Archive for the ‘Virginia Tech’ Category

God, Where Were You?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

As a minister I’m expected to know what God is up to.

Is God punishing me?

How do you know when God is speaking?

Why did God let this happen?

If I don’t have the answers to these questions what use am I as a minister? I used to wonder when I was younger and demanded answers to everything. Which probably explains why I chose to become a scholar instead of a pastor.

“This is not a course on what God said,” is how I’d open my lecture the first day of class when I taught the Old Testament survey class. “This is a course on what Israel said God said.” Always good to start off with a disclaimer. Whether God actually commanded Joshua and his followers to annihilate the Canaanites and to seize their land, I don’t know. But I can come up with a few pretty plausible reasons why Joshua and his followers would say that God told them that.

I understand what makes people appeal to God to explain why they do the things they do and why things turn out the way they do. I’ve done it a few times myself. But I always do so looking back over my shoulders. I’ve been known to be wrong.

When you’re reared Christian (of a particular sort) and raised believing in a sacramental universe, it’s natural to want to point to God to explain stuff you don’t understand. In a sacramental world in everything that happens, God is trying to communicate something. Especially helpful is the trove of proverbs hurting people pass along to comfort other hurting people beginning with, “God never puts more on you than you can bear.” No one talks about the times God has miscalculated.


Did God cause the bridge in Minneapolis to collapse sending 13 people to plunge to their death in the Mississippi River?

Did God cause the levees to break two years ago in New Orleans causing thousands of people to lose lives, home, and nearly their sanity?

Why didn’t God bring those Utah miners out alive?

Why did God allow the Virginia Tech massacre to happen?

If God didn’t ordain slavery, why didn’t God prevent it?

It’s hard giving up on this way of thinking even when you know better. Listening to the rationalizations folks in pulpits, on CNN, and across the dinner table come up with to explain everything from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the unexpected death of a child makes you shake your head and wonder if we’ve all gone mad from trying to make sense of our world. Humans demand an accounting. Tragedy is easier to survive if it can be explained, we think. The book of Job was supposed to be a masterpiece. But folks couldn’t resist asking Jesus centuries later, “Who sinned, the mother or the father, that this boy was born blind?” (John 9:1-3).

Why, oh why, must it be always about divine punishment –especially when the “punishment” is obscenely excessive given the crime, and especially since so many innocent lives end up perishing along with the guilty? It’s easier to blame God than it is genetics, capitalism, racism, violence, fate, human error, etc.?

Here’s what I believe, or think I believe, until the next time I’m knocked to my knees with grief.

  • Life is hard. It’s a miracle that we believe in God and goodness.
  • Unlearning old habits is tough. I try to resist asking “Why God?…” when bad things happen. If the words come out (because it’s hard unlearning old habits), I don’t expect an answer, not really. What I mean to ask is, “What should I do?” “What can I do to make things better?”
  • Where was God in it all? Probably standing nearby crying as well.
  • I’ll take an empathetic God over a punitive God, for now.
  • Stop the Violence

    Thursday, April 19th, 2007

    While we spent the last two weeks railing at each other about racial insults, sexist jokes, hip hop music, apologies that won’t fly, and weighty matters related to the First Amendment, a deranged college student sat plotting the mass murder of his classmates along with his own suicide on the idyllic campus of Virginia Tech.

    Now that the fog of horror is beginning to lift everyone is scrambling to find someone to point a finger at.

    Last week rap music was to blame for the arsenal of racist and sexist insults that are at the disposal of shock jocks like Don Imus. This week the NRA and Hollywood are to blame. The NRA, says the Left, makes it possible for mentally sick young men like Cho Seung-Hui to get his hands on an arsenal of weapons to act out their private fantasies of murder and suicide. At the same time, says the Right, Hollywood is to blame for churning out an arsenal of violent movies like Quentin Tarantino “Grindhouse” that feed our appetite for carnage and violence.

    Nothing like hateful speech and violent rampages to keep things in perspective.

    If we’re going to blame NRA, Hollywood, or even video games we all have some blame to shoulder. Lord knows, ours is culture that is fascinated with violence.

    I am as liable as the next person for indulging in the guilty pleasurable pasttime of watching crime dramas on television every week (e.g., Law and Order, CSI, Cold Case). I don’t know when it happened. Recant: I do know. But that’s another story. What I also know is that figuring out the motivation behind the murder is half the” fun” of watching the crime show. But the rampage at Virginia Tech is a sobering wake up call, or it should be.

    It doesn’t matter what “motivated” the gunman behind the Virginia Tech shooting. I won’t join the media detectives in pouring over the identity of the killer’s family and the putative ethnic nature of his rage, nor do I care to watch as journalists shove a microphone in the face of every person who ever bumped up against him in the hallway or try reconstructing what he had for breakfast the morning of his rampage. Besides, we haven’t bothered to do the same type of psychological and cultural analysis upon those who four years ago committed our youth to the bloodbath and carnage reported weekly out of Iraq. Enough.

    Stop the violence by keeping up the protest against pro-gun lobbyists and by boycotting movies that showcase gratuitous violence. Better time is spent praying for the tortured souls that commit these acts of violence. Stop the violence by turning it off in ourselves. After tragedies like the one this week, says one Virginia Tech student who also survived the Columbine massacre of ten years ago this week, normalcy never returns.

    After a steady diet of violence all these years, can any of us say what normal — or decency and civility, for that matter — is anymore?