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June 27, 2011
DOES GOD CONTROL THE WIND?—A DIALOGUE SERMON (#4)
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 fourth in the exchange.
Roger Ray, Dialogue Sermon (#4):
This may be the point at which I must respectfully disagree though I do so with more than a little self-doubt. I would not say that God has abandoned the universe to the mere forces of nature. The larger question the two of us seem to try to wrestle to the ground fairly regularly is more about the nature of God. Does the God in whom we confess to believe exist in the form of a self conscious intellect with a particular will, or do we tend to think of God in a more Buddhist sense of a collective good will, so that a little of god is in each of us but nowhere is there a whole and intact entity that decides that it would be good to make it rain in Missouri and make the sun shine in California today?
Clearly, the world is not universally “good” and so I do not believe that God is a sentient entity possessing both omniscience and omnipotence. But it is not enough for me to say that god is a concept under which we gather good and loving concepts. With some fear and trepidation of stepping a bit too closely in the direction of the “intelligent design” folks, I am unwilling to give up on the notion of God existing with both self-awareness and creative power so that God may enter into history and affect the outcomes of events. Where I draw the line is when any mere mortal pretends to be able to either dictate or influence God’s entry into human events or even to assume that they can point and say accurately that “God did this” or “didn’t do that.”
Two people are diagnosed with terminal cases of cancer, one dies quickly and the other survives for many years. Is that God? Is that nature? Is that medicine? I plead with spiritual people to take a humble position on these things and accept that we cannot trace God’s footprints through history but I would not philosophically deny God the right or the ability to mix it up with us at will.
I do not wish to belittle the tragic natural disaster in Joplin, Missouri by discussing the event in any flippant way. With all respect, I would argue that it is impossible to believe that God caused the tornado to smite Joplin. If, however, I may speak meaningfully of an act of God, I would say that the thousands of well meaning people flowing into Joplin to give aid to the victims and survivors is a godly act, acts inspired by a loving, compassionate and generous Deity.
The fact that we must live with uncertainty and that we must always question our too comfortable beliefs, always, as you say, sorting out the wheat from the chaff, is why religious communities will continue to exist. We gather in faith communities to learn, challenge, correct and encourage one another to live out the values which we believe to be near to the heart of God.