Godpuddle

Splashing around in theology.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Hand of God

“If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways, they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
-- Psalm 91:9-12 --

Often I begin these blogs with a sort of disclaimer statement and I am going to do so again, here. It’s just that I think it is important, as regards TONE!
Whoever reads what ends up appearing here on godpuddle should know right up front that I have not the slightest desire to poke fun at anyone’s personal beliefs, or belittle their statements made in faith.
At the same time though, my motivation is to merely point out what a rational perspective may look like, when placed alongside such statements, and beliefs. To apply a bit of logical reasoning, congruence, or [yes] outright opposition at times, to some things that are commonly held to be truisms about God or theology.
So here is my current disclaimer.
Nothing that I am about to say in this article is said with malicious intent, nor is it said to belittle or otherwise poke fun at anyone.

Having said that, let me tell you about a phone call I recently received. It was from a friend, telling me of an accident that occurred.
An out of control car overshot the roadway, and smashed into the very office building where someone very dear to them was working away, at their desk. The vehicle came through the building and very nearly ran right over the person, working there. The impact sent her hurtling from her desk and she suffered considerable trauma and injury, requiring hospitalization.
That is about enough detail. I think it provides an adequate picture of the sudden seriousness of such an event.
My friend then proceeded to say, “It is so obvious to me, to our whole family, in fact, that ______ was spared by the hand of God.” [Name withheld].

That is the firmly-held conclusion of my caller friend.
At the time, I just said…. “Mmm-hmm!”
Now comes the part where I want to repeat that it is not my desire whatsoever to make light of the situation we are discussing here. Truly, someone could have been killed.
But what I want to point out is the inherent logistic absurdities of my friend’s conclusion. [Strictly speaking, the statement itself is what I want to critically investigate, not the person who said it.]
I maintain that to interpret the event in this fashion, is to also assume that God CAUSED the accident!
Why?
Well, simply because of the absurdity of the only other possible option, which is that God was SURPRISED by it!
In other words, God was not at all aware of the accident’s possibility until it began happening, and then [at that moment] God sprang into action, slowing the out of control vehicle down, so that the person behind the desk would not be killed, but merely injured.
When all of the events came to light, it was found that the driver of the vehicle made the mistake of hitting the accelerator rather than the brake pedal!
Hence, my own conclusion [were I asked] would be more along the lines of:
Extremely poor driving skills were the cause of the accident, and rapid decrease in momentum the cause of any vehicle stoppage whatsoever.
My question therefore becomes the following: If God is as directly involved in this story as my friend assumes, would it not have been much more easier for God to have directed the placement of the foot of the driver? I mean, rather than doing nothing, and then having the car smash into the building and causing all of that mayhem and destruction and injury?
I agree that God is intimately concerned with the welfare of the person working away behind their desk. If the God that my friend believes in exists at all, then of course that God does not want anyone to get run over by a car.
But, nonetheless, people are run over by cars all the time! Every day!
Even now as I have typed these few paragraphs, several people [and of this there can be very little doubt] have died in tragic motor vehicle accidents, the world over!
So again, I am not making light of the intense gratitude one might be expected to want to send off in some sort of a direction after being “spared” such a potential tragedy as is herein being described, but at the same time, to attribute this gratitude to the hand of God is absolutely absurd.

To me, it is far more logical to simply conclude that the reason the car stopped when it did is a combination of:
a) Its momentum being slowed from the impact of having to drive through the wall of the place.
b) The driver, in that moment, probably realizing which pedal was the the one for the brake.
c) The initial speed of the vehicle in the first place.

Some people might say, reading those three unemotional facts…. “Hah! Your reasoning powers are tempered by the fact that it was not close enough to home! It was not your own family or friends involved.”

But that is not true at all. Let me tell you another true story.

A number of years ago, my mother and father drove out to Vancouver Island to visit my sister and her family. One day, they all decided to go up-Island on a scenic tour.
Just as they were leaving the house, my brother-in-law said he would prefer to drive my father’s van. And so it is that all seven of them piled into the thing, and set off.
Not far into it, my brother-in-law noticed that an oncoming vehicle was swerving towards them in an erratic fashion. As anyone who has ever driven a vehicle at highway speed knows, there is not a lot of time to figure out what to do. Within one or two seconds he had to negotiate a near-roll-over swerve to avoid the car, and as he looked into his rear-view mirror the out of control vehicle slammed into the car behind them.
The result was a number of fatalities in this tragic accident that my own family had avoided by mere inches!
Almost assuredly, if my 70-year old father was driving the van, all seven of the passengers in it that day would have been killed in the head-on collision. He would never have achieved the reaction-time necessary.
But I cannot possibly come to the conclusion of God’s hand being upon them unless I am at the same time able to explain why God’s hand was so intent upon killing the other people….. the people in the rear-view mirror!
If God was so involved, and loves people without partiality [as I, in fact, believe God does]… would it not have been better, and even easier, for God to have nudged that sleeping driver into an awake state, so that no-one at all needed to be killed?
In the above scene, am I to conclude that God loves my own family more than he loves the families of the other people? The ones that were killed that day on the highway?
Am I to conclude that it was God who told my brother-in-law to drive the van, as they all left the house? If so… wouldn’t it have been even better for God to have told the sleepy driver of the other car to pull over to the side of the road and have a little bit of a napsie-wapsie?

Some people [speaking of partiality now] might even conclude that the other people [the ones who perished] may not have had God’s protection upon them, because they were not “believers” whereas my family [which is, in fact, the case] WERE!
But again, this explains absolutely nothing unless at the same time we can point to the immunity of all “believers” when it comes to tragic events that happen every single day of the year! And we simply cannot do this. Horrifically tragic things happen every single day to “believers” and “non-believers” alike!

So what am I saying?
Am I saying that God does not care about us?
Am I saying that there is no such thing as “God’s hand” protecting anyone, at any time?
No.
I am not saying either of those things because I do not know either of them to be true or false.
What I am saying is that what we are meaning and believing when we employ the phrase “God’s hand” is most of the times….. utterly absurd.
There is absolutely no empirical or experiential cause and effect correlation between our belief in the protection of “the hand of God” and any actual real-life protection.

This will surely sound cold of me to point this out, but in my friend’s initial statement to me on the phone, what is essentially being said is that even if the car in question had been travelling at a speed of 350 miles an hour when it hit the building, it STILL would have stopped before running over the person behind the desk.

Hmmm… maybe in the pages of the Bible yes, but not anytime since!

************

1 Comments:

Blogger Dorothy W. said...

I agree perfectly. I suppose it's an almost irresistable impulse to try to find out the cause of what happens to us, but if we think that cause is God, that just doesn't make sense! But it seems like the impulse for order and understanding can win out over logic.

4/23/2006 5:17 PM  

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