In the middle of July, you may have read the blog, Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Guest Blogger Mary Vanderplas). If you haven’t yet, please do, because it puts Thomas G. Long’s book, “What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith” into perspective in a very real and powerful way. I’m pretty sure that Mary and I disagree on the main premise of this book, but I could think of no one better to introduce this blog series than a hospital chaplain who loves God, loves others, and communicates effectively. I’ll be going through this book, one chapter per blog, and I’ve got another guest blogger lined up with a personal testimony on suffering and faith to end the series.
The first chapter is entitled, “The Shaking of the Foundations.”
Long writes about the religious background of the city of Lisbon, Portugal, where prophets of doom said God would destroy the city:
Some said by earthquake, others said by wind, some warned of fire, and still others presaged flood. As it turns out, they were much too modest. Lisbon’s day of hell included the catastrophe forces of all four.
First came the earthquake, sending people running from the packed churches. Then, a shockwave leveled many buildings, which collapsed on the people in the street. Small fires became full roaring flames because of the strong winds that day. There was a third shockwave, and the survivors felt like the safest place to go was to the harbor. A tsunami wiped them out. Long writes:
No one knows for certain how many people died in Lisbon on that All Saints’ Day. Some say 15,000; other s say as many as 50,000 or 60,000. What is known is that the bodies of the victims floated in the harbor for weeks.
When catastrophic events like this take place, people question the goodness of God.
Another example Long gives is the Black Death, a 14th century plague. French medical writer at the time, Ambroise Pare, wrote:
The plague is a malady come from God: furious, tempestuous, swift, monstrous, and frightful, contagious, terrible, fierce, treacherous, deceptive, mortal enemy of human life…
Fast forward a couple of hundred years. Newton’s claims have “staggering implications for theology.” Long writes:
If time, space, and presumably everything that moves within them can be defined without recourse to anything outside of them, then what is the role of God – or even the need of God?
Because human attempts at sense making were no longer making sense, a shift in thinking took place. Long describes it like this:
Particular providence involves the claim that God is an active player in the specific events and circumstances of the world… General providence, on the other hand, is the notion that God cares for the world not through extraordinary interventions of divine action but through constant and unchanging sustenance and the benevolent design of creation.
Long also notes that this theological shift has been given a name – “disenchantment of the world.”
Long concludes the chapter with a sympathetic assessment of the disenchanted people caught somewhere between particular and general providence:
When those of us who preach stand up on Sunday morning, we are looking out at many educated and thoughtful Christians who want to hang on to faith, but who secretly wonder – often silently, sometimes in ways denied and hidden even from themselves – if… faith… [is] a childish fantasy. With all that they know and see, they can no longer rest easily with the claim that the world is ruled by a good and powerful parental God, and so they wonder if the faith they are being asked to believe and live, the faith they want to believe and live, is simply a way of making us feel better in the storm, and if it is time to grow up and move on to a sadder but wiser world where we must stand up and be on our own.
Instead of offering my own commentary, I would like to conclude with the words of Christ.
“…some people came up and told [Jesus] about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship… [and] Jesus responded)”:
Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die. And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die.
What does this mean? Does disaster happen because people don’t turn to Him? But, the people in Lisbon were attending church the morning all hell broke loose! So tell me, readers, how do you make sense of this?
The next blog will be on chapter two: The Impossible Chess Match