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June 20, 2011


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On Sunday June 5 the Rev. Dr. Roger Ray and I shared the pulpit at Community Christian Church in Springfield, Missouri in what Dr. Ray calls a “dialogue sermon.” Our “dialogue” addressed the question “does God control the wind?” The sermon consists of three exchanges between us. One part of the exchange will be published on this blog over the next six weeks. This essay is the third in the exchange.

Charles Hedrick Dialogue Sermon (#3):

I think we agree. For some reason God has abandoned the world of nature to itself. Things pretty much run themselves without oversight by powers higher than the natural order of the universe. In many ways the thought is frightening, but nonetheless if we are honest, it appears to accord with our experience. We must make our way in the universe with no help except from ourselves. If we insist that God is good, then we must logically conclude that for some reason the natural world is, or has become, impervious to God. The one area of our experience that seems to be pervious to divine initiatives is our human state—as flawed as it may be.

The Bible is the one ancient collection of writings that has most influenced our Judeo-Christian culture. It reflects many religious ideas of questionable value, but in the ancient Book entitled First Kings is found an idea that may have some relevance for our exchange. The prophet Elijah had fled from Queen Jezebel, who wanted to take his life. For 40 days and 40 nights he put as much space between him and Jezebel as he could, and finally took refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb.

The word of the Lord came to him! In those days people apparently believed that God communicated audibly. In our day, however, the audible voice of God has fallen silent, and usually we institutionalize people who claim to hear audible voices coming from out of nowhere. God asked, "What are you doing in this cave, Elijah?" Elijah complained that he was the only faithful Israelite left in the land, and now his life was threatened. So God told him to go to the front of the cave:

And behold the Lord passed by! A great and strong wind rent the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:12)
God was not in the forces of nature, but apparently was in the still, small voice.

The human species has shown itself throughout its existence to be incurably religious. The question is: will we grow out of our religious attitudes as our species matures, or is our propensity to religion of some sort indelibly imprinted in our genes? I do not know! But there is no question that the human psyche has demonstrated itself to be pervious to divine initiatives, which we think come from outside ourselves. For good or ill, we claim to experience divinity. Often the divine communication, if such it be, is clearly garbled. Here is the difficulty: there is as much of us as there is of the divine in the communication.

Our problem is the sorting of the wheat and the chaff.

Charles W. Hedrick

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 6:00am

Dr. Hedrick,

Joplin, Missouri is my hometown. I visited my family there the week of Easter this year. I said good-bye to my dying Grandma who passed five days later. Four days after that, the tornado struck. As a regular reader of your blog I was stunned to read your original essay 'Does God Control the Wind' and note that it was posted 3 days before the tornado essentially destroyed my hometown.

As one of your former students and as someone generally inclined to your way of thinking I understood the thrust of your essay to be a question about the nature of good and evil as well as the perils of a literal interpretation of the Bible in a post-enlightenment world. All in all, a satisfying essay.

I've enjoyed reading the subsequent "Dialogue Sermon" pieces between you and Dr. Ray--and incidentally I admire his willingness to address the relevance of spiritual issues in our modern world.

My input is basically this: I think the original title of the essay, "Does God Control the Wind" predisposes the discussion to a false conclusion. It is my sense that God doesn't control the wind, rather God IS the wind. The logical conclusion, then, is that God destroyed my hometown. From a delimited human perspective, this was an evil act--as was his/her failure to intervene and stop the holocaust etc.

Jesus talked about making people full. The Gospels talk about how he revealed everything to his disciples and it is my opinion that what Jesus told those in his inner circle is that God is not two. God cannot be successfully understood as a set of good things and then be separated from the evil ones. God is good and evil. Even Jesus taught us to pray to God to "Lead us not into temptation," which is a funny thing to do. In those words Jesus taught us to pray to God to deliver us from God. In my opinion, this is a glimpse into Jesus' spiritual vision of God's Imperial Domain [Kingdom of God]: God is not two. Humanity wants to slice things up into categories of good and evil and ascribe to God all the fine things and to some other entity [Satan, Mother Nature, whatever] all of the evil, but these are category mistakes that cause misunderstanding. I think Jesus knew that and I think he preached it in couched terms to the masses and laid the bare truth out to his disciples when they were ready to hear it.

Having said that, I think the thrust of Dr. Ray's idea that humans are the "boots on the ground" for realizing the potential of God's goodness [which is essentially our own power to do what is right and good] is correct and conveys what, to me, is the basic message of Jesus: choose to do good.

While it is difficult to imagine that God manifests as a wind that destroys a town and takes lives this act simultaneously serves to reveal the nature, power and ultimately the identity of that force which we call 'God.'

Do you think God is incomplete? Do you think that God can be one thing and not another?

All the very best to you. I look forward to your future posts and particularly the remaining 'Dialogue Sermons.'

Posted by Martel on 6/24/2011 at 8:31am

Hi Martel,
Thank you for engaging the discussion. And I am sorry to learn of your Grandmother’s passing! Posting the essay three days before the Joplin disaster was a fluke; I have no sixth sense about such things. But with the rather large number of natural disasters occurring lately, such a concurrence in retrospect seems inevitable.

Here are a few comments briefly: “God is good and evil” is an ancient view well represented in the Hebrew Bible. See Job’s comment (2:10) “shall I receive good at the hand of God and not evil?”

God is incomplete? Can God be distinguished from the creation (which is what I am understanding your second question to be)? I really don’t know much about the character of God—only what others tell me. But I have come to think of God as flawed. And I am not inclined to think that God can so easily be identified with the natural world, but must be over against it, since I think that everything began with God—that is, the cosmos issued from a principle to which I choose to give the designation God.

Posted by Charles Hedrick on 6/25/2011 at 1:41pm