The question of “why doesn’t God act?” has been in existence since people were scared enough to ask rather than act.
That’s the difficult question we will be pondering in this Podcast. But before we dive in, let’s set some ground rules for this discussion:
- This discussion is not for everyone. So, if you are rigidly fixed in your personal religious beliefs then you might want to skip this episode as it contains a few of my ponderings on God which some people might find to be offensively wrong.
- My thoughts expressed on this subject are obviously incomplete and will continue to evolve as we experience the human societal response to the breadth & depth of the Climate Crisis.
- Spoiler alert going into this podcast is: God expects more mature behavior from us than what we’ve exhibited so far.
- The takeaway question from this podcast will be: At what price comes our path to maturity? How much pain must be experienced before we act?
OK, with all of those ground rules established, lets get started.
From lightning strikes to lava flows, from periods of floods and droughts; plagues and war; overwhelming tragedies that strike us both large and small; people have been staring at the skies and asking: “why God did you allow this?”
For some people on the religious right, their bottom line on the climate crisis is that it doesn’t require human intervention because God won’t let it happen.
God simply won’t let us destroy God’s Good creation. This they claim is evident by God’s promise to Noah (Genesis 9) that “never again shall there be a flood to destroy the Earth”.
But it’s not just people on the “Religious Right” is it? No, we don’t get off that easy.
Some of us occasionally dip into the dubious theology of thanking God for traffic lights turning green, open parking spots being convenient or even avoiding the flu.
Many of us were raised with the promise of “TRUST IN GOD”. In fact, since the 1950’s, it’s printed on our money.
But what if “trust in God to act” is not God’s intention for how her Good Creation should work?
What if God’s grand design for his Good creation is that we would be the ones to act and God’s role was to guide, to inspire, to awaken, to CALL?
Now-that’s a disturbing understanding isn’t it?
The question of “why doesn’t God act?” has been in existence probably as long as humans have wondered about God. For a biblical example, we don’t have to look any further than the Book of Job. Some biblical scholars believe that Job is the very first book of the Bible and written to seek an answer to the age-old question: why does evil exist and why doesn’t God just stop it?
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
That passage from Job is a familiar approach which suggests that bad things happen because God is “testing us”. This understanding is frequently followed with the admonition that God doesn’t give us more than what we can bear.
In more modern Times, this question of “why does God permit evil to exist” is raised in the context of huge tragedy and incomprehensible suffering such as the Holocaust of WWII.
There is a play that explores this to a disturbing level. It was called “GOD ON TRIAL” and its setting was a crowded prisoner hut in a NAZI concentration camp. The Jewish prisoners could not comprehend the great evil that they were experiencing and so they conducted a trial with charging God with violating their understanding of God’s particular covenant with the Jewish people.
After all, in their understanding, God had a special relationship with Jews then how could God possibly allow annihilation of his people through the unspeakable horror of the death camps?
Some historians have argued that many Jews went peacefully into the camps under the belief that God would protect them.
So why didn’t God act?
Why didn’t God strike the concentration camp guards dead at very first instance of the slaughtering of innocents? Or at the thousandth instance?
Why didn’t God plug up the Gas Chambers?
Why didn’t God crush the incinerators? Why didn’t God stop the medical experiments or the slaughtering of babies? Why didn’t God act?
Ultimately the play ends with the jury of prisoners finding God guilty of violating God’s covenant with the Jews.
One could expand this haunting question to include the multitude of human destruction that we blithely name simply as the consequences of war.
If not under these circumstances, just when or how will God act to stop human destructiveness?
Let’s fast forward this question of “Why doesn’t God stop evil” to the context of today.
We currently are facing the devastating human destruction potential of:
- Never ending wars & constant threats of further wars
- Forest Fires beyond all understanding
- Pollution that kills us fast and pollution that kills us slowly
- Hurricanes and storms of a ferocity never witnessed before
- Floods and Droughts that are so severe the weather people had to come up with additional colors because nothing in our history measures up to the current situations
- Diseases that quickly spread around the world
- Mass Starvation
- Violence everywhere we look
- Refugees fleeing this destruction and finding walls to keep them out
- Mass extinctions of species
- Hate & Fear throughout our societies
- Political corruption on a global scale
and now, on top of that extensive list and making every one of these problems worse, we have the Global Climate Crisis.
So why doesn’t God act to stop our destruction?
Why doesn’t God just stop us before we destroy all of God’s Good Creation on this Earth, our common home?
It should be simple enough task for God to do, right?
That’s our hope isn’t it?
Many of us in our modern western societies, who really ought to know better, are avoiding responding to the Climate Crisis.
Some of us are counting on God to step in before it’s too late.
We’re hoping without concrete basis that God will choose to act before our loved ones are hurt.
I know that this is a deeply uncomfortable topic, but it is a very necessary topic to explore. So why doesn’t God stop us?
After lots of reflection, my understanding of the answer to this troubling question lies in the gift of “FREE WILL”.
FREE WILL is the backbone of our ability to make life choices.
I would argue it is the greatest gift that God could bestow on any of God’s creatures & she decided to give it to human beings.
That’s a gift with many problems as human beings also possess the capability as well as the inclination to do great good but also to do great evil.
God gave Free will to the very creatures who can destroy all of creation just by making the wrong life choices.
I can’t fathom why God would risk this. But yet God did.
That might be true for you also.
We just can’t imagine that God would idly stand by and let us puny creatures destroy what God has wrought.
The problem Is we simply don’t know, do we? Hundreds of millions of lives were destroyed in the 20th century due to war and other human caused tragedies and it’s really hard for me to point to an event where it is obvious that God said “ENOUGH!” and stopped WWII.
Returning to the Book of Job, which was written to understand evil in this world. If you read it entirely, you will not be satisfied with it as God never answers the question of why God allows evil to exist.
Instead we’re left with unsettling response of “who are you to question me?”
It’s been my experience, that there are two vastly different perspectives that people bring with them as they read scripture:
- They read to learn “What God will do” or
- They read to learn “What God expects us to do”.
I tend to read scripture as well as ponder the existential questions of life from the perspective of #2.
What does God expect of us? Or stated another way: How does God call us to live?
Let’s turn for a moment to the wisdom of John 16:12
“I still have many things to say to you, but you can not bear them now. When the Sprint of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…”
In my faith traditions, that passage is what we mean when we say:
“God is still speaking”.
The essential truth of the Gospel to me is that first and foremost it is a Call to Action (in the gospel we hear messages of: come follow me; go and tell; be fishers of men; tend my sheep; clothe the naked; free the captives; you feed them…) My approach to faith is that arising from the journey along the Gospel pathway, belief in God will be found and enriched.
Robin R. Meyers expresses it this way: “Jesus never says “Go and believe likewise.”” The measure of an authentic spiritual life is the way a follower acts in the world.
A better question for this time is “why don’t we stop our destruction?”
But then how do we know what to do?
Elijah, the old testament prophet pondered the same question as he sought God’s answer.
“a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah’s experience of unexpectedly hearing God in the whisper is similar to what I’ve experienced in my faith journey. I have best understood God’s guidance for my life path in the stillness of nature, in the disturbed voices of the poor and oppressed as well as in music that penetrates the barriers I’ve erected.
Mother Teresa said it this way:
“I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength.”
My favorite theologian, John Dominic Crossan says it this way:
“You have been waiting for God, Jesus said, while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, he said, while God wants your collaboration. God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it & thereby establish it.”
We are facing the greatest crisis ever encountered by human civilization and it’s rooted in our behavior. We are causing the devastation of the life systems of our earth and it’s already reached the point of immense suffering. We just have to be willing to open our eyes to see and our ears to hear.
God’s direction on how we should live is often quiet as a whisper but stunningly clear just the same: if our actions are rooted in sacrifice, compassion and justice then we’re on the right path.
That’s what the Gospel means when it says the greatest commandment is to “love one another.”
Where do we start?
You might find it beneficial to spend some alone time with God. Asking God what you are being called to do.
For some, this may best be found in contemplation of scripture.
For others a quiet time in nature or with music or with poetry or in the sounds of children discovering the wonders of life.
Perhaps like me, you might need to undertake immersion experiences to hear voices of truth that you normally don’t hear and see suffering that you’ve too often turned away from.
Whatever is necessary to move you to take action in response to this crisis, please do it.
When you’re ready to act, if you want some suggestions, check out the 48 action steps towards a sustainable life found on my website.