The Bible tells us that God is good and that he is in control, so when bad things happen we want to know that it was part of God’s good plan. We are advised not to question why it happened–only to accept that God did it and it is good because he is good.
After hearing some of the responses to the Moore, OK tornado and reminiscing on the Newtown shooting, Asian Tsunami, and other disasters, it seems the god that some people worship is more like Big Brother than Jesus.
In George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother is the face of the government in the dystopian world of Oceania. He always has his eye on you. The Thought Police monitor your actions, comments, and facial expressions, searching for Thoughtcrimes. Anyone who shows the faintest hint of Thoughtcrime is taken and punished–not punished, “healed.” Unlike the Nazis, Communist Russia, or The Crusades, the Thought Police do not simply kill those who think differently. They force you to think “right”–to love Big Brother. Through psychological torture they turn people into “good citizens.” Martyrs don’t exist in Oceania. Heretics become faithful to Big Brother. Everything Big Brother does is good and right. If Big Brother says 2+2=5, then it is true. The Ministry of Truth, a branch of the government, exists to turn everything Big Brother says into truth. If Big Brother says that 2+2=5, the workers in the Ministry of Truth cycle through all historical records and change the information. 2+2 has always equaled 5. It has never equaled 4.
What catches my attention in 1984 is the idea of doublethink. It is the process of believing two opposing things at once and, at the same time, convincing yourself that one of them is not true. To speak of doublethink is itself an act of doublethink. For instance, when Big Brother says that 2+2=5, your mind tells you that you see 4. However, you convince yourself through doublethink that it is really 5 and that it has always been 5. To believe 2+2=4 is thoughtcrime. As you convince yourself something is true, you actually begin to believe it.
As people work in Oklahoma, picking up the pieces of broken lives–carrying away the bodies of loved ones, a giant act of doublethink occurs in the minds of some Christians. It is an attempt to reconcile reality with what the Big Brother version of God says. Reality is that tragedy has occurred and it is terrible. Our minds cannot see this as a good, beautiful part of God’s wonderful plan. At the same time our minds want to believe that God was still in control over it and that everything God does is good. What do we do? If this isn’t God’s plan, then that must mean that he is not sovereign. If God is sovereign, why would he make terrible things happen?
God is good. God does terrible things. How to reconcile this? Doublethink.
Big-Brother-God wants you to love him and believe what he says. He wants you to see him as completely just in his actions. He does not tolerate heretics. He does not allow them to go unpunished–unhealed. Therefore, God sends someone to “heal” them. You must believe that his injustice is actually justice–that terrible things are actually lovely things. You must define justice as what God “does” even when it goes against everything that God says. To think that God contradicts himself is thoughtcrime and he will heal you of thoughtcrime.
That’s what tornados, mass murderers, and tsunamis are. They are healers. They punish–heal–those who do not love God. When we should be angry and mourn over tragedy and death we look at God and, because we believe he caused it, we love tragedy and death.
The slogan of The Party (the government of Oceania):
War is Peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
Big-Brother-God’s warlike destruction of humanity is actually his sovereign peace. To be free from his plan is to be enslaved to his wrath (which is actually his plan–more doublethink). To ignore our own conscience which tells us that these events are not good is the only way to have the strength to accept it as such.
I propose that we do not need to perform such mind tricks in order to reconcile the tension between God’s sovereignty and disaster.
Some things to remember as we wrestle with this issue:
- God’s will/plan does not always happen. Having sovereignty does not make God obligated to exercise that sovereignty in all instances. His will actually necessitates that he does not exercise his sovereignty in some instances. (Lk 7:30; 1 Tim 2:4; 1 Pet 3:9; etc.)
- Not all tragedy is God’s judgment: Job (Job 1:1), the blind man (Jn 9)
- Though God sometimes brings grief, it is not his will to bring affliction or grief. (Lam 3:33)
- Creation is corrupted by sin. God’s plan is that it will be redeemed, not that it should destroy people. (Rom 8:18-25)
- Death is an enemy to be defeated, not an expression of God’s “love.” (1 Cor 5:26)
- Our God cannot look like Big Brother. He must look like Jesus.
Jesus’ way of dealing with “thought-criminals” or sinners is to love them. Many people say that the love of God sometimes looks like wrath–that his love is, at times, manifested in punishment. However, 1 Jn 3:16 tells us that love looks like the cross. 1 Jn 4:18 says,
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
God has no need to punish people on Earth for their sin. They are condemned already (Jn 3:18). He has no need to scare them into following him through torture, manipulation, or disaster. God’s response is to lay down his life for them in love. Love is stronger than fear; it casts out fear.
We cannot cover tragedy with a theological blanket statement comprised of a few proof texts about God’s wrath. Not all tragedy is the same, nor does it occur for the same reasons. We must, however, cover tragedy (and our response to it) with a Jesus-shaped God whose healing does not look like Big Brother’s (punishment). It looks like love–perfect love which has nothing to do with punishment or fear.
The Cross is Peace.
Freedom is Grace.
Love is Strength.
How does tragedy fit into your understanding of God’s will? Does God use tragedy to punish those who are disobedient with tragedy? Is God’s discipline the same thing as his ability to use tragedy to bring people to himself?