Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bonhoeffer and VA Tech Massacre

It's utterly eerie to follow this story while rewriting my Bonhoeffer paper. It's easy to see why Bonhoeffer declared that the "God who is with us is the God who forsakes us." How can anyone defend the idea of God's supernatural presence or involvement in the events of daily life when we witness the scale of evil perpetrated here? The idea that God offers comfort or strength in the midst of tragedy is almost blasphemous, by that measure. What is needed is not comfort or strength but intervention. We must face squarely that God did not intervene, rescue, or save the victims, nor did God confound or over-ride the perpetrator's choice.

Comfort and strength come from shared suffering and hard work to rebuild what was destroyed, not from some ethereal source.

When we look to a supernaturally, divinely intervening God, we are creating a God that does not correspond with reality. Bonhoeffer, in reflecting on God's abscence during WWII, states that God expects us to "live as men who manage our lives without [God]... Before God and with God, we live without God."

We are a world come of age. It is time for us to take responsibility to shape our future, to take our share of responsibility for the historical moment. It's not a time for us to be drawing theological boundaries around the tenets of our faith. This is not a time to protect God's reputation.

Rather, we have to ask ourselves hard questions about how our way of life contributes to the escalating violence that is inherent in our culture. It is not enough to simply declare "sin is always with us." That is a decidedly unbiblical way to look at the tragedy we are facing. That attitude promotes apathy, not conviction, not a willingness to confront evil. It is not enough to declare that we must love each other or pray more. It is quite possible that this kind of evil is connected to how we conduct life in America. That question has to be asked and addressed.

As those seized by the vision Jesus casts, we must ask how we exist for others in this context. In what way does my life contribute to or oppose the structures that enable random acts of violence in our country? In what ways may I be a part of the healing or recovery from such acts?

The "God who is sovereign" is of no use here. That view renders people passive, leaves them declaring mystery as the solution to the problem of evil and God's relationship to it, rather than putting God at the center of life. What if Bonhoeffer had taken that attitude during WWII?

Bonhoeffer asks "What is God's will for me in this situation?" not "How does evil fit into God's plan?" The first question thrusts me into public life and expects me to take my share of responsibility in shaping out future. I am forced to ask hard questions about gun control, safety, national security, personal responsibility for self-defense and so on. The second thrusts me into theological rumination (and often, justification for a lack of participation in the sufferings of others), not meaningful engagement.

This morning, I keep thinking about what it means to share in the sufferings of others. I don't yet know what it is, but I do know that my conviction that we need some kind of gun control has grown.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Julie:

God has not changed. The same God that created us and supposedly folded his hands while the gunman massacred those students was and is the same God that folded his hands and watched Stephen get stoned to death and supposedly folded his arms as Joseph was sold to slavery.

I understand how you feel and empathize but lets not forget to put things in perspective.

SJ

julieunplugged said...

You make my point for me. We are out of line to spend time theologizing about why God does or doesn't intervene, to excuse it away.

I'm not sure what perspective you are wanting me to adopt.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, it is a perspective that I'm still forming. One that enables me be a co-builder of MY life with God. It is one that recognizes God's sovereignty not just as one that saves us but one that watches tsunami's wreck havoc and allows HIV and Malaria decimate millions.

If you look at history, dude (God) hasn't changed one bit....our emotional highs made us praise him when things were good and when things went downhill we yelled "where is he?, how dare he be God and allow negativity exist?!!".

I've come to realize that life, while precious and fulfilling, is not all that and a bag of chips. I hold on to life very lightly and constantly remind myself that anything can happen.

Julie, adopting the perspective I propose is a balancing act - I hope I haven't rambled and confused you. I hope you see what I've tried to articulate.

SJ

carrie said...

Bonhoeffer asks "What is God's will for me in this situation?" not "How does evil fit into God's plan?"

I can certainly agree with Bonheoffer in this. Trying to decern God's overarching plan is fruitless, trying to decern God's will for me is my responsibility.

We live daily with a God who does not step in when we think he should. Who does not intervene, as you say. And I agree comfort and strength come from shared suffering and hard work to rebuilt.. But I stop short of saying God is not able. The incarnation shows God is able. The resurrection shows God is able. For me, those are the times in history when he chose to intervene that account for the rest of the time when he doesn't, or doesn't seem to. I think suffering has an eternal purpose, but I'm not trying to argue the point.

I don't agree with all your conclusion, but then, in the end, we all have to deal with this our own way. Peace.

thechurchgeek said...

julie, as usual you make me think which is why I love your blog.

I remember after 9/11 being totally disgusted by emails floating around with stories of God's "protection" over some people...as if he sits around in heaven and decides which ones are worthy of being saved from such a disaster and which ones should perish.

I think you're right in one sense that we shouldn't go around trying to answer for or defend God. At every turn in doing so we run into the holocaust, 9/11, and this recent massacre. Those answers we conjure up really make no sense at all.

While I can't answer the question of suffering, I have to believe that the God who was crucified is the God who participates in our suffering furthermore calling us to participate with and in the suffering of others. (Yet, while I THINK that, the question is do I really believe and more importantly live and act that, asking those hard questions you mention??)

And, absolutely some form of gun control has got to be part of our answer as a society.

Mark A. Hershberger said...

julie,

I love your two questions: excellent! Worrying (or not) about how evil fits into God's plan is the wrong way to act out our Christianity.

MaryD said...

Julie, I appreciate your thoughts that we need to grieve, mourn, rage, and take responsibility. I don't think that discounts God's sovereignty at all. I am convinced that He who created us and created the world, is working all things for HIS purposes, and it's clear that we can't understand His work. From my point of view, WHY wouldn't He intervene? I KNOW He could, but He didn't. I can assume the worst in this or, I can choose to trust His goodness, believing it's on a scale much larger than I can grasp. I believe these things, while seeking His will for ME in this situation, to make changes, suffer with people, and see a system of injustice change. I think it's pretty wrong to say He is not here, and if that's really what Bonhoeffer says/said about WW2, I think he was wrong-- but I do agree that God wants us to live and take full responsibility and not fold our own hands. The tension is respecting Him as God, and trusting Him as sovereign, when we don't see Him doing what we want Him to do-- and actively doing what we believe He's calling us to do at the same time.

And I definitely agree that the American system needs significant change. But Julie, I know you've lived overseas, and I can't believe you've forgotten that as flawed as our system is, it's a lot better than much of what's out here. People are still fighting to get their way into the States, though it's very much NOT the perfect system-- it's still better than most of the alternatives.

I'm glad you rage, and express your thoughts passionately. I DON'T agree with you that it's wrong for everyone/anyone to spend time working out their understanding of where God is in this. I don't think any of us have the right to tell another that there is only one possible right response to the situation, and that sounds like what you're saying.

I appreciate your "out there" striving to understand even when I find some of your points overstated-- you make me think, although I don't necessarily arrive at your conclusions.

julieunplugged said...

I DON'T agree with you that it's wrong for everyone/anyone to spend time working out their understanding of where God is in this. I don't think any of us have the right to tell another that there is only one possible right response to the situation, and that sounds like what you're saying.

I never said it was wrong. I said it often produces apathy and distancing oneself from meaningful involvement. Heck, I count myself among those in that category. I've been trying to solve this issue for twenty-five years and entered grad school to figure it all out.

The big difference between me and perhaps someone who talks about God's goodness and sovereignty in moments like these is that I think God is being fundamentally mischaracterized. But that's a whole other post and this is not the time to write about that. :)

julieunplugged said...

Jim, I liked your comments about God participating in our sufferings. Bonhoeffer would call that the God who is present through weakness.

isaiah said...

"When we look to a supernaturally, divinely intervening God, we are creating a God that does not correspond with reality."

I point here, Julie. This reality is the only possible reality for billions of people, which is why wars are fought, and why "evil" acts are committed in 'his' name. Just as many atrocities are committed by atheists as well who have never believed or have given up on the idea that God exists.

We are learning one thing the shooter in Blacksburg, VA was disheartened by was religion and Christianity although his parents were said to be devoutly religious.

"As those seized by the vision Jesus casts, we must ask how we exist for others in this context."

I believe we are learning no one can be safe if we don't reach out of our comfort zones to embrace, support, encourage, intervene, and yes- even constrain when necessary those whom we know and feel within aren't being done unto as we would have done unto us.

The one thing Mother Teresa asked of a person bent on helping her once was for the man to, "wake up at 4:30am, go out onto the street and convince someone homeless that they weren’t alone."

What if in our lifetime we convince just one person?

That, to me, is “God” in action, moving, and intervening supernaturally.

julieunplugged said...

I believe we are learning no one can be safe if we don't reach out of our comfort zones to embrace, support, encourage, intervene, and yes- even constrain when necessary those whom we know and feel within aren't being done unto as we would have done unto us.

I like this comment - want to develop it? What does constrain look like? What criteria do we use to measure the "do unto's"?

Ampersand said...

Julie and Isaiah, this idea -- reaching out of our comfort zones -- is one that I just wrote about on my blog.

While my blog reflections are philosophical, more than practical, I too think it is an idea worth developing.

I am interested in discussing it further!

Ampersand said...

What does constrain look like?

Well, it could mean the typical things like incarceration or hospitalization. But, what if, we just made it so the person was never alone? Had a team of people rotate to be with that person? What if humans were willing to get involved to that degree? If we were, would that be a good thing? Does that tread into the territory of individual rights?

isaiah said...

Restraint in this situation and any where a court has ruled someone as a danger to himself and others would mean a second look at HEPA laws, disclosure, and civil rights reevaluation.

Hind-sight here screams at us with what steps should have taken place with this shooter. These kids, teachers, professors who surrounded Joe knew what the courts and physicians knew but weren't able to act...no one acted, in anyway, to remove the threat.

Surely, surely, surely... anyone ruled as a "direct threat to themselves and others" should not be attending classes.

Perhaps I will have enough to develop further my thoughts on stepping outside our comfort zones. It think it begins by learning to smile at those we meet day to day, to treat those we think we don't impact- as if we do... because we do.

Anonymous said...

We do have gun control. This was considered a gun free zone. There are laws in place to keep people like this from having guns, they don't work all the time. It is pretty arrogant of us to think we can keep people safe from crazy people. Now, lets consider how many people might have been saved if someone had had the right to carry a gun with them. Not near as many would have died. The only gun control we need in this country is to make sure we all know how to use them.