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July 5, 2011
DOES GOD CONTROL THE WIND?—A DIALOGUE SERMON (#5)
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 fifth in the exchange. Dr. Ray will have the final word.
Charles Hedrick, Dialogue Sermon (#5):
There is still a rather large elephant in the room! Let me rephrase: “God has abandoned direct hands-on management of the natural world. It runs itself with no direct divine oversight.” One must affirm something like that to avoid making God responsible for Mother Nature’s disastrous excesses. People of faith usually separate the problem of Nature’s excess from the idea that a benevolent God is running the world in two ways. One way is to avoid calling them “acts of God” but rather “natural disasters,” which is a way of affirming that God is not responsible—but without bothering to address the nature of God directly. The other way is to appeal to human finitude: “The ways of God are beyond human comprehension,” which is a way of admitting that God was responsible for the disaster but appealing to the idea that somehow the disaster fits into a benevolent divine plan.
I do not think the idea that God is integral to human existence is so easily separated from the idea of God’s relationship to the universe. If God is relates in some way to us, we must also acknowledge that God in some way is related to the natural world. If we describe how God is related to one, we must also be willing to describe how God is related to the other—in order to be intellectually honest.
You use the word “exist” to describe God, which is a way of bringing God into the world of time and space. I have given up the use of that expression and simply say “God is.” To claim that God “exists” in a world of time and space is to attribute “creatureliness” to God. To say God “exists” raises the question: exactly where? Converting God into Creature-Who-Wills makes God pervious to the same ailments that afflict us: mutability and decay. Rather, God is outside, over, against, and around the world of human decay and renewal. God does not exist in that world like we do!
However, God is clearly within the world of time and space in our human consciousness, or, to put it another way, in the fertile concept “God”—a concept that seems to endemic to the human condition. If I may use your word, our concepts of God “inspire” human beings to sacrificial humanitarian acts, but also to acts most would regard as unconscionable—both done in God’s name!
I respectfully disagree: “the thousands of well-meaning people flowing into Joplin to give aid to the victims and survivors” is not an “act of God,” but an act of average people “inspired” by a particular concept of God. Construing their acts as “godly” is your hermeneutic—the Westborough Baptist Church folk regard their acts as “godly,” as do all folk who name God as sanction for their behavior. As I said: our problem is sorting the wheat from the chaff.
Without a spin, Mother Nature’s—or God’s, destructive footprints in history are easily seen. What the concept “God” inspires in us positively, however, is more difficult to see. Those things are mostly personal, unknown, and usually unsung.