Freak Accidents & God

Freak Accidents & God

Yes, the photo is gross. Without the photo, however, you would not grasp the severity of the burn on my toes. The unofficial medical diagnosis (via emailed photos) is that I received a second-degree burn.

I am en route to the International Democratic Education Conference in Boulder, Colorado from my home in eastern Oregon. I chose to drive the scenic route, taking my time. So, why when I am intentionally focused on God’s creation would God allow this to happen? Why Would a loving God allow my foot to get burned in a freak accident when I have trails to hike? 

The short answer is like the major accidents, like hurricanes, like all manner of trauma in the world, God did not cause me to burn my foot. God did not cause the cheese on the microwave pizza to slide off the crust as I moved it to a plate. God did not cause bubbling cheese to land on my bare foot in a roadside motel. That is not the God that I perceive and experience.

My foot twenty-four hours later after a day of driving AND my insistence that I put on my hiking boots long enough to walk a trail at the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Photo by Tim Graves
My foot twenty-four hours later after a day of driving AND my insistence that I put on my hiking boots long enough to walk a trail at the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Photo by Tim Graves

Sadly, that is what too many people perceive as God. Too many religious (and even too many atheists) define God as capricious, arbitrary, and a chess master with us as pawns. God in this view is all-powerful and all-knowing. The trouble with that God is that you end up blaming God for cancer, bad weather, and for scalding cheese.

For me, God is all-knowing only in the sense that God knew it was a possibility that, given the free-will I possess, I (and those who designed the cheese and microwave) that events might lead to a second-degree burn on my foot. God who loves each atom as much as each human being encouraged decisions that would lead to good. Sadly, free-will led to blisters.

In the moment of pain, in that time when I screamed out in my motel room, dancing with bubbling cheese on my foot, God felt my skin burning. Waking to the blisters on my foot, my disappointment at what this might mean for my planned journey, God also felt my worry and frustration. But the loving One who is in each of us (and each teeny speck of Creation), the loving One who is in the connections between us, and the loving One who lures us — never forces us — doesn’t allow bad things to have the final say.

Just as in the Christian narrative through which I come to the Divine, even something as heinous as a crucifixion does not stop the power of love from changing the world. God uses what happens for good. God does NOT cause bad things to happen. The distinction is significant because it speaks to the nature of love.

The Divine One continues to speak to me as I continue my journey, albeit driving in my slippers instead of my hiking boots. Extravagant & relentless Love is like that, it sticks with us, it empathizes with us, and it helps us and encourages us to see the unfolding realm of God no matter what challenges befall us.

It’s All Made Up Anyway!

“The Holy Trinity’s all made up, anyway!” My friend thought I was joking. I wasn’t and I’m not. I’m not an atheist; I believe in God. I’m even 

Painting by Anthony J. Kelly. Image retrieved from Rev. David Eck’s blog.

trinitarian with a higher sense of the Holy Spirit than many other mainline Christians. Still, it’s pretend.

I perceive a divinity that connects us, that flows through us, and encourages us to lovingness. Our stories and theologies — including trinitarian theology — reveal truths that are beyond the rational, scientific explanation. They are not, nor were they ever intended to be literal, historical retellings of facts. 

Through the Christian biblical narrative, however, God continues to speak. For me, Jesus is,

“the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father.” (John 14:6-7b CEB Read this passage in context.)

This is the path upon which God has lured me. This is the only way for me to be the loving, unique person that God created me to be. It is in the life of Jesus, that I enter into a relationship with the love that underpins all of creation. It is in the human Jesus that I learn how to be who God calls me to be.

Jesus functions as a gate for me (John 10: 1-10 CEB). However, just as it is naive and ineffective to expect all children to learn via only one modality (e.g.; visual, auditory, or kinesthetic), it is naive to think that God’s love only opens through one gate. The arrogant teacher is one who thinks there is one — and only one — way to reach all children. This assumes the gifts, skills, challenges, and experiences of each individual is the same. 

Arrogant Christian spirituality, is one that projects its own gifts on all. When we do this we deny the truth reflected in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians. That truth is that as we seek to follow the One, we each have unique roles and gifts.

Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? (1 Corinthians 12: 14-17 CEB Read this passage in context.)

Though Paul wrote to a squabbling community of Jesus followers, to expand this truth beyond Christianity is to hear the voice of God in a new time and place. Paul — and the other authors of the canon — wrote contextually. That is, the biblical writers spoke to specific people in a specific era, place, and culture. When we read and study the texts thoughtfully, communally, and prayerfully, we hear God’s voice for today. We can find truths.

The gospels interpret the life of Jesus as he challenged the prevailing human-defined circle of acceptable behaviors and the people that were worthy of God’s love. The Good News of the unfolding Realm of God (love) is that it is for all of us. God’s love is expansive and extravagant! The One is love. The One, who I call God, reflected in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament reveals an arc of loving inclusiveness and justice for all.

To find God through Jesus, does not require dismissing others. On the contrary, to follow the teachings of Jesus is to engage in loving, respectful relationship with others. Other peoples have stories, metaphors, and narratives that describe their experiences of the One, the divinity that I perceive. Just as the Christian Bible reveals truths, the sacred writings (or verbal stories) of Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Rastafarians, and others reveal truths. They reflect the ways that others have experienced the One I call God. Is it hard to perceive that the mysterium tremendum that is God, might speak to others in ways that make sense to them?

Rather than limiting God, I accept the Trinity as a metaphor that helps me to describe how I experience the One. It helps me to follow the Divine’s call on my life. I don’t need to idolize it into a literal fact anymore than I need Jesus to be the only way to the extravagant, expansive love of God.