Driving home from church one night, I realized I no longer believe in an intervening God. Not the kind described in the Bible, anyway – the God who speaks through burning bushes and rains manna from the sky. When people say God spoke to them personally with the promise of healing, of recovery, or some tangible form of deliverance, I believe it’s real to them. I’m not going to be the Grinch of Joy. But generally I don’t believe that’s God’s go-to method of communication anymore.
I like Harold Kushner’s reasoning that God designed a world that operates by its own rules. Laws of nature do not bend at anyone’s will: they follow a design that doesn’t take social standing or any form of status into consideration. If a man steals a packet of seeds, it would serve him right if they didn’t grow – but grow is what seeds are designed to do, regardless of the circumstances in which they were planted. If a woman is raped, it would be better, obviously, for her not to become pregnant as a result; but the laws of nature do not make exceptions for a violent conception.
I don’t understand the mentality that if one prays hard enough, they can be made exempt from the consequences of nature. Why would God intervene with the way his world operates on behalf of one person, but not all?
This self-protective form of Christianity is distinctly American; a product of modern, technologically sophisticated Western thinking. This is not the Christianity of early Roman martyrs waiting to be thrown to the lions – that radical faith is anything but safe, and that, I think, is how it was designed to be. But today, I listen to story after story of young Christians suddenly realizing the world is unfair only after tragedy becomes personal. God is still good despite the Holocaust, despite the prevalence of human trafficking, and natural disasters that leave millions of people homeless, but suddenly a car wreck that inhibits one’s ability to play basketball throws God’s goodness into question? An illness that was bound to occur as a result of genetics and perhaps poor lifestyle choices means God no longer cares? This, to me, is spiritual immaturity.
I don’t mean to imply that my own faith is far above all this. I am no deeper or mature than the next self-professing Christian, but I am one whose beliefs have been profoundly shaped by personal experiences. I am still learning, as everybody is, and there is no predetermined “life track” in which everyone comes to the same conclusions at exactly the same time. I realize that I must learn patience and compassion for people who haven’t experienced the same hardships – that’s a blessing, not a character flaw. But this twisted idea that some of us are immune to suffering is one I do have little patience for, and reflecting on my own privileged upbringing is a reminder that adversities can happen to anyone in a world governed by the laws of nature and physics, which I believe God created.
I believe God gives us tools to cope with things within our control: strength, courage, wisdom, hope. I no longer pray for events I have no control over, because that is essentially asking God to change the way he ordered the world to work, for reasons no one will understand until we can ask him face to face.