Saturday, January 08, 2005

I came across this reflection regarding the disaster in Southeast Asia. It is composed by The Rt. Rev. C. FizSimons Allison. Allison is the retired Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina and was Professor of Church History at Sewannee Seminary and Virginia Seminary.

He has written a number of books. The most recent is entitled The Cruelty of Heresy. It is an examination of the declarations of the early ecumenical councils. The book examines how heresy is cruel by undermining the grace of God by distorting the person of Christ and the nature of his work on our behalf. It is a great read!!

I think Allison's reflections are very compelling.


By C. FitzSimons Allison

Natural disasters always provoke questions of God's goodness in the face of excruciating tragedy. It has always been so and disasters will always continue. It has not been given to Christians to dispel the mystery of evil. The cynic in us is tempted to resolve the issue by removing God from all consideration and doing what Job refused to do: curse (consign to oblivion) his own hope. Yet this choice saves no one from the terrible waves of water and leaves us with no hope or meaning beyond the devastation.

Jesus does not attempt to explain why the tower of Siloam (Lk. 13) fell on those 18 people but he carefully and adamantly denies that it was because they were worse sinners than others in Jerusalem. He acknowledges therefore, that there is innocent suffering but he goes on to say what seems at first unpastoral "...but unless you repent you shall likewise perish."

Is He saying to us, as we watch scenes of such sudden and unimaginable suffering and death, that unless we repent we shall likewise perish? It is difficult to make sense of the text short of saying "yes" to this question. The key to the sustaining hope in these conditions is Thomas Cranmer's wisdom about repentance, what he called 'renewing the power to love'. Leaving God in the arena of such disasters with Jesus' admonition to repent does not resolve the mystery of evil but clearly it does not identify God with tsunamis as in the current pantheism and panentheism. Instead, it affirms a personal love above, beyond and amidst any disaster as we repent, "renewing the power to love.

On a very practical level this means that each disaster is an opportunity to admit, as Jesus exhorts, that we have not loved as God would have us love and in turning to help the bereaved and stricken in His name we are given a power to love that we did not have before.

In this hope we can pray that the overwhelming, world-wide, international and interfaith response of help will lead to a love and peace among all peoples what was not possible before the disaster. God is present in and beyond tsunamis in our response of help by renewing the power to love. George Steiner once spoke about grace in disaster in regard to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony which was produced when the composer was deaf. Steiner observed that "it was an awesome encounter between God and one of the god-like of his creatures" and that to have heard such music out of deafness "is to have wrestled with the angel."

Each tragedy is a chance for us "to wrestle with the angel."

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