Friday, March 25, 2011

God in or outside of the earthquake?

Chris Trotter is the best left-wing writer in NZ today. Somewhat unusually for Kiwi left-wing writers, Trotter is a Christian prepared to publicly write down his theological commitments. The other day in the Christchurch Press he wrote a column about the theology of the earthquake. It was refreshing to find someone going public in the media with a view that God was in the earthquake and not apart from it. His column is now reprinted in his personal blog, Bowally Road.

Here is his challenging introduction:

"WAS GOD PRESENT in Christchurch on 22 February 2011? It’s a question many New Zealanders have wrestled with over the past month, and the tragedy which engulfed Japan on 11 March has given it added urgency.

Officially, we’re a secular nation, yet Census data confirms that more than half of New Zealanders retain a belief in God. That belief is sorely tested by natural disasters. If God was present in Christchurch on 22 February, why didn’t He prevent the earthquake?

But, in posing this question aren’t we separating God from the natural world? Seating Him on a divine throne beyond this earthly realm? Requiring Him to demonstrate his mastery over his own creation by, in this case, countermanding the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates?

Yes, we are. But we can hardly be blamed for doing so. Because, when all is said and done, this is the view of God we have inherited from the Bible. He is the maker of heaven and earth and if it pleases him to command the sun to stand still, or the oceans to o’ertop the world, then it will be so. He is Jehovah, “I am that I am”, the God Charlton Heston (in the role of Moses) invokes when Pharaoh’s army traps the Israelites against the margins of the Red Sea.

“Behold His mighty hand!”, Charlton cries, and low, the waters of the sea are parted.

There are, of course, plusses and minuses to the Jehovan conception of divinity, as the celebrated author, C.S. Lewis, well understood.

In The Horse and His Boy, one of his Chronicles of Narnia, he makes it clear that his own rendering of the Jehovan God – the golden lion Aslan – is not a pet to be called for and dismissed at our convenience. On the contrary, he is an altogether dangerous being. As one of Lewis’s characters indignantly observes: “He’s not a tame lion!” "

His column goes onto challenge some published theological comments of our Dean, Peter Beck. Out of respect for Peter as a colleague, and noting that Peter did not invite Chris Trotter to publicly debate his views in print, I will take comments here about Chris Trotter's views but not about Dean Peter Beck's views. You can always comment on Chris Trotter's site if my policy restricts your desire to debate all views touched on by Trotter's column!


Malcolm Falloon said...

I found Chris' article refreshing in attempting to directly face the question of God's providence. He finishes by asking "Was God present?" on Feb 22. His conviction is that God was indeed present.

But here I think he has backed away from the real challenge of God's providence. For the challenge comes not from God's omni-presence but from his sovereign omni-potence. The harder question with which to have concluded his article would have been, "Did God sent the earthquake?" Chris seems, in the end, to shy away from such a question - too stark? to insensitive to present circumstances? pastorally inappropriate? I don't know his reason.

I suspect that previous generations of christians would have found our doctrinal squeamishness rather baffling. For instance, in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1662, there is a prayer to be used in storms at sea: "O most powerful and glorious Lord God, at whose command the winds blow, and lift up the waves of the sea, and who stillest the rage thereof..."

Did God send the storm? This prayer seems to requires us to say, "yes!" And it's because of God's sovereign power that "we thy creatures" can "cry unto thee for help." Today we seem less certain of believing in such a God, but I'm not sure it is due to our greater spiritual insight.

Peter Carrell said...

To be fair to Chris Trotter and the limitations imposed by editors, I think the pertinent question you would have him pose, Malcolm, might just need a few words said to at least contextualise it (as you do, citing the BCP) ... perhaps he has another column in him!