I recently watched a video of a message delivered by Tom Honey, a vicar in the Church of England. His message is a reflection on the 2004 tsunami, and how God can allow such tragedies. If you would like to watch the video you can see it at this link.
He briefly discusses the paradoxes and difficulties in nailing down God’s place in tragedy. Does he cause it, allow it to happen, use it to test us? Ultimately the idea that God suffers along with us engages Honey and propels the rest of his message. He takes God’s participation in our suffering (and our rejoicing) to suggest the possibility that God is not an agent as we are agents. “What if God doesn’t act,” he asks. He suggests instead that God is IN things, like “the loving soul of the universe, an indwelling compassionate presence underpinning and sustaining all things, the infinitely complex network of relationships and connections that make up life, the natural cycle of life and death, the incredible intricacy and magnificence of the natural world, the collective unconscious, the soul of the human race.”
Honey’s view includes a god without consciousness. He says, “To have faith in this god would be more like trusting an essential benevolence in the universe and less like believing a system of doctrinal statements.” Following this god would involve seeking the god within and cultivating your own “inwardness.” Our inwardness is “the me that remains when I gently put aside my passing emotions and ideas and preoccupations.” That sounds quite Buddhist to me. With the little understanding I have of paganism and Buddhism, I would say his theology mixes the two.
It is difficult to counter Honey’s arguments because he doesn’t actually use any arguments to make his point. He simply suggests the possibility of a god like this. Though the god that he is describing is clearly not the God of Christ. That being said he does raise a question that I think we all need to wrestle with. If God is in control, why does he allow tragedies like the tsunami? We can say that we live in a fallen world where natural disasters occur. I agree with that, and I agree that the world (earth) is in need of redemption just as we are (McKnight’s fourth restored relationship of atonement). We could say that God takes what the evil one means for ill and redeems it for good (the ransom fishhook theory of atonement suggests this). But none of these arguments, even with the truth that they contain, answer the most difficult question. If we truly believe that God has the power to control the wind and the waves, why would he allow a tragedy like the tsunami to occur? If we are going to examine and really engage in our faith, it is a question we must ask, isn’t it? I don’t have a great answer, but then again neither did Job.