Sunday, September 04, 2005

3. Rain falls on the Good and Bad alike

As I was buying a can of Coca-Cola at the drug store down the street from my office, I mentioned watching the hurricane destruction and rescue efforts on TV to the cashier. She said, "Well, you know, I'm a Christian, and I just can't help and think about Sodom and Gomorra and how they were destroyed for their wickedness. And you know, New Orleans was a wicked city."

I thought about correcting her by reminding her that actually it was LAS VEGAS which is universally known as "Sin City," but I thought better of it and took a different approach:

"Well, you know, I don't think bad things like this necessarily only happen to bad people. I mean, the victims of the Tsunami last year stretched over several thousands of miles and dozens of countries. I don't think all of those people were bad or were being punished. Like the Bible says, 'The rain falls on the good and bad alike.'"

I wished her a good day and excused myself. I had to get back to the office and I wasn't about to get into a religious debate with her. And actually, the whole conversation takes us back to one of the oldest theological debates: The Question of Evil.

In otherwords, if God is all good and all powerful, than why do bad things happen to good people?

This question especially haunted me in 2001 after my good college friend Sara was randomly murdered in her home, only days after discovering that she was pregnant. Her husband, one of my best friends, came home from work to discover her body. I had been the best man at their wedding. I just learned today that the man who murdered her just died in jail prior to his trial for the crime.

That same year another close friend was killed by a drunk driver. She died in her husband's arms. They had only been married two years.

And then there was the 9/11 attacks. Again the question was asked, what did we do to deserve this? What did any of these people do to deserve this death and horror?

To begin with, we must grapple with the question of merit--do some people deserve to die and some people deserve to live? I suppose so, but who makes that determination? God does, on Judgment Day, I suppose. But make no mistake--the second most critical theological tenet of our faith is that ALL HAVE SINNED AND COME SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD--therefore all of us deserve punishment and damnation. BUT--the first most critical tenet is that SALVATION FROM OUR SIN COMES FROM THE GRACE OF CHRIST, NOT OUR WORKS--therefore if any of us get into heaven, it is by grace and mercy, not merit.

But then what about punishment and reward in this life? Well, I believe faith in God has plenty of reward and benefit in this life. What I can say with certainty is that Faith is not a magic spell that will stop all bullets, block all disease, and redirect all evil and pain away from me and towards less righteous people.

So, is God powerless? No, I believe God performs many miracles, but he also sees things far better than we ever can. Why does he not stop the planes from smashing into skyscrapers or redirect hurricanes from populated areas, or open up the earth to swallow up ethic cleansers before they reach their victims?

I have no idea. I know that often the consequences of sin often fall on people other than the sinners. But I have also seen God's hand work miracles out of tragedies. I don't know what it will be in this case, but I see the best chance in six years of our country uniting beyond the labels of red and blue. I see us grappling with the issues of race and class like we never have before, though we have needed to for so long.

I do not believe that God willed this disaster upon New Orleans or any of us. But if there is good that may come from it, it is God that will bring about that miracle.