Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Non-superstitious View of Bad Events.

My son Bryan and his wife Renee are expecting their first baby. They struggle financially as do most young couples. Bryan had a job that he truly loved. Then suddenly, without any warning, his job is ending . . . his company is on the verge of going under and had to lay everyone off.

The old, Evangelical Mike would have sought to find emotional opium through the thoughts that; 1) God did this for a reason, or 2) Something better is coming for sure. Unless I took the “Satan is behind it” approach, were I would have to blame Bryan to make sense about it, as if he had somehow disobeyed God and this was the consequence.

But in a Christian-materialist paradigm, where I believe that a good God created this wonderful physical (material) world and it has meaning in itself (cause and effect) then it is very liberating.

I can now know that this event was the result of common, earthly, things, like the economic down turn, the fact that certain scientific experiments didn’t work (according to the laws of biochemistry) and possibly by the fact that the CEO of a major customer company may have had some whim that he didn’t want their product. Anyway, there doesn’t have to be a meta-narrative behind every event—an angel or devil behind every bush.

Certainly you can learn from hardships, but in the old dualistic paradigm, we believed that God had a very specific lesson, which He was trying to teach, and we had a great obligation to find it . . . or we would miss out on His blessing. There is no such pressure in this new paradigm. There should also be the release of guilt for Bryan that he is not being punished by God, or the fear that God is not listening. But this is an imperfect world and crap really does happen . . . and often for no good reason.

Prayer does matter. While I don’t believe that God is working outside of his wonderful laws of nature at every turn (like many Evangelicals, especially those of a charismatic bent) do. Nor does God have to do miracles for me to love Him and trust Him. The fact that He does use the wonderful laws of nature, which He created, doesn’t cause me to think less of Him. Nor am I caught up in the psychological game of lying to myself and others about miracles that never really happened.

But prayer does matter, because scripture says it does. So I can pray for Bryan and Renee. God may do a miracle . . . or He may not. He may allow the workings of his laws to take their course. In this case His laws of social interactions, to play out where Bryan lands his own new job.

This understanding of the power of random cause and effect within God’s laws of nature also prevents that terrible cancer of the soul. This cancer begins as a quiet mutation of our cells of hope. When we are deeply disappointed by something . . . a parent dying, a child killed, a destructive hurricane or a job loss . . . that we tell ourselves, “This was of God.” Knowing (actually erroneously thinking) that God caused the event will cause that cancer to flourish eating up trust completely. We can pretend, on the surface that all is well with our souls, but the cancer has taken away a trust.

A great lesson that I learned from Phil Yancy’s (Disappointment with God) was that many times God throws up His hands and say, “I didn’t do it.” Not that He couldn’t! We can still love that God and trust Him in the face of cause and effect working themselves out, under the God-given laws of nature, but an imperfect (fallen) nature.


Angela said...

I absolutely loved this. I've been viewing life through this lens lately, and I have to wholeheartedly agree that it feels so much more freeing and simple. No blaming. No pointing fingers. Just taking life one day at a time. I think it takes a lot of courage to stand up and say what you're saying here. "You mean, we're not actually in CONTROL of everything?!?!?!?!" Exactly! It's a wonderful, freeing relinquishing of power and control, and we simply get to be human beings, and do this crazy life together.

Don Hendricks said...

This is the kind of application your book allows us to process and it is true and allows our faith to be true. I will also pray for your kids that they will find a job that fits them or bridged them to the next one.

Anonymous said...

I so completely agree. Leaving the, "God must have done this to me, because..." and just realizing I'm in a fallen world where "the rain falls on the just and the unjust," and bad things happen sometimes simply because bad things sometimes happen, has been a HUGE RELIEF. In this strange way, it has given me power over my life again, power to choose, power to think, power to consider, and the sure and certain knowledge of knowing that God is there, in all of it.

A person very close to me suggested that I must not be supposed to leave my abusive marriage because God hadn't opened any doors to do so. As if, um, there are any easy "doors" open for a woman in my situation... It is that kind of thinking that I am so tired of. I was always waiting...hoping God would do something...never realizing that He lived in me and could act through my own hands and feet and mouth.

Angela said...

Sorry, I don't mean to stalk. But I also wanted to say that I recently used the phrase "Christian superstition" to my husband. We know exactly what you mean. That should be a blog post in and of itself.

I also love the fact that you put a picture of your son and his lovely wife up. That makes this story that much more personal and real. We're not talking about some random people that are going through tough times out there in the world, and that "probably deserve it." I will definitely be praying for them as well.

NOTAL said...

That's an old picture.

At times I wish I had some emotional opium. It might help with the discouragement.

Someone from church the other day, when she heard about me being laid off, said something to the extent of "it's all in God's timing, even if you don't understand it." I felt like replying that "if God wanted me to loose my job with a son on the way, then God has really s####y timing, and he seems like a jerk." But I don't blame God.

I don't really blame anyone. I don't blame myself--I know I did good work. I don't even blame my boss or the board of directors--they put a lot into the company (time and money) and need to do what they think is best for it. I knew I took a risk working for a small startup company, I thought the risk was worth it, and I would make the same choice again today. Not that it makes loosing the job any easier (financially or emotionally), but I don't really have any regrets or blame.

MJ said...

I've shared before the worst example was when a little boy in our church was accidentally run over by his dad's riding lawn mower and his little head sliced to bits. Then everyone had to find some good purpose in this, that done it to teach us something. If you were a parent and believed that God had orchestrated such horrible events, how could you go on loving and trusting that God?

Thanks for your prayers for Bryan and Renee, Don.

A in M, don't you hate it when you try to live your life by signs? There was a rainbow so I should do this. Or this door was open and that door was closed. My thinking now? I'm not sure if I have it figured out. I mean, I think God directs us through absolutely closed doors (where that certain choice is impossible to make). Of course aboiding blantant sin should be a guide. But beyond that, I think God gives us Titanic freedom in the choices we make. Should we have 1 child or 10? Unless we are sterile (thus an absolutely closed door) we have choice . . . and none of them are going to disappoint God.

Of course, we all know that the sign thing, or open door thing is used by all of us for manipulative purposes . . . to manipulate ourselves, but mostly others.

I really miss the days that I could tell my wife to do something (which I really wanted her to, manipulation in other words) and use, "God wants you to do this" as an excuse.

I guess that is one reason that I feel irritated when I see other Christians trying to manipulate me.

NATOL aka Bryan, sorry. That was the only photo of you and Renee together. Love Dad.

Ah . . . love to the others too. :>)

MJ said...

Typo . .. "God had done it"