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Friday, Dec. 13, 2013
Two Weeks After HaitiPosted Monday, January 25, 2010, at 9:10 AM
At times it has been rather difficult being a spiritual person during these last two weeks.
Disasters such as we've witnessed with the earthquake in Haiti bring all sorts of questions to mind. Insurance agencies list such catastrophes as "acts of God."
And there begins the difficulty of being a spiritual person in the aftermath of earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, etc.
No matter one's official religion or lack of any such brand name, spiritual people attempt to make sense out of these painful experiences. Where is the divine? What is the divine? And what responsibility does the divine have, what accountability does the divine have, in the midst of great human suffering?
Television has shown numerous rescues of Haitians trapped under the rubble. Over and over again you'll hear such phrases as "thank God" coming from the lips of both the survivors and those attempting to make such rescues.
And yet ...
It seems to me that there are two extremes in our attempting to understand that which is truly beyond our understanding. On the one hand we try to affirm a God that is all powerful.
On the other hand we try to affirm a God that is all good.
Recently our community has celebrated in the life and teachings of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a pastor he was trained in an approach called personalism. Generally speaking it teaches that the divine either can not or chooses not to interfere with human history. Indeed, if something is wrong in our world, the divine will not do anything in order to make it better. Rather, that responsibility is left up to human beings. We have to right the wrongs, correct the injustices, and bring the world back in line with how "God would have it to be."
Dr. King's life was spent trying to change our culture's acceptance of racial segregation. While having a clear sense of "God's vision," King understood that any change would only come by our toil and effort. Perhaps this line of reasoning works well regarding cultural development and a history of man-made (and woman made) injustices. What about the areas beyond our control?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not a Pat Robertson claiming to know why the divine allowed or even caused such a horrible travesty as the earthquake in Haiti, the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, and the homelessness of millions of Haitian citizens. And yet don't we all have a tendency to try to find blame?
Western oriented spiritual people will often times turn to the Old Testament for "answers" and find plenty of accounts of how the divine struck down entire nations. If God is all powerful then surely the divine has some responsibility for the "acts of God!" Millions of people a day pray for change of conditions, for help in crisis, for direction through the chaos of life. These prayers are to a God of power who can make a difference in the areas where we "accept the things I cannot change."
Are such prayers actually in vain?
At times it is rather difficult being a spiritual person. I truly believe that we will never have all of the answers while living on this earth. And I truly believe it is vitally important that we ask these questions!
The human mind has this craving of trying to make sense of life, of all of life. Without such questions we'll never grow, we'll never gain understanding that comes from processing the uncertainty and pain, we'll never gain the wisdom that can be ours even in the midst of the "acts of God" that can change a million lives in sixty short seconds.
To refrain from the asking keeps us from being human and gaining what insights might be ours. We simply have to accept that no individual will have all the right answers.
It's been two weeks. The newspapers have placed stories of Haiti on page three. Even the evening news opens with newer stories.
The pressure on spiritual people is gradually lessening. But there'll be earthquakes in the future and other "acts of God" that will bring this tension back.
Such is our human condition.
Such is our responsibility as spiritual people.
P.T. Wilson is the senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle, and is also the University Chaplain at DePauw University.