The disaster in Haiti is the latest in a long line of human tragedies that have led people to question what it means to believe in God. James Wood's op-ed column in today's New York Times suggests that there are only two possible responses to tragedies like these:
either God is punitive and interventionist (the Robertson view), or as capricious as nature and so absent as to be effectively nonexistent (the Obama view).Essentially Wood assumes that God can be conceived of only in two ways--as either the omnipotent interventionist deity of Christian orthodoxy, or as the God of deism. As anyone who has read my blog would expect, I find Wood's argument to be based on a false dichotomy that ignores theologies that posit God as an active but non-omnipotent presence in our lives.
What matters to me less than theology about God's nature, though, is the practical way that God is found in way we live our lives. As the hymn says, "Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est." (where there is charity and love, God is). Which is to say, when we help others, I think we are responding to God's call and God--whatever we define "God" to be--is in a sense acting through us.
I have been thinking more and more about this as I passed a recent birthday milestone and find myself as I am getting older wanting to make more of a difference in the world. I spent some time over Christmas and New Year's working on a volunteer project with a group of indigenous people in Latin America. This was the first time I have ever done this, and I found that it gave me a sense of purpose and meaning makes my own mundane life here at home seem rather empty by comparison. Even if organized religion is not a good match for me, I think there is a spirituality to be found in the love we express for humanity in concrete ways.
The Haiti tragedy is a reminder to me that it makes no sense for me to turn to divine omnipotence as our salvation in the face of human suffering. But it also reminds me all the more that the world is full of injustice, of people who are poor or otherwise suffering, and that when we are inspired to do something about these problems we are responding to something higher and greater than ourselves. I choose to call that something God, but whatever we choose to call it, the thing that matters the most is that we act.