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God in the good and the bad

A new bud after fire. Photo by Corné van Braak
IS GOD in the bad stuff as well as the good stuff? Most people wrestle with the question of God when particular issues or events emerge in their lives.

Such questioning came home to me when I stood where the suburbs had been in Bandah Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami. More than 50 000 people had been wiped away in a few devastating minutes.

Or if you walk up Darwin St in Marysville, Victoria, past incinerated homes where so many were burnt alive, you would  ask, “Could God have prevented this?”

It is easy to thank God for the good stuff – the wonder of being loved or being enfolded in a caring community.

While some experience all or some of these things, there are many more who live in the shadow of those deep experiences of life, feeling broken by what has happened, locked alone within, knowing chaos, pain, tragedy and hurt.

Who is God anyway, if there is a God? Why are we here, where did we come from and where are we going?
What is this mysterious place in which we find ourselves?

Surely life is more than the flotsam and jetsam of a dying universe which one day will be gone.

So often one meets those who have suffered terribly and yet maintain a deep and abiding faith in the God others would see had dealt them the worst hand.

There was a time when the philosophers argued from order and beauty that because these exist there must be one who is greater than these.

A hundred years ago the warning came that perhaps we project onto the heavens what we hope for and, indeed, if we listen carefully to the many views of God, often there will be much that could be seen as wish fulfilment.

It seems each civilisation has developed a view of God through the exercise of reason, experience and beauty.

But what of the thousands of children dying daily? What happened at Bandah Aceh and Marysville?
The traditional response is that God made a creation in which people are free human beings.

This response involves a creation in which mountains are built by earthquakes that give rise to tsunamis over millions of years. What is certain is that more tsunamis will come. It also means that individuals can bend societies for the benefit of one, or the few, such that massive injustices occur within a nation or across the globe.

Each person is free to respond to God, or make their own life and future without God (what sin is). There is much suffering and deprivation in the world as well as much joy and fulfilment.

Through prayer and discipline and the exploration of reason, experience and beauty, people seek the God who has created us, bringing their love and compassion to the awfulness some suffer.

The second response is from Martin Luther. He said that we each want a God who is made in our own thinking about God.

We are then blind to the way in which God comes into our midst. We do not want a God who comes like Jesus Christ, identifying with the suffering.

Here in the cross of Christ we see the mystery of the way God suffers with those who suffer; here we discover the reality of God’s particular way in the midst of the creation.

A dying God helps us see the reality of the suffering which must not be denied and the possibility of resurrection in the midst of the worst.

The life of Christ then opens us up to the way the Spirit of God is at work in our midst bringing in God’s way, God’s realm and God’s vision of a future reality.

So is God in the bad stuff as well as the good stuff?

Yes, qualifying both and giving us a new perspective of the way the mysterious God beyond our control is found in our midst in compassionate caring and bold envisioning of how we may live.

We started asking the God question from our perspective. What happens if we start with the God who creates and then searches us out in the long story of human history?

We come rightly wanting our questions answered. But who is it that we question?

God to be God is to be the source of all, the very framework of time and space, the very being of all that is, for in God we live and move and have our being.

And then perhaps we can hear that the God who is eternally present to the creation is eternally present to each one of us, but coming in ways that question our very conception of God.

As we work back from Jesus we discover the mystery, wonder and character of the God who comes to be with each of us and invites us to discover the way God’s Spirit is both sustaining creation and individually releasing life.

Rev Dr Dean Drayton is a Lecturer at the United Theological College and a former Uniting Church President.
This story was first printed in The Transit Lounge.

The full version of this text can be found at www.thetransitlounge.com.au

Photo : A new bud after fire. Photo by Corné van Braak