Some Thoughts on the Book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (Post #1) TRAGEDY!

04 Feb

This book, written by Martin Thielen, a United Methodist pastor, captured me with its title.  Many of us, I’m afraid, are content with a kind of minimalist Christianity, and I wanted to read this for some insight on that tendency.  However, as the next several posts will show, Thielen challenges us to give up certain beliefs which many Christians hold.  Some beliefs ought to be jettisoned.  Others, not so much.

The book is divided into two sections:  Part 1 lists “Ten Things Christians Don’t Need to Believe” and Part 2 is entitled “Ten Things Christians Do Need to Believe.”  Let’s think about the first thing Christians don’t need to believe.

1. God Causes Cancer, Car Wrecks, and Other Catastrophes:  Thielen subtitles this chapter “Although God can and does bring good results out of tragedy, God does not cause tragic events to occur.”  He rightly challenges Christians’ interpretations that God causes awful things to happen all the time (car wrecks, 911, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, etc.).  Some Christian leaders declared that 911 was God’s punishment on America for its immoral views of homosexuality and abortion; other Christian leaders pontificated that the Haiti earthquake was because of that country’s embrace of voodoo.

Thielen asks, “How can we love and serve a God who inflicts cancer on children, wipes out teenagers in car wrecks, destroys families in tornadoes, or kills hundreds of thousands of people in a tsunami or earthquake?” (p. 6).  “God,” Thielen says, “does not have a weekly quota of malignant tumors to distribute, heart attacks to pass out, or battlefield wounds to inflict.”

He refers to the tragedy of the tower falling and killing 18 workers in Luke 13:4-5 and concludes: “God didn’t cause that tragedy back then, and God doesn’t cause tragedies today.” [By the way, in this text Jesus doesn’t explain the WHY of vicious crimes or violent accidents.  He simply implies, “This life is dangerous.  Be ready to meet the Lord!”]

The author dogmatically declares: “God is not the author of suffering” and “God does not cause tragic events to occur.” (p. 8).

I certainly concur with the spirit of Thielen’s position.  God is not some angry, haphazard deity who doles out tragedies for sport.  But what biblical evidence does he have that God doesn’t cause tragedy?  What about Jesus’ purposely not keeping His friend Lazarus from dying (John 11)?  What would Thielen say about God executing Uzzah (2 Sam. 6) or Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5)?  What about His inflicting boils on the people of Ashdod because of the ark (I Sam. 5)?  God threatens His own people in Deuteronomy 28 when He says, “The Lord will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.” (v. 35).  How would he interpret the plagues of Egypt when God inflicted tragedy after tragedy upon that nation keeping His people captive (Exodus 5ff).  In fact, the Lord says in Exodus 9 – “I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.” (v. 14).

What does he do with a text like Exodus 4:11 where the Lord asks, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”?  Rather than unbiblically declaring that God doesn’t cause tragic events to occur, shouldn’t Thielen (and we) acknowledge that we don’t know why God causes or allows such events to take place?

There are many other examples of God’s sending or allowing to occur “tragic” events (some in judgment, such as His sending sickness or death upon the Corinthians for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper, I Cor. 11; some for His own purposes, such as all that happened to His righteous servant Job).

Thielen says he can’t love or serve a God who sends such tragedies.  But does his God know about those tragedies?  Does He (at least) allow them to take place?  If God doesn’t know such tragedies will occur, how can one say He is omniscient?  If He allows them but can’t prevent them, then what about His omnipotence?  (“Open theism” compromises God’s omniscience; Rabbi Harold Kushner compromises God’s omnipotence).

Conclusion for Chapter 1:  I too reject the idea of a God who cruelly deals out disasters for His entertainment.  But the problem isn’t God’s involvement in such tragedies, but our interpretations as to why such events occur.  YOUR THOUGHTS?




Is. re who makes the blind?

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Posted by on February 4, 2019 in tragedies


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