Saturday, January 18, 2014

God Didn't Burn Your House Down

There's a fire raging in Monrovia, California. So far, more than a thousand acres have burned, five houses have gone up in smoke and several firefighters have been injured. The fire is only 30% contained as of last night, so it rages on.
The fire in me rages on, too.
An angry one.
The other day I was watching news coverage of the fire. A reporter held out a microphone to a young woman in Monrovia who was in the fire zone. At that point, evacuations were recommended, but not mandatory, and she told the reporter she was not going to leave. He asked her why.
"Well, I just believe that the firefighters have this under control and they know what they are doing and well, God knows what he is doing too. He is in control. He's got everything under his control and he protects us all."
I didn't know whether to barf or scream.
I chose scream.
Really lady?!?! 
Tell that to the five families who just lost their home!
Tell that to the firefighters who sit with scorched skin and singed lungs in the emergency room right now!
Tell that to the countless animals who got BBQ'ed!
Tell that to me again, live, in person and I'll tackle you!
The reporter pointed out into the canyon behind the woman's house to a white wooden cross which was the only thing that wasn't burnt. I guess he thought it was some kind of divine symbol or something because he hinted that it might be a sign and she ran with it.
"Yes, look at that. Like I said, God is in control..."she repeated her mantra once again and I couldn't keep in my snort of repulsion. I secretly hoped the cross would burst into flames behind her. I walked away from the TV in disgust and since that interview, I have had a smoldering fire within me. I knew I would have to come to my blog to put out the flames. Here's what's got me all fired up:
I am tired of Christians saying these things. I am sick of God getting the "credit" or the "blame" for everything crappy that happens in this world.
It reminds me of the classic movie "Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail."  There are so many scenes in the movie that crack me up, but one of my favorites is "The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch." The movie pokes fun at many things, but in this case, it is God's "merciful wrath" that gets some play. Please read the following snippit from the movie with a British accent for maximum effect:

...And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, "O LORD, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy." And the LORD did grin and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and assorted breakfast cereals, and fruit bats and large chu... [At this point, the friar is urged by Brother Maynard to "skip a bit, brother"]... And the LORD spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it."[7]
Watch It Here
Even reading it now it makes me laugh. A holy hand grenade. Perfect for smiting. In Thy Mercy. What else can we chalk up as holy? Holy typhoon? Holy drunk driver? Holy birth defect? I've heard of God's holy fire, but what is going on in Monrovia is more than a burning bush.

To address this issue, I would like to create a Christian Public Service Announcement. It would go something like this:
(Opens with Saint Olaf Lutheran choir humming Amazing Grace...Then a record screeches and a loud voice breaks in:)
Attention Christians or anyone calling themselves a Christian! 
This is a warning. Listen up! You must, I repeat, MUST stop attributing bad things to God. Stop saying that is was HIS WILL that someone died, or a baby was born dead, or that an earthquake hit or that the school shooting happened. Stop saying he is controlling all this. You are calling him a murderer, an arsonist, a and making him look like a heartless, pompous, fickle God! Of course, God is all powerful. Of course, ultimately, he is in control. However, we have choices. The world has bad people in it. There are laws of nature. Speeding vehicles. Weather patterns. Tectonic plates. Fault lines. Off shore winds. Alcohol. Matches. Guns. Disease and reckless fools. We can't understand God. We can't understand his ways. Stop acting like you saw God's daily planner. Moreover, when you say that God "caused" these things you sound like a religious jerk and you make God sound like a monster. Especially when you are standing next to a home that survived the fire/flood/earthquake/tornado. Or when you are holding your healthy kids hands while someone else is putting their child in the ground. Or when you say it from a calm, quiet neighborhood a thousand miles away from the school where a shooter just fired bullets indiscriminately into children as they prepared for their spelling test.
He hates murder. His heart breaks when people suffer. When a child dies, he cries, he doesn't check off a box on his to-do list.
So please, STOP IT!  
Saint Olaf choir resumes singing and fades out.

It is tough to understand why bad things happen and to find the right words when something goes terribly wrong. We're standing next to someone who just lost a child or their home and there is an awkward, anguished silence. A reporter is jabbing a mic in our face and asking us about some atrocity or natural disaster and...we don't understand. We are scared. Sad. We feel vulnerable. Anxious. Angry. Upset. Perplexed. We wonder where God is in all this. Instead of saying how we really feel, we just pull out the first church-y sounding thing we can find, say it in a soft voice with a wry smile and rub the gold cross around our neck.
And we make God into a murderer or at the very least, an angry ogre.
Here are some alternate things you can say when something bad happens:

"This is really, really tough. We are going to need to lean on God and our friends and family to get through this."
"I am so sorry you lost your child. How incredibly heartbreaking. I can't even imagine. Please allow me to pray for you and what can I do to help?"
"There are people who are suffering who need our love and compassion. We're going to meet at the local community center and figure out what we can do to help them get back on their feet."
"Wow, this fire is really out of control. I am going to pray that no one loses their life and open my home to a family down the street who has lost everything."
Or if it's easier:
"Wildfires suck. God help us."
Remember, they will know we are Christians by our love. Not by the trite Christian platitudes we spew at news conferences when sucky things happen. In fact, we are scaring people away from God with our comments. Who wants to love a God who just spent the last week burning down Monrovia?

I don't pretend to understand the mysteries of God's will or why he does or doesn't do some things or even what his "perfect plan" is. I know he loves us. I know he is a healer, a reconciler, a life-giver and a peacemaker.
He does not burn down houses.
Two immature, reckless, twenty-something year-olds did that in Monrovia. They thought it was a good idea to feed paper to the smoldering campfire they made in a dry wooded area that hasn't burned in 50 years. In the middle of a drought. 80+ degree weather. And high winds.
They are fools.
God is not.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
Follow on Twitter at
Email author on gmail at hopeh1122.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this. May we all also get sick in advance for the football players who will, without a doubt, after the Super Bowl, tell us that their prayers to God for the win were answered?