"Why Does God Allow People to Do Such Terrible Things to Each Other?"
If God is all powerful--if he's all good--why doesn't he stop people from doing the awful things they do to each other?
I’ve had enough theological training to answer that. <Pulls up her pants by the belt loops. Spits in both hands and rubs them together.> Theologians say every terrible thing we do is somehow a consequence of the Fall, which was a way-back "don't step across this line" violation committed by two naked people I wouldn't know from Adam.
They tell me those two choices got into my blood like an STD, that I'm guilty by default, and so are you, and so is everybody else, so now we're stuck doomed to hurt-and-be-hurt because of a jillion-year-old flub up that you and I couldn't have prevented if we'd wanted to.
If we grumble that we got handed a raw deal there, we get a big, fat finger pointed at us, reminding us that we have flubbed up too. I'm supposed to feel ashamed of myself right then, and (subtract and carry over) use my shame to make myself okay with a fate of being shameful.
That works for some people, but it doesn't fix anything for me. It's circular and frustrating.
If ALL have sinned, if I'm out of luck from the get-go, that means I can't help but mess things up down here. My chances at winning the Big Game of Being Okay are about as good as some guy's driving a truck with a nail in his tire, one good headlight, wheeling around in the Appalachian mountains on a curvy road, during an ice storm.
The whole thing feels like a setup. I'm not going to make it out of this alive.
I know the theological reasons behind people doing mean stuff, but they never get down into the part of me where I ask big questions about the justice of the universe. Those reasons don't work for me because I'm not a chemist or a statistician; I'm a poet. I'm not asking something that a cold equation can fix.
So when I get full of despair about the rotten state of life on planet earth, I turn to the parts of the Bible that make the most sense to me. I will warn you, though, these are the same parts of Scripture that tend to frustrate my linear friends the most.
I have some friends who read the math of systematic theology and then say, "Oh, okay." They walk away satisfied with the long division of the divine, and there's nothing wrong with that.
But those same people also tend to get in a kink while reading verses that crawl down through my throat, and get down in my belly, and warm it up like a shot of Woodford Double Oak.
For example, Job 38-41, in which an insulted and misrepresented God roars out in a Shakespearean monologue--defending the beauty of His sovereignty before a devastated man who has lost everything, all his kids, his health, his dignity, the support of his wife, the respect of his friends.
God is relentless with that poor man, and every time I read those chapters, I find that I am holding my breath. "I had forgotten," I finally whisper. Then "Uncle!" because it is too much to bear. Then "Mercy!" then "Hallelujah," but not a token Hallelujah--rather, the ravenous realization that I'd rather be consumed by holiness than try to defend myself against it.
Or give me the graphic (almost pornographic) details of Ezekiel 16.
That passage is awkward from start to finish. I tried to paraphrase it today, tried to soften it for modern sensibilities, and I found myself stumbling all over the place. It was an exercise in futility. There ain't no way to make this story easy to swallow.
God finds a bloody baby abandoned in the wild. Nobody even cared enough to cut her umbilical cord. He rescues her, notices when she blooms into puberty, waits until she comes of age.
Then he marries her.
Are you uncomfortable yet? Well, if you are, get ready to be more uncomfortable still. The narrator of this story is going to step it up a notch.
God dotes on his young bride, spoils her. Buys her all sorts of fancy shoes and embroidered clothes, gold jewelry, a crown, fancies her up, makes her a queen of all his kingdom.
But she doesn't live like a queen. Instead, she whores herself out to foreigners from every country, goes for the guys with big genitals (that's in the Bible!), and sleeps with every man she can get her hands on.
She spreads her legs to all who pass, no restraint, no discretion, and her husband goes volcanic. He's devastated. He's scorned and broken hearted. "I rescued you and gave you everything, made you a queen, and you made me a cuckold!"
The storm of his fury passes, and then (of all things) he softens--he cannot seem to remain in anger. He will heal her. He will restore what he has diminished.
I'm not stupid. I know what a psychologist might do with that story. He might call the husband a dirty old man, or cite Stockholm syndrome for the young bride. I know the jokes critics could make here--the jokes people make in internet threads on YouTube. Just another line of proof that the Bible is whacked up, right?
And yet, I also see in this dangerous and strange story a truth that no safer narrative could convey. Through squinted eyes, I see how desperate humans are before God, how he doesn't just save us but wants to engage with us as near equals, how he lavishes riches upon us but we throw everything he gives us away to make lovers of the stuff of earth, and that breaks him and it hurts him.
At this point, a couple of seminary students reading this are scolding me, saying Ezekiel was written for the Jews, not for you and me. But no matter what they have to say, here's what I get--I get hope out of this passage. I'm hopeful because God feels. He feels. He feels.
Yes, I fear such a vivid, unpredictable God, but I'm also drawn to Him because I see here that he is somehow more like me than I had realized.
He feels anger. He feels jealousy. He feels offense at my reductions of His glory. He is jealous for me and my affection. He is capable of such intense love that he cannot stay away from me even when I wound Him.
Yes, his fury frightens me, but it doesn't leave me despairing like the dry, silent math of systematic theology. I'd rather dig up the dusty corpse of Brahms, Rachmaninoff, or Chopin and try to talk with them about my grief than take my bare ache to the gospel of equations.
Give me a God who bellows like a storm on the seas, black clouds a thousand miles wide rolling, lightning flashing, a voice on the winds calling out, "Brace yourself! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth!" Give me that, and something in my heart will settle down into submission. That is a God I can tell is worth living and dying for.
But please do not explain to me one more time how the Fall brought sin upon the earth, blah, blah, blah and expect me to copy regurgitated righteousness in straight chalk lines on a blackboard when I'm suffering.
True, yes. Helpful, no. Not to me. Not helpful to a poet when she has been abused. Not helpful to a poet when she is grieving over the abuse of another.
In those moments, I want to get my arms around a God who feels my pain, who knows the force of emotions every bit as strong as mine and stronger (how I would weep if I could see what it means to break His mighty heart!), a God who can be impacted by what I say, who can be moved by me when I am moved. A God as sensitive as the feather from the underbelly of a titmouse, caught on a barbed wire fence.
Give me a vulnerable God in my pain, even if that vulnerability makes Him dangerous. Even if I must take the risk of an answer that will flatten me. That is the sort of God I can love with a poet's heart. That is the sort of God I can trust with the intensity of my devastation.