Friday, April 19, 2013
Finding God in Disaster...
My point here is not to attack them or give them my glowing recommendation. My point here is to ask what we expect from them. Solidarity? Comfort? Answers? I just do not know. I am tempted to think that the media and the 24 hour news cycle has elevated them in importance. They have become more important because of the imagery of it all. Perhaps they also reflect the kind of urge for an American civil religion which explains and comforts us as a nation (beyond the comfort we derive from our personal faith and our home churches).
Then I read this little tidbit on Barth (the theologian and not the Missouri District President).
Looking back on these early days, Barth later remarked with some regret, “During my time as a pastor… I often succumbed to the danger of attempting to get alongside the congregation in the wrong way. Thus in 1912, when the sinking of the Titanic shook the whole world, I felt that I had to make this disaster my main theme the following Sunday, which led to a monstrous sermon on the same scale.” (from the definitive Barth biography by Eberhard Busch, p. 63) Yes, Barth took as his sermon text the current event of a disaster, rather than an actual portion of Scripture. He tacked on a bit of Psalm 103 (“as for man, his days are like grass”) at the beginning, but this sermon was clearly about the boat, and Barth was not leading his congregation into the word of God, but into the world of current events. “Do not stop short at my words, then, but consider for yourselves what God wished to say to us through this.” Yes, apparently God was speaking in this disaster, and Barth thought his job as a preacher was to interpret the “word of God” in the Titanic disaster, rather than the word of God in Holy Scripture. “Later, I was sorry for everything that my congregation had to put up with.” (Busch, p. 64)
Could it be that, like Barth tried to do back before he was Barth and was still a mere parish pastor, we want to understand what God is saying in this disaster? Could it be that we are trying to find God IN the disaster? If that is the case, then God help those who address us in such quasi-religious events. How do you hear God speaking through disaster or interpret the disaster as an act or action of God? If Barth the mighty theologian cannot do it and lived to regret it, perhaps we might tread carefully on the same ground.
I grieve for those who have lost children and loved ones in school shootings, in terror attacks, in natural disasters, in man-made disasters... I grieve for the world in which we live where violence, destruction, and death intrude upon the safety and sanctity of life. I grieve for the real fears that move us to exchange liberty for possible means to security. I grieve for occasions when Presidents and pastors must stand before people and address their wounds and grief and loss with words that cannot undo the terror done -- for whatever cause that stole the lives and innocence from us. But I also grieve for the poverty of our spirits content to find God speaking in disasters through the what ifs of orators who wax poetic about the tragedies and losses we suffer.
Barth lived to regret his Titanic sermon. Maybe we will live to regret our attempts to find God in the ruins of a school or a marathon or a fertilizer plant or a fallen building.... Maybe we preacher will remember that we have no wisdom or call to discern or translate the God who speaks through disaster or tragedy... the only call and wisdom we have is to speak the God who speaks through His Word. Not throwing Bible passages at the troubles of life in the hopes that some will stick but to speak the whole counsel of God's Word because it is only this Word that gives us life. What Barth learned, I fear we have yet to learn as a nation. So we settle for those who think they can find God speaking through disaster when what we need is the God who speaks through His Word... Here and here alone is the legitimate hope of a wounded and grieving people. Hope has a face and that face is Christ... Hope has a shape and that shape is the cross. Hope has a purpose and that is to carry us through our suffering to the place where tears and suffering and death can come no more. I am not sure how you do this on a dais with different religious who agree on little. I am sure how to do this by speaking Christ without fear or apology. Maybe we will continue to have these quasi-religious gatherings in time of national angst but I hope the people grieving and hurting get more than this to help them through the day of trouble...