A friend of mine was a Lutheran pastor in an urban parish.

One day, she was alone in the church building. A drug addict broke in, tied her up, robbed her, and raped her.

Naturally, this was a terrible trauma for her. A number of her parishioners tried to comfort her by saying "God has sent you this experience in order to deepen you."

Her response was an emphatic "I'd rather be shallow."

She resigned her pulpit.

Ah, another marvelously helpful Christianese phrase. There's a huge list of them that Christians tend to use when they have nothing insightful or supportive to say, but still want to sound spiritual. See also, "It's all in God's time," "It must be God's will," and "Let go, let God."

All of which are complete trash and do nothing but alienate and patronize the person who's hearing them.

Yet another example of what's gone severely wrong in the Christian church. We'd rather have some nifty little slogan to toss out than take the time to listen, to understand, to hold, and to admit that we don't know why bad things happen to good people...

I'm not a car, so don't slap me with a bumper sticker.

Well as for Christians, there is a reason why bad things happen to good people. "There are no good people". This is a quote from a pastor I heard speaking at some sort of convention in Pasadena. According to Christians, we're all sinners. It makes sense if you're a Christian.

I feel for the pastor who resigned her post after being 'deepened' by rape, but I have to think the root of the problem is partly found in contemporary Christian dogma and the failure of Christian theologians to clearly delineate the differences between free will and God’s will.

One big reason people turn to religion is they search for answers to life's great questions. The big draw of fundamentalism is that it offers simplistic answers. Everything has a purpose, with people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming feminism, legal abortion and tolerance for the attack on the World Trade Center.

Yet if every act has a purpose, then we are no more than puppets dangling from Divine strings. In essence there is no such thing as free will. Our world is deterministic. The problem this presents fundamentalism is that such an assumption also makes us blameless for our deeds. If I then murder someone, am I not just carrying out God’s will? If said murder is His will then how can I be blamed, or worse condemned for following the commands of an omnipotent being? Yet many Christians seem to believe just these precepts without ever thinking them through.

If we have free will, as I believe, then the world must also operate on probability. A parent may choose to abandon their son. Another parent may respond to frustration with force thus modeling violent behavior. The alienated child may then choose to rape. There are reasons for these things, but they have nothing to do with deepening a woman’s life. If we can choose, then we must be free to make choices God would shun.

God did not will a rape in order to 'deepen someone'. That would render Him unworthy of our worship. But as people we struggle to comfort those in pain, and to explain the unexplainable. And so we anthropomorphize bad events, implying there is a reason behind random violence. It is psychologically easier than accepting randomness.

The book of Job is often cited, in such circumstances, because Job endured great torment for no reason. In the book, Job is brought low because God wishes to show Lucifer that faith is greater than torment, that he will retain his faith even after disaster. And Job does this, and his wealth, health and family are eventually restored. Many Christians point to this book as an exemplar of steadfastness in times of trouble.

That lesson is fine so far as it goes, which is not far enough. Job is one of the Elohist texts of the bible, often delineated because they often refer to God by the name Elohim. Elohist text were written by the northern tribes of Israel, not part of the five tribes most closely associated with David. These tribes fell earlier than the southern tribes, and Elohist writings stress tolerance and diversity in the way the Yahwists do not. These tribes are also known in the bible as Samaritans, a term of derision in Jewish society at the time of Christ.

At the time of Job’s writing, a prevailing belief held that bad things reflect bad acts, and good acts are rewarded with wealth. In many ways this thinking parallels the Social Darwinism so common among contemporary conservatives and libertarians, including Christian conservatives. Job’s writer set out to discredit that thought. He makes it explicit early on that Job is a man of perfect virtue, keeping the covenant in every way. His downfall is the result of a bet. Job did nothing to bring about his downfall.

Yet Jewish priests come out to make Job confess to just that. They are convinced that he must have done something wrong. They try to make him admit it, and Job engages them in debate. Their argument portrayed a real dispute in Jewish society of the day. As Job eventually come through trouble, the message is clear. Remain steadfast with God, but bad things happen to good people. There is no reason for all troubles. They just happen.

Christianity is not called to explain everything. Faith gives us tools to deal with trouble, but does not take problems away. Unfortunately today’s inspirational literature falls tragically short of reality, promoting a false image that a life in faith is one free of troubles. As Christians, we are to comfort those in pain, ease it where we can, but not necessarily to explain. The comfort we are to offer is not words and lectures, but kindness and fellowship. Warm shoulders are more important than cheap words in times of pain.

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