The Rev. Sanan Wutti told me today that Christians are circulating a video that claims that God is angry and responsible for a lightning strike that destroyed the First Congregational Church of Spencer Massachusetts 48 hours after the church celebrated Pride Month. God has declared same-sex relationships to be abominable, not something of which to be proud. The core cause of the destruction, the video claims, is that the pastor asserted that the Bible was written by human beings. God would not put up with that.
The video commentator ranted "...mere moments after the pastor rejects the divine origins of the Bible one can't help but see a higher power at work ... a fiery sword cutting through the sky and reducing it [the church, not the pastor] to smoldering ruins." The commentary continues, "It is indeed a shock to see a shepherd of the flock casting doubt upon the Divine Word that he's been tasked to teach." Then it is asserted, "Our faith stands firm on the incontrovertible truth that the Bible is not the product of mortal minds but a DIVINE TRANSCRIPT inspired by God himself."
The video goes on to insist that the words of the Bible are validated by clay texts from 28 centuries ago.
The question is whether God does that sort of thing.
The short answer is that some parts of the worldwide Church believe God is provoked to rage, uses lightning as one of "his" destructive tools (as Zeus-Jupiter also did), and that literal interpretations of the Bible are the way to discern the cause for such events. Volcanos, tsunamis, hurricanes, plagues and even pagan hordes are also at God's disposal.
Another part of the Church selects different themes from the Bible to contend that God's nature is loving. God does not send devastation onto the innocent and the guilty indiscriminately, as happens in natural tragedies. God's provision is not always in the form of prevention of disaster. Indeed, "tragedy" and "retribution" are separate realms of discourse. It is nonsense to overlap moral discourse with talk about phenomena of nature.
So, one possibility is to agree to disagree, and let it go.
Sanan and I are concerned with that course. It is counter-productive, first of all, to tacitly agree that it is without consequences to have part of the Church deciding unilaterally they alone know the truth. That should not go unchallenged. Christianity is harmed by proposing God as an adversary, cruel judge, and angry dispenser of death. Christ's challenge for his disciples to follow his example and expand God's loving kingdom is not fulfilled that way.
Grace is the central truth about God's response to human moral depravity. It does not matter how that depravity is described, the Gospel message is that God's love erases that. Salvation is unconditional. That is not to say that actions do not have consequences. Of course they do. But the effect of an action is related to the cause. If one uses a sword, one is liable to die by the sword. But it is nonsense to say that a lightning strike is the result of a verbalized doubt that every phrase of Holy Writ is a direct transcription of dictation from God. There are several ways scripture can be holy, but stubborn ignorance about scripture's meaning is not one of them.
What we have here these days is a failure of Christians to think about theology. Sloth is rampant in the church, particularly when it comes to theological reflection. That is a moral failure, too, and has consequences.
A real disaster is fomented when people attribute "indisputable truth" to an interpretation that provokes them to applaud when a tragedy falls, and then seems to permit them to extend that onto a whole population whom they have deemed undesirable. War starts that way. They never end well.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.