Impolite Company


  1. Evil is never what God intends

    This was the first thing I read today: Indiana Republican: When life begins from rape, God intended it:

    Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, said in a debate on Tuesday that “even when life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”

    No.

    No no no no no.

    No.

    I am sure that by the time you read my words, Mr. Mourdock will have “clarified” that what he really meant was something other than what he said, but there is a much deeper issue here, and that issue doesn’t go away just because you realized that you let it show in public.

    The issue here is about a mindset about how and what we think about God.

    So while Mr. Mourdock, and others like him, may try to sound pious by claiming certain things about God, it is important to think about what he said and the mindset that goes with it. This is a mindset which believes that God is in control and therefore anything that happens must be the will of God.

    There are plenty of reasons to find Mr. Mourdock’s statement repulsive, and one certainly does not need to be a Christian for that. But there will be some people who think that Mr. Mourdock spoke the truth and was then forced to go against his beliefs. Many of these people will bemoan the lack of religious freedom for him to say what he believes, etc. Underneath it will be a suggestion that what Mr. Mourdock said was the sign that he was a true believer in God and “God’s sovereignty.”

    Sadly, there will be some who consider this man to be the embodiment of faithful Christianity, persecuted for his beliefs.

    Which is why I think it is important to point out that the Bible does not teach that everything which happens is God’s will.

    ~”Guiding Principle” #1~

    I’m going to step back from the particular issue here, and suggest we take a wide view, before coming back and applying what we have read to this situation.

    The Bible doesn’t answer every question or explain what Christians should do in every situation. However, there are some illustrations (or parables or stories or whatever you want to call them) which I believe were given to us to serve as guides for how we are supposed to react in different situations.

    This one is pretty basic, and it comes from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 10, verses 25-37

    Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

    He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

    And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

    But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

    Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

    Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

    So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

    But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

    Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

    He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

    Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

    That’s a pretty good story, which you can understand even without knowing a whole lot about the original context, but I think knowing a bit more about it will only make it better. So let’s run through just a few of them.

    First things first: a lawyer stands up to test Jesus. Now that’s a pretty good way of getting your attention, right? In this case, “lawyer” might have referred to someone who was a theological scholar — that is, someone who was an expert on the law of the Bible as opposed to, say, tax law or divorce law, etc. He’s trying to trick Jesus into making a theological mistake in front of people. Jesus makes the guy answer his own question, and thus avoids the trap.

    But then the lawyer was disappointed because his trap failed, so he tried again. “Who is my neighbor?”

    Jesus replied with a story, instead of an answer.

    Some historical information:

    • The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was a notoriously dangerous road. No one would be surprised to find that someone had been beaten and left for dead on the side of the road.
    • Which may explain why the priest and the Levite ignored the man: they were used to seeing this.
    • Or they might have been worried that it was a trap, and if they stopped to help they would be beaten and robbed too.
    • Or they might have been worried that the man was already dead, and the laws required them to avoid touching a dead body.
    • Whatever the reason, the point is that there were these two good, upstanding, religious men, and neither one of them did anything to help.

    Then a Samaritan came by. Well, it’s very likely that even people with no religious background know what it means to be a “Good Samaritan.” But Jesus didn’t just pick a Samaritan at random. The good, upstanding, religious men of Jesus’ day would have considered Samaritans to be low-class people. A Samaritan was someone who was ethnically “unclean” because they had intermarried with others outside their ethnic group. They were looked down upon.

    So if Jesus was telling this story in 2012 America, I suspect that he would probably not use a Samaritan as the hero of the story. Instead I would expect Jesus to look to a group of people who are generally looked down upon by good, upstanding, religious men. Perhaps an undocumented worker? Perhaps a Muslim? Perhaps someone who is gay or lesbian? Depending on the crowd, I suspect Jesus could craft this story to find someone who we generally dislike.

    (In some circles, I suspect the role might be played by a Republican politician, challenging those who can’t imagine a Republican politician doing something to help someone else.)

    This Samaritan came by, and he did everything he could to take care of the man. But let’s also notice what he did not do:

    • He didn’t blame the victim by asking the man why he was traveling on such a dangerous road.
    • He didn’t refuse to help the man until he was sure he could get reimbursed.
    • He didn’t form a committee to help address the situation of dangerous conditions and perhaps post signs warning people about the danger.

    And he certainly didn’t try to tell the man that what happened was something that God intended to happen.

    ~Is everything that happens the will of God?~

    No.

    I don’t believe that God wants that evil to happen, God does not desire women to be raped in order that babies can be born.

    Evil exists. One of the age-old questions in Christianity (and, I assume, in most other religions too) is how to understand the existence of evil in the light of belief in God.

    Generally two alternatives are suggested:

    1. God is not able to prevent evil from happening.
    2. God chooses not to prevent evil from happening.

    As you might expect, neither of those “answers” are easy for people to accept, because the first suggests that God is not “all-powerful” and the second suggests that God is not all-good or all-benevolent or all-loving.

    ~However, there is a third option…~

    There’s another option, for those who aren’t satisfied with either of those two. It goes like this:

    • We know that evil exists. We know that bad things happen to good people. We don’t know why it happens. What we do know is that we have the ability to respond to evil when we see it, whether that is in comforting those who have been hurt or doing whatever we can to prevent evil from happening again, or both. Perhaps what is more important isn’t what we believe about the nature and purpose of evil, but what we do about it.

    That won’t make everyone happy either, of course. It requires accepting the idea that we don’t have all of the answers. Some people are not very comfortable saying “I don’t know” especially when it comes to issues of faith. But as Mr. Mourdock has demonstrated, sometimes there is far more harm to be done claiming that we do know, rather than admitting when we do not.

    Rather than suggesting that God would ever want someone to be raped for any reason, perhaps it would be wiser for our politicians to look at ways that they could help those who have been victimized, and how to prevent it from happening again.

    I was reminded of the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminding us that helping the victims is only the beginning:

    On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

    ~And finally…~

    Did you notice that when Jesus finished the parable, he made the lawyer answer his own question again? He had asked “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus ends with

    Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

    He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

    Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

    When Jesus was asked what we need to do in order to gain eternal life, Jesus did not say that we need to pray a certain prayer. He didn’t say that we have to go to a certain church. He didn’t even say we had to believe a certain thing. He didn’t ask about our, race, gender, political affiliation, sexual preference or identity. “Love God and love one another.”

    When pressed to explain further, Jesus made it clear that loving our neighbor wasn’t an abstract notion. Loving our neighbors is evidenced by what we do for them to help them when they are in need.

    Seems like that’s part of Jesus’ message that we don’t hear very much about these days.