Thursday, December 20, 2012

Connections, Probability, and God's Judgment

Yesterday, as I threw a leg over my bike to ride through warmish mid-December weather, I reached down to plug my heated gear into the side of my bike.  Snap, it went, as the SAE to BMW dongle failed.  The connection was broken.

There would be no connection between my heated insert and the bike's electrical system.  There would be no toasty warm glow about my torso, making it one of those rare days I was a little bit thankful for global warming.

And why?  Why did this happen?  Well, many reasons.  The part wasn't particularly well machined, and this is the second time one has failed.  The plug is right by my left leg, meaning I bump it on occasion, which torques the internals.   And I use it a whole bunch, not being one of those leather-bound "bikers" who only take their garage candy out twice a year.  Wear and tear is a factor.

Taken in combination, those factors establish a probability of failure.  When precisely they'll combine to cause that failure, however, is simply dependent on too many things to cleanly predict.

But the part did not fail because I had two craft beers the night before, or because I'm reading a book on quantum physics, or because I prayed the Lord's Prayer twice this morning instead of my usual once.   It did not fail because I'm raising my kids Jewish, or because I chose to go for a long walk yesterday.  Oh, sure, maybe in some sense they did have an impact, in that those things contributed to that moment...but they were not significant in establishing the likelihood of that event.  The flapping of a wing of a butterfly two meters away doesn't significantly increase the probability of you being blown off your feet.

I have some sense of the connections that created that disconnection, and why things failed.

As inevitably happens after horrible events, those among us who are Jesus folk and who have a sense of connection to our Creator are struggling for a sense of why things went wrong in Sandy Hook.  How can God permit a room full of innocent children to be slaughtered?  How can it be?  How can God do that to those parents, and to the first responders...moms and dads themselves...who must gather up those broken little bodies?

It's not an easy question, and the answers are not straightforward, lying deep in the shadowy admixture of our mortality and the way we free beings betray the freedom God has given us.

There is a strong tendency among some souls to see in the impossible horror of such tragedies evidence of God's displeasure with us.  If all was well, and the heart of our nation was righteous, or so the argument goes, then this horror would not have been inflicted on us.  But because it is not, the Lord has smoted us with a big smitey smiting.

And so, inescapably, we have the linking of the murders of those innocent children and teachers and the mother of that troubled young man to something wrong in the national character.  There is a connection there.  God is punishing us, or so some feel compelled to say.

But what is the nature of God's judgment?  What do we know about it, those of us who haven't entirely abandoned the concept?  Here, I think it's vital not just to deconstruct and critique and attack.  That's easy, but it's also lazy.   Yeah, it might feel pretty dang awesome to our angry monkey-selves.  But on some fundamental spiritual level, attacking and tearing apart seems less like a gift of the Spirit, and more like a gift from the Accuser.

Instead, it seems we should provide a clearer picture of the truth we know about our Maker.   What do we affirm?  To what can we say "yes?"

What we know, those of us who follow Jesus and attend to his teachings, is that suffering and death are not a sign of sin in the one who is suffering.   Suffering is not to be automatically equated with God's judgment.  The cross disabuses us of that, as do the deaths of those Christian witnesses who, guided by the Spirit, refused to take up the sword even in the face of violence.  They proclaimed peace and forgiveness, even as the world broke them.

We also know from the witness of scripture that the wicked do prosper, and that the oppressor does live in comfort.  That ain't right with God, but there are times when it does happen.  Rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike, as they say.

But what we also know is that where we violate the law of love, there are consequences, just as there are consequences if we think we're immune to the law of gravity.  That law of liberty is etched into the nature of all creation, as fundamental to sentient beings as the laws of physics are to inanimate objects.  It is the metric against which we are judged, both individually and collectively.

That judgement bears consequences.  Systems based on violence and injustice always fail.  Systems where power is concentrated in the hands of a few, be the power of the sword or socioeconomic power, those systems are radically out of balance.  They will tear themselves apart, and fall.  Scripture's pretty clear on that, as clear as it is on the ramification of our individual sin.

And what we also know is that just as love is its own reward, so too sin's reward rises from the nature of the sin itself.  The cup we pour is the cup we drink, as both the Beatles and a dear friend of mine once said.  Though the precise nature of God's justice is beyond us, it is ultimately not something that exists in the realm of magical thinking.  The events that create the probability of tragedy and horror, complex as they are, are not radically abstracted from their fruit.

Meaning, rather simply, that when a nation arms itself to the teeth, creates a climate of social isolation and fear, and stigmatizes the broken of mind, that is the cup we have poured for ourself.  It is the furrow we have dug into the surface of being.  When the storm comes, and the torrent flows down the path we've made for it, we shouldn't act surprised.

We may not know the fullness of the "why" of anything.  Creation is simply too complex.  But we can know enough to act, through the blessings of reason and the whisperings of the Spirit in our hearts.  And we can certainly know enough to act in ways that meaningfully reduce the likelihood of future horror.

Whether we make the way straight for God or prepare a path for sorrow is entirely our own responsibility.