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While writing a post about Hurricane Sandy and its broader impact, I came across this blog entry from The Thoughtful Pastor. I was frankly aghast to read her first paragraph. I had to temporarily abandon my initial blog post and reply.

This was her first paragraph:

I guess I just don’t get the “Blame God for Hurricane Sandy” thing that is being tossed around. Although I suppose I should: it all fits with the “Divine Butler-god” that I’ve written about before. As long as we get what we want (good weather for weekends, sports events and campouts) then God has been nice and obedient and fitting well within the lines we’ve drawn. But the moment things get just a bit out of control (that would be our control, not God’s), then we are all over that Holy One with our complaints about what an awful person (!) God is and how terribly disappointed we are. Our next performance review will certainly reflect that disappointment, and we will strongly suggest God take steps to do better next time.

I will say that the blog gets better. She goes on to say some very beautiful and wise things (no snark…they are wise) about how the heroes who emerge in the wake of such a storm will be the ones who ask what God wants of them in the light of such tragedy. I’m posting my response on my blog (and not just as a comment to hers) because I know how easy it is to forget the perspective of the people we write about. I’m writing this on my blog as a reminder to myself for future blogs as well as a caution to the author of The Thoughtful Pastor.

My response:

Christy, I like many things about this entry, but I wish it was published a couple months later. The reality is that I agree with just about everything you said, but if I put myself in the shoes of people I know in New Jersey, I know I’d really struggle with your words.
I don’t know who specifically you were responding to, but the people I know who question God in this time are not angry because they can’t have a nice weekend on the golf course. They’re angry because 80% of their city…not just their house…THEIR CITY is under water. They’re angry because their jobs washed away with their homes and a lack of electricity matters–really, really matters–when it’s 42 degrees outside and you have an infant to care for.

I have a lot of family and friends in NJ. One of whose spouse just lost his job and whose infant shivers because there’s no electricity…all because of some storm that ripped mindlessly through her town. She has a right to challenge and question God. I think she is blessed because of it.

The people of God aren’t named “Abraham” after the paragon of obedience. They are instead named “Israel.” “One who wrestles with God. ” Questioning and challenging God, screaming at the Almighty over the roar of destructive wind is right and good and blessed.

“What does God expect of me?” is a critical question to ask, but I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that many of the heroes of faith and the heroes who will emerge after this storm will first have to say, “God, I expected a lot more from you.” I can’t imagine saying to a mother whose children were literally ripped from her arms by the greedy tides that “you shouldn’t be pissed at God. Ask what God expects from you right now.” I think that all God expects of that mother is to survive.

This is going to sound patronizing of me so I apologize to anyone hurt by this storm who reads this. There is a necessary sensitivity to our words in the face of human suffering. If the victims (and yes, they are victims) stay too long in this place of challenge and struggle, then they miss the opportunity to answer the call to serve and rise up and rebuild and resurrect. Job wrestles with God for chapters and chapters and chapters until finally God hears enough and slaps him back into place. But God does give space for Job to wrestle.

I would humbly request, that you would give space to the victims of Sandy to wrestle as well.

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A couple weeks ago I went to a Dallas Mavericks game and was caught off guard by something the announcer said:  “Please rise as we honor God and our country by singing the national anthem.”  I wasn’t caught off guard by singing the national anthem before a sporting event.  Professional sports in many ways embody many things central to American existence–competition, triumph and making a buck off anyone who will spend $6 on a hot dog.  I was struck wondering, however, how does this event and especially singing the National Anthem honor God?

As I rose I quickly ran through the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner in my head.   “Dawns early light…proudly hailing…land of the free, home of the brave.”  Nope:  no mention of God.  Do we praise God in the song?  Nope, we seem to “hail” a flag instead.

Maybe there are principles in the song that somehow glorify God?  “Bombs bursting…rockets giving off red glare.”  I find it hard to imagine that the God of the cross and the Prince of Peace feeling particularly honored by bombs bursting death upon God’s children.  Even “Just War” theologians who believe that war is sometimes a necessary evil that Christians must adopt to rid the world of a greater evil do not think that such a thing could ever honor God.  Killing in the midst of battle was allowed in certain situations, but it was something that called for repentance and forgiveness nonetheless. 

I think far too often we assume that praising our country is something that God wants.  While there are many things about our nation that I believe pleases God:  Americorp, the Peace Corp, a Justice System that tries to be just, Welfare, Public Works, Disability Support, Women’s Rights, Anti-Racism laws, Universal Education, New Jersey.  But those things are nto lifted up in the Star Spangled Banner.  Our nations anthem is a war hymn.  I’m not sure that I’m willing to assume that this song highlights the elements of our nation that I want to lift up to God with pride.

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