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Mark Douglas
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Kathy Dawson

At this point, it's your turn!

We are very pleased to publish selected messages from our readers. All comments on articles and any aspect of this online journal are most welcome!  

Response to "Finding Time: A Reply to Bill Harkins and Kathleen O'Connor"
From: Mike Andrews (CTS Class of 1961), Merritt Island, FL 
Wednesday, June 14, 2006 4:08 PM
Very thoughtful and thought provoking. On the day after Alberto and barely into the second week of a six-month hurricane "season" this Floridian is grateful for these observations that give us a little more leverage in the struggle to carry on in the face of continual "disaster" questions from many parishioners.

Recently seminary professor Erskine Clark shared this message with the seminary community. The sender was on Columbia's campus two years ago as a Campbell Scholar.
From: Judowibowo Poerwowidagdo
Sent: Thursday, June 01, 2006 11:04 PM
Subject: Earthquake
Praise God that we all are safe and sound. At 05:50 am on the day the
earthquake hit Yogyakarta, we jumped out of bed and ran outside. Our house was shaking furiously, but fortunately suffered only minor damage, broken tiles on the roof, and some small crack on the wall. However, the devastation was tremendous in many parts of the area. The death toll is now reported over 6,000 people and the seriously injured over 16,000. Hospitals were overwhelmed by the incoming victims of the earthquake; most of them needed orthopedic surgery. Thousands and thousands of houses were completely ruined, destroyed. Hundreds of school buildings were also destroyed, also many churches . . . Now, the volcano which had erupted earlier begins to be more active, spewing hot air and lava after the quake. We hope it will not erupt again, but the highest alert warning is still on. Much help has been coming both from domestic as well as from overseas governments and NGOs. Thanks to these volunteers and the much needed humanitarian solidarity . . . The reconstruction and recovery will take quite a long time.
Thanks very much for your concerns and prayers.

Response to "At this point, it's your turn!"
Cece Esposito, Elder St. Stephen Presbyterian, Orlando, Florida
Monday, May 29, 2006 4:35 PM
I have labored over these same points at many turns in my life, and I have always come back to the one, eternal truth - God is Love. Knowing that my God is a loving God gives me the peace and strength I have needed on many occasions to overcome adversity, pain, grief, accidents, and natural disasters.

I have survived illness, fire, hurricanes, tornadoes and I have lived in a family network where illness crippled a parent, alcohol scarred family members, and suicide devastated everyone. Throughout more than a half century as a Christian, I have listened as other Christians explained away untimely death as "the will of God." Illness, pain and grief were passed along by the Almighty, according to these misguided souls, as a test to see if we are true believers. It was always about Job's road and how God wants us to walk along this path of devastation. I don't buy it!

My God is a loving God who wants only the best for me. He placed me in this world temporarily as a part of my growth. He placed me here and gave me free will. I will one day "grow out" of this world and back into his arms. That is why Christ died for me at Calvary. I don't fear that day; I welcome it. I don't, however, rush to it before learning the lessons my God wants me to learn here on this earth. I also don't want to insult my God and rush to it before enjoying the gifts he has given me here.

In addition, I need to recognize on a daily basis the very real possibility that Satan may not want this same goodness for me. He may very well want me to hurt, grieve, fail and suffer disasters - man-made and otherwise. So, I must be on guard to do my best to do as the old adage myself just as my Lord would help me. I do so with the peace that my Lord loves me, and the knowledge that he sends his direction and help to me everyday through prayer.

I really liked the reference to the barrier islands. It is true that our stupidity, our willfulness, and our greed, in many cases, overcome our good sense. We must remind ourselves each day of God's abiding love. I just need to reach out, and he is there.
Response to "At this point, it's your turn!"
George Miranda
Wednesday, May 24, 2006 9:14 PM

If God is responsible for Hurricane Katrina, then we can deduce two things:
(1) since the poor and dispossessed were disproportionately affected by the hurricane and the flooding, and since the wealthy St. Charles Ave.neighborhood was mostly spared, we can deduced that God really does NOT favor the poor, but sides, instead, with the rich and powerful.
(2) Since Bourbon Street was also spared, we can also deduce that God approves of drunkenness and licentiousness.

Response to "Reclaiming the Covenant after Disaster"
Jimmie Johnson, pastor, 24th year at First Presbyterian Church, Waco, TX
Wednesday, May 10, 2006 10:35 AM


What a beautiful work! My daughter Shannon Johnson Kershner and son-in-law Greg Johnson Kershner are grads of your seminary. Wish I were! The timing of your articles is serendipitous for me. I will be preaching the baccalaureate service at Austin College this coming weekend.


I did not know of your website devoted to this issue until I was emailed by a former Associate Pastor, Todd Green, also a grad of Columbia and now at Vanderbilt working on his PhD dissertation. My baccalaureate sermon entitled "God and the Chaos Monster" will be about these issues. Also glad I did not know about your site and articles until I had my sermon written. Would have "borrowed too much" from you. I will be struggling with the notion of faith in a God who both delivers the needy and abandons the crucified. Both the experience of delivery and abandonment are legitimate religious states of being.

Only way for me to keep the faith is the realization Jesus was given no exemption. I think our Brother, Lord and Savior's experience somehow converted God and us to a relationship that Someday will be understood, and all will cry "Glory" but only after God gives an account of Godself, too.

Response to "At this point, it's your turn!"
Rick Brand, First Presbyterian Church
Henderson, NC
Monday, May 08, 2006 4:07 PM

It has been my observation that it is most-desperate, good-hearted Christians who want to be kind who say all manner of horrible things about God and life in a time of crisis. So I agree that bad theology is everywhere apparent in tragedy.

They are very old questions and there are only partial answers. For me the best reading in this area has been George Buttrick, God, Pain and Evil, and Douglas John Hall, God and Human Suffering. Most of the time we would be better served to say, "I don't know. We will have to talk with God about this when we can."



But we will never get away from asking the questions.

An inquiry about journal subscriptions
William H. "Billy" McLean
Spring Hill Presbyterian Church
Mobile, AL
Friday, May 05, 2006 1:23 PM

AtThisPoint is interesting and looks like a good resource for our Current Issues Class at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church-Mobile. Have you a set up where when the new issue comes up, we can get it automatically as an email subscriber as I get Sojourner each week? I may be missing this feature. If it is not available now, I suggest it. Thank you for your service!

Our response:
Thank you for your nice note! The next issue will be published in late November. We are not collecting e-mail addresses right now, though we may do this in the future.

Response to "At this point, it's your turn!"
Nelson J. Harrill
Greensboro, NC
Saturday, May 06, 2006 5:37 PM

Disasters come from at least one of the following sources:

1. Natural disasters. God created all of the Laws of Nature and it seems he is pretty well letting Nature take it's course. We are literally at the mercy of God's Laws of Nature. In some cases we can protect ourselves, some we can't. But can we blame God, directly?

2. Inheritance. Some of us die from cancer, some from heart attacks and strokes, diabetes. It's in our genes. Some of these we can prevent or delay, some we cannot. But it's all part of God's Laws of Nature. But can we blame God, directly?

3. What others do to us. God gave us free will. Some of us do bad things to other people. They may kill us, rob us, fire us because our jobs have been outsourced overseas, or they may run into our car. But can we blame God directly?

4. What we do to ourselves. We don't want to hear this, but what we put into our bodies—food, drink, cigarettes, arsenic, or whatever can cause us lots of problems in life. Or we may wrap our car around a tree and kill ourselves. But is it fair to blame God?

These four reasons for most of our problems can be expanded to cover most disasters in our lives. But is it fair to ask God to protect my home from a tornado? What's he to do? Move the tornado in order to miss my house thereby causing it to destroy my neighbor's house? Is that fair?

When disaster strikes we need to see if it is caused by one of these categories: Natural disasters, Heredity, What Others Do To Us, or What We Do To Ourselves. GOD DOES NOT PLAY GAMES WITH PEOPLES' LIVES. Our God is a loving God and only wants what's best for his people, not matter who or where they are.

Thank you for your new program.

Response to "Hard Grief Work and Holy Saturday"
Denny Read, Associate Pastor, South Highland Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, AL
Tuesday, May 2, 2006, 6:06 PM

I was intrigued by the conversation around the question of theodicy, and I like to have many different conversation partners off of which to bounce ideas. I do believe that theology and therapy share a slight commonality in that each attempts to cope with anxiety. Therapy and theology simultaneously address coping with anxiety but their difference lies in the question of who is the subject: Is it God or is it Me? I may be splitting hairs over this issue but I would be more comfortable saying that in such cases "good theology has the effect of being comforting in moments of crisis." The distinction is important to me for two reasons:
1. Therapy is process-oriented and can be nearly as painful as the event that caused the need for it, and
2. I am not convinced that theology (discourse on the nature of God) is being done when one is benumbed or "disastered"- what I inferred was that it was a moment of crisis when one cannot fully process what is happening.

For context, I once provided care for an elderly woman whose 62-year-old daughter died. When I arrived in the hospital room, the daughter's body was lying on the bed and the mother said to me, "I know Jesus is going to raise my daughter from the dead. He raised Lazarus and I know if I pray enough he'll raise her. I mean feel her - I have felt a lot of dead people, and she's still warm. Jesus'll raise her." At best we could call it bad theology and even that can be comforting in a moment of emotional crisis.

By and large though, I have found that when human beings are mired in catastrophe and chaos, they are simply grasping at straws to claim some semblance or carbon copy of the mental map they once owned. At the very least a bad theology has staved off an unbearable pain (Theologically perhaps we could say that it is God's mercy that gives us denial, but we would be hard pressed to say that it has a biblical foundation.)

After some conversation, I asked her something like this: "Do you have any idea of when Jesus will be coming to raise her?" And she responded "I know she won't be coming back...but I will miss her terribly" and she began to cry. The situation illustrates that whether it is good theology or bad theology it has the effect of being comforting. The long-term aftermath when the enormity of the grief can be expressed and the overwhelming rage against God can be expressed is when the "straw grasping" and pat answer theology can be exorcised and a good/better theology from ground zero can be done.

In that sense, I do believe that the community of believers can prepare for these disasters theologically but not spiritually/mentally/emotionally. As the church, the community of believers, it is important to address the disorder and order of creation about which the Bible unapologetically testifies: the rape of the concubine in Judges, Hosea's testimony that creation human sin is cause of creation's regression, and God's attempt through destruction to gain the affection of a people who have forgotten Him as Lover.

It seems to me that preparation begins with the community of faith outwardly confessing that there is deep, deep darkness in the world that runs the gamut from God ordained to naturally occurring. To start with darkness is to drive home the point that bad things happen to good people. If driven home in conversation and study, then when tragedy strikes, the order of the world is not called into question. It affirms the biblical perspective. However, I do not want to leave the conversation coming off as a pessimist or a cynic but I would add that in the midst of crisis "it is easier to see the footsteps of God in the rearview mirrors of our lives." We depend on the past teachings and meanings to make sense of present crisis. I have a lot more. But life or death (a committee meeting) is waiting.

Response to "Theology After Disaster"
Richard L. Jones, CLP, Trinity Presbyterian Church
Birmingham, AL
Wednesday, April 26, 2006, 5:46 PM

It seems to me that there is no better answer to this question than the one found in Chapter 9 of Dr. Shirley C. Guthrie's book, Christian Doctrine. Basically, we are imperfect humans living in an imperfect world.  God no more aims hurricanes at particular cities than he aims cars at trees.  "When a child is born with a severe handicap, we know it is not because God willed it, but because something went wrong during pregnancy or delivery, or with the genetic structure of the father and mother." (page 170 of the Revised Edition)  God does not will or cause bad things to happen, but He is with us and for us in hard times, as well as the good times.

If a hurricane brings death and destruction to people living on the coast, should we ask why God created a world in which hurricanes can happen, or should we ask why we build homes on barrier islands?  They don't call them barrier islands for nothing.  Human negligence, selfishness and unconcern cause many of the disasters for which we blame God.

Tragedy and suffering is something that no one can always prevent and for which no one is responsible.   This is earth, not heaven.  Shoot, it's not even the Garden of Eden.

When disasters or untimely deaths happen, we are quick to shake our fist at the skies and demand to know; why me?  Perhaps the best response is; why not you? What make you so special that nothing bad should happen to you?

I am reminded of the old story about the man on the top of his house after a flood.  A man on a raft floats by and offers to take him to safety, but the houseowner refuses, saying, "I love God and God loves me.  God will save me."  A policeman come by in a powerboat and offers to take the man to safety, but the houseowner refuses, saying, "I believe in God.  I have been faithful.  God will save me."  A helicopter hovers overhead and the pilot calls down on the loudspeaker for the man to climb onto the ladder than has been lowered to him, but the man yells back, "I am a good and faithful Christian.  God will save me."  The waters of the flood overcome the man and he drowns.  When he gets to heaven he demands to speak to God.  God looked at him in astonishment and said, "What are you doing here?  I sent you a raft, a powerboat, and a helicopter.  What were you waiting for?"

Why do bad things happen to good people?  The answer, of course, is that we don't know.  No one does, and no one should pretend to know.  But neither should we feel guilty about not knowing.  There are a thousand and one questions about the universe to which we have no answer, why should this be any different?  In response to disasters, and all the other evils of this world, all we can do is to do our best.  Where people come together to share what they have to help others, God is there.  We can remind ourselves that Christ is the light that shines in the darkness, the light of a loving God who understands and shares the depths of our suffering; the light of a powerful God whose will for us and for our ultimate salvation will not be defeated.  The grace of God is stronger than the winds of any hurricane or tornado.  The power of the resurrected Christ has overcome death itself, so what do we have to worry about?  If we do not fear death, what is there to fear?

Sometimes, all we can do really is all we can do.

Go with God.







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