimes, our over-exuberance to explain everything theologically and simply pushes us into murky waters. Obama's posture is welcome and needed.