I’m back from a family trip to the motherland — sand, sun, friends, and family — and eager to bring you another sermon.
It was a good trip, but it’s always nice to be home. In fact, I was feeling very good last weekend as we put the house in order after our weeks away. Perhaps a little too good, as I did something that someone who’s overweight with four knee surgeries probably shouldn’t do. And I paid the price in pain and sprained ligaments that still ache. I’m walking again, but not comfortably and the knee still aches.
But I’m finally back this week for another sermon and, inspired by my recent injury, pain and suffering is this week’s theme.
That’s because, there are those myopic souls who will insist that a sudden illness, or a bad fall, twisted knee, etc. when occuring to someone who speaks out against God, is a sure sign that they have been punished. A notable, and fairly recent example, was the esophageal cancer the killed Christopher Hitchens. These fundamentalist Christians have suggested how fitting it was that he got throat cancer when it was his voice he used to blaspheme God. Ignoring, of course, any biological knowledge–such as, that it would have been more fitting to give him lung cancer, since the esophagus actually goes to the stomach and has little to do with speaking. ‘Close enough’ they’ll argue, conveniently forgetting that God is supposed to be perfect and getting the wrong throat tube would be, for God, tantamount to aiming for New York and hitting Tokyo. It also completely ignores Christopher’s own issues with heavy drinking and smoking, well-known arbiters of cancer.
Somehow these same people will forget that the same things happen to even the most devout Christian. In addition, they will also downplay or ignore the fact that such horrors happen to very young children, who have done nothing wrong. An argument in the latter case is invariably ‘God knows how they would grow up,’ as if that justifies everything. This argument clearly ignores a few important things. First, even humans know that nature is only part of the equation for how a person will turn out. Nuture is also crucially important. If God knows they will grow up bad in their current environment, why not (a) do something about the parents, and (b) move the children to more nurturing environments. Second, are these Christians really suggesting that God believes each and every one of those millions of children will grow up to be worse that Hitler? After all, he let Hitler grow up, providing a clear benchmark.
But, returning to the issue of punishing blasphemers, the very idea that God would punish someone for speaking out against Him is something either frightening or depressing. You’ll have to decide which, for yourself.
Frightening because the thought that we are at the mercy of a being of such vast scope and power, a being who can move stars, who can create universes, and yet who is so completely and humanly petty, a dictator in all the worst ways, is frightening beyond all belief. There cannot be the beloved ‘free will’ that Christians often argue about, under such a being. Not in any meaningful way. Such an existence would be ‘do what I say, or be tormented eternally’. Worshipping such a creature, following their dictates, just because they’ll kill you if you don’t, is not a meaningful existence. And I find the very idea that we could be trapped in a system, with no hope of escape, and subject to the whims of a petty, insecure, powermad creature to be unimaginably depressing.
So, for all our sakes, I desperately hope that natural causes are to blame for the blasphemers misfortunes, because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.
Insight and longevity.