a question of faith.

I suppose I owe it to expand upon the last statement made in my blog.

I tend not to talk about my faith a whole lot. I am of the mind that it is a guideline to live my life in the best most loving way possible, and not an opportunity to convert or condemn people. But I have been feeling a little blindsided since coming to Rwanda, looking for some clarification on things I am not able to wrap my head around. I am not confused by my role here. That is something I find very clear. I am to love, empathize, listen and mourn alongside, whether or not I am actually succeeding in said role is irrelevant.

I just have two questions (or more like 20 million). Kathryn and I have been discussing endlessly, and I have been delving into my bible a lot these past few weeks. But I am still hitting a brick wall. I am not doubting the existence of god, rather his involvement or lack of.

Thus, I figured I may as well attempt to open up a dialogue. I am posting this on my blog and my facebook, because I am feeling entirely at a loss, and looking for any insight I can get.

I will try to make this as concise as possible, albeit a little convoluted even to me.

The first thing is related to, but not, “why do bad things happen to good people.” It is not that simple. For I understand there are terrible things in the world. I believe in creation and evolution, like Galileo, simply viewing scientific fact as reinforcing the other. Anyhow, as I see it, just because god is all-powerful does not mean he is all-controlling, or the ability to choose wouldn’t exist. And if free-will doesn’t exist, then the potential for relationship doesn’t either. So he gives us free choice, even if that means choosing to do the wrong thing, even if that means choosing to something horrific. And because he is not a dictator, and lets us make our own decisions, we have the ability to affect one another positively and negatively. Therefore, I think most bad things exist because of the hateful and violent decisions individuals make on a daily basis. I do not think they are punishment from god, or any other such nonsense.

With that said, the bible shows us countless examples of god stepping in to stop bad things from occurring. So my question is this, if god does not inflict evil in the world, but is capable of divine intervention, where is the dividing line? When does he leave us to the results of others execution of free will and when does he intervene? And if he is merely taking a back seat to free will, what is the purpose of prayer in these situations?

I understand prayer as an open dialogue with god to build relationship, and not as a personal wish list. But we ARE occasionally encouraged to pray for the things we want, specifically including deliverance and protection. Does it matter if twenty people pray as opposed to one? I would argue no. and if god leaves us to the mercy of free will, however terrible, then why pray unless for feeling at peace?

We are told that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, but you cannot tell me that the thousands of people who were mutilated and murdered in the places they went to worship, during the 1994 rwandan genocide, were not praying for deliverance, and had less faith then a mustard seed. Christians have a history of being persecuted (as well as persecuting – although that another whole conversation I have much to say about, and I think those are people who missed the whole point… aaaaaanyay), but this conflict was not based on religion, rather a muddled ethnic divide, resulting more from economic class distinction, and decades of resentment inflated by sheer propaghanda.

I can see god in the aftermath of the genocide. In the reconciliation, the peace movements, the strength of character, the immense examples of forgiveness, the unwavering faith of those involved. I mean I just returned home from three day trauma healing workshop, where genocide survivors and genocide perpetrators, now released prisoners, sat side by side, worked in groups and openly dialogued in an attempt to bring peace and reconciliation to their communities. Genuine forgiveness and genuine regret. I can see god in that, I don’t believe it is possible otherwise. Maybe that’s just me.

but I cannot see god in the genocide itself. And I am having difficulty understanding why not, because I refuse to believe that god is a vengeful, vindictive or removed deity.

where is the dividing line and why didn’t it fall on the other side of this conflict?

thoughts anyone?



p.bets said...

Hey Laura! I have not left any comments on any blog ever, but your post here is not unlike the things I think about, especially here in Africa. It gets my emotions going and I am constantly plagued by these very thoughts!

I don't know if what I am going to say has too much to do with this but I will continue either way because I need to vent every once in a while. I was watching the movie "Children of Men" last night and there is a scene at the end that, in my head, speaks to these thoughts. There is war and destruction all over, people killing other people, men and women blown up and in pieces on the ground everyone reaching out for help, blood everywhere war has taken over and hate rules over all. Then, out of this hospital comes this lady carrying a baby, the first baby born for 18 years, and as the baby is carried by its mother and as it passes people with guns and as it passes the injured and the weak and the poor, the people stop and stare, they reach out to touch the baby and cry and weep. The people with guns stop shooting and the people stop fighting for this one moment, all is peaceful. But, as moved as they are, a gun is fired as the baby reaches the distance and the war continues.

I am not going to try and answer your question because I can't but I am going to write some thoughts I have had. Our world is messed up and the things you experience in Rwanda and the stories you hear are probably some of the worst you can find, that genocide was inhuman and pure evil. How can any God exist if that happened, if that still happens? However, I think God takes a backseat, think of the stories that came out after, the things that God does are not newsworthy, they don't capture as much attention it is not blood and guts it is love. I am sure if you searched the towns closely there are countless stories of people acting on love in whatever way they saw fit at that time. Maybe they were killed because of it, maybe the people they were trying to save were slaughtered as well but if love is what they were acting on, God was there, in that moment an intervention occurred. Look at Jesus, he was pure love and he was hung on a tree. In the grand scheme of things how does it help that God intervened in small instances instead of stopping the whole genocide....I don't know. But I do know that we will never know, pure judgment is reserved not for this life but for the next and if you look at it in that sense than there are many people who should be petrified for that day.

The image at the end of that movie reminds me of the day Jesus was born, he brought love and free choice and everyone was in awe, the spiritual world went to a standstill...people tried to kill him but at the same time many reached out for him. Beyond that love we are supposed to show others...well, I would say we are not to figure out, one day we will just know.

Hopefully that is some sort of an answer, I may have more to say but I think this was longer than I am supposed to write (an unspoken rule I am sure).

Good luck Laura and I hope that you are learning a ton!!


CAT essiambre said...

Wow!! Seriously intense... and i'm not going to sit here and say i'm a practicing catholic at all, or religious in the slightest, because i chose to leave that all a long time ago. It had nothing to do with the lack of faith, a choice to coheres with the devil, or ignorance, but just the fact that these lines are very blurred, and a frustration grew so large, i had to learn how to create boundaries for myself. I have always had issues with authoritarian figures too... but i'm not going to get into that, or do you want me to start on a rant of my own spirituality, but i do want to say i studied at catholic school and was raised in a roman catholic family until the age of 12, which gave me a bit of insight into the Christian world of god and the bible. In saying that, I'll play the devils advocate...

Some bad things have to happen, to make the world a better place in a whole, and if this resentment or conflict was produced due to the choice of some individuals to participate in activities of hate before the genocide that split the groups, then maybe god didnt intervene because he saw the future of these groups coming together... survivors and perpetrators living together as a unit. I mean why did Jesus go through such crap? For our sins right? well, maybe this was some kind of other sacrifice for the future souls to live in peace.

I don't think it's fair, and i don't think it's right, but if people are going to put their faith in god and believe that he knows best, it's just along the same thought of a child putting their faith in the hands of their parents, because mommy and daddy know best. How many times has that statement been proven wrong?

I choose to believe that if people can have faith without question, and use it a concept to answer unanswered questions of life, then i praise them for it. Seriously i do, because i have seen religion help alot of people through some very rough times. But as i have learned for myself, the frustration of blurred lines and the horrible things that still go on in our society today, I choose to not have faith, for this choice lets me enjoy the days i have, however selfish that may be.

Christine said...

What has stuck with me since your last blog is the image of a baby being shot in its mother's arms. And I don't know where God is in that. I don't.
And maybe the answer is that he wasn't there - except that he was in the love of a mother for her baby....

I think that there is no dividing line. We can't guarantee that God will intervene in some cirsumstances and not in others.

You are right. These people probably prayed with everything in them for deliverance for themselves, for their babies, for the people they loved. And they were horrifically violently horribly murdered.

One take, is to look at the love that has been born from such horror - like the love between people in their last moments, like the love when people stepped outside of themselves to hide or help people they knew or didn't, like the reconciliations between people like those you met this week, like the love I feel for that mother and her baby who I have never even met, like the love I have for you facing this.

A few years ago, before Pauline went to Rwanda, I heard a genocide survivor speak at a fundraiser for P's trip. She was about my age, and like you said about your night security guard - I so identified with her. We had lots in common, and absolutely nothing. She lost her whole family in the genocide. Unfathomable to me. But I felt connection to the people of Rwanda through her - and horror - and there is God in empathy.

So one take is SUCH love cannot be unless it is in the wake of such horror.

Paul B. used the example of Christ on the cross - here it is again in a different way. Perhaps our understanding of God's love is amplified when compared with the opposite of God's love.

So... the other thought that I had was sin, and related to sin - free will. I also believe in free will. What satisfaction would there be for God in a relationship with us, if he just forced us to love him, to do whatever he wanted us to do? Our relationship with God is pleasurable for him because we have the autonomy to choose him or not.

But along with free will, like you said, comes the choice to do evil. If God intervened in evil every time it arose, we would not have free will. We would not be able to choose relationship with him, relationship with each other, we would not be made in the image of God, we would not have the ability to choose to do good, to choose beauty, to be passionate about things.

I think God doesn't always intervene because we would be left with no free will. But he does sometimes intervene, so why not in the genocide as a whole?

He sometimes intervenes, like the time I almost got hit by a bus downtown, except some invisible hands pushed me out of the way. A small example, I know, but God's intervention in human life is everywhere.

So, why did he let the genocide happen overall, even if he did intervene in small ways? I don't know. I don't know.

Recently, I was thinking about faith. I am someone who requires answers. I am someone who must know. I am someone who is (on a level) certain that there is always an answer - and I have the ability to figure it out if I try hard enough. For many things this is true, but for some things it is not.

I know that God exists. I also know from my (in many many ways limited) experiences with God that he loves me, that he is a God of beauty and serenity and ectasy.

I cannot know the why in everything. I must have enough humility to be okay with that. Nevertheless, I think God still wants me to question and to seek understanding in every way that I possibly can. There are some things that I will just not know. I just won't.

And in light of the God that I do know exists, but cannot always lay out in order, I must believe. I must sit as close to him as I can get. And hopefully, in sitting as close to him as I can, I might understand a bit more - maybe.

Love. C

sarah said...

I really agree your thoughts about free will, Laura.

Who knows if I am right, but here is my take...

If God stepped in every single time we were in trouble, not only would we no longer have free will as you have said, but we would not need to have faith in him. We would know he exists. Knowing something and believing in something are two very different things, the second being much harder. I believe that going against our human desire to know things absolutely and learn to trust in something we can never fully understand, is a task God has set out for all of us.

The only way I can justify sadness in the world to myself is by thinking about writing a story and killing off a favorite character. It is totally in my power to save the character and it makes me sad to let them die, but I know for the sake of the overall story it has to happen. I see God as the ultimate writer, not that we don't have free will, but that he knows the big picture and we do not. I believe this is the deciding factor about when he steps in.

If WWII didn't happen, Grandpa and Grandma would not have met, they never would have suffered the poverty that led them to Canada and we wouldn't exist. Not that us existing remotely validates those horrors, but that there is a bigger picture to sad events we can't always see from our human perspective. We have to trust that God sees the bigger picture and based on what he sees, he decides when and when not to step in.

I'm sure many horrible events are stopped by his intervention, we just see and question the ones that happen.

I love you,

the girl that got away. said...

you ask the questions that everyone should be asking.

i admire you for this.

Dave said...

Hey Laura, Jen passed along your blog to me after reading this post. You are asking great questions so I thought I would throw in my attempt at an answer...or at least how I reconcile things in my head.

First thing I need to make clear is that I don't think we can ever understand God. When Moses is at the burning bush and asks God who he should say has sent him, God's answer of "I Am" seems to be God saying, "Even if I explain it to you, you aren't going to get it so just accept that I exist."

Having said that, here is my attempt at an answer. It basically comes down to a greater understanding of what the gospel of Jesus really is. For most the gospel can simply be summed up by saying that Jesus died so that we can go to heaven. But I think a fuller understanding of the gospel sheds light on the world’s problems. We know that Jesus life, death and resurrection was about repairing our relationship with God. OK. Nothing new there. But Jesus life was also to give us an illustration of what God is like. In repairing that relationship He seemed to be instituting a partnership between the people who believed that Jesus was who he said he was and God. For God, this is a risky partnership because He is sharing His identity with us less than perfect humans. I'm not meaning that by entering this partnership we become partly God but this partnership means that we have a responsibility to be God's hand and feet in this world. I completely believe that God could do a much better job at accomplishing His purposes in this world if He were to do it Himself but for some reason He seems to delight in doing it with us. It is like me washing the car with Karah and Lauren. If I wanted it done well I would tell them to go play in the backyard and do it myself but because I love them and enjoy doing things with them I let them grab a sponge and start cleaning.

So, I believe that when it seems like God is not interceding in situations like Rwanda or Somalia, etc. it is not because He is turning His back. I think God is experiencing great distress at watching those situations. When nothing happens it is because the people that He is partnering with have chosen not to do what He is asking them to do. So, prayer is not as much about giving God the news reports of what is going on here on Earth and asking Him to do something about it. It is more about asking Him how we can partner with Him to make a difference.

Laura, you mentioned the verse about faith the size of a mustard seed moving mountains. Last year Jen and I took a road trip for our tenth anniversary and drove from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and then up through California. We talking about that verse as we were driving through the Nevada desert towards the Hoover Dam. That area has a lot of Desert Mountains. As we got close to the Hoover Dam roads crews were building a new road and in order to do it they were literally moving the mountain. When I saw that it hit me that I don’t think Jesus meant that if we had enough faith then we could sit back and watch a magic show. He meant that faith along side taking action would get the mountain moved.

In all this I think that you being in Rwanda is an answer to someone’s prayer for those people. I think your partnership with God is a beautiful thing and I’m sure that adventure that you are on will give you greater understanding of what this partnership is all about that you can teach the rest of us about.

Take care and God bless!