God Squad: Seeing God in a tsunami
Here are two e-mailed questions from "L," who has a beef with God and the Bible:
You say God made everything. You say you see God's light shining brilliantly through a text, etc. Do you also see God in the tsunami that wiped out 200,000 people or in the murder of a 9-year-old child?
Yes, I do see God in everything and hope that some day you can, too. I see God in the tsunami because the tsunami was caused by a living earth that sustains life. The mantel over the core of Earth cracks, belches lava and causes earthquakes and tsunamis, but these are all natural events, not punishments from a vengeful God.
Such events are also challenges to use our God-given intelligence - and the resources produced by that intelligence - to mitigate the effects of natural catastrophes. We need to deploy tsunami-warning buoys in every ocean on earth. This has been done in many places but apparently not in the Indian Ocean in the area of the tsunami. That failure of human action deprived people of the time they needed to seek safety on higher ground. The failure to protect ourselves was a failure of human will.
The deaths caused by the tsunami were needless and are on us, not God.
The murder of children is also our sin, not God's. We've been given a code of life by God, a moral and spiritual path leading to virtue, charity and compassion. When we choose to stray from that path and instead embrace violence and death, it's our sad choice, not God's.
When we allow social predators to roam free, and when we don't protect children from them, the blame lies with our failure to create a society of laws and reverence for life. Of course, an all powerful, benevolent God could stop all killing by simply removing our free will and treating us like Adam and Eve before their choice to disobey God's commandments in the Garden of Eden.
However, that world, as the philosopher Gottfried Leibnitz observed, would be worse than our world, even with its dangers. That world would not include freedom, and freedom is an absolute good. So, in that sense alone, God is responsible for evil because God chose to give us a world where we could sadly but freely choose it.
We cannot have peace and goodness imposed upon us by God; we must grow into them through our loving and peaceful choices. God makes everything, but we decide what to make of it.
Except for murder, slavery has to be one of the most immoral things a person can do. Yet slavery is rampant throughout the Bible. Many Jews and Christians try to ignore the moral problems of slavery by saying these slaves were actually servants. Many translations use the word "servant," "bondservant," or "manservant" instead of "slave" to make the Bible seem less immoral than it really is. While many slaves may have worked as household servants, that doesn't mean they were not true slaves - bought, sold, and treated worse than livestock. You'd think Jesus would have a different view of slavery, but the practice is still approved of in the New Testament. Paul says in Ephesians 6:5: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ." Any thoughts?
A slave is property. However, as we read in Exodus 21:2, "If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom." The manumission of slaves is direct and unambiguous evidence that the Bible does not endorse chattel slavery. Slaves were not property but rather indentured bond servants who traded their labor for credit in a barter society. The ethical limitations that did flow from indentured servitude were resolved when economic structures evolved allowing people to pay off their debts without becoming bond servants.
The history of normative Judaism and Christianity through the abolitionist movements of the 19th century solidified the Judeo-Christian tradition's anti-slavery beliefs. I do understand that slave owners in the South had their own preachers who endorsed slavery by perverting the true teachings of Judaism and Christianity, much like jihadists today distort the true and peaceful teachings of Islam.
God's love of freedom for all people is addressed eloquently by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." In his the first draft, Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be sacred . . ." Sometimes, history has to catch up with the deep teaching of God in the Bible, but it's never true that God wants people to be slaves.