Tragedies in America – Understanding God when we don’t understand

Struggling with tragedies as a ChristianOnce again, tragedy has struck America.

On May 20, a category EF5 tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, a town with a population of just over 55,000 people. The tornado killed at least 24 people, including 10 children, and injured more than 353 others. This happen just over a month after the bombings of the Boston marathon, and a little more than five months after the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

As a Christian, I struggle with these tragedies. Like many others around the country, I watched with dismay the news coverage of these events. I witnessed the indescribable grief suffered by the families of those killed, and I prayed for them. But I also struggled to understand.

With the Boston Marathon bombings and the Sandy Hook shootings, there were people to blame. Human beings were directly responsible. Hatred, pity, disgust, and in some cases, prayers could be directed to them. We could reconcile these tragedies by attributing them to “crazy people.” We could, if we chose to do so, redirect our anger to the creation of more effective gun laws, or more accessible mental health treatment, or better security at schools and public events.

But who do we blame for a tornado tragedy? What legislation will satiate the effects of a natural disaster?

Many will blame God.  Even I, as a devout, experienced Christian, found myself struggling to understand why God would allow the taking of so many lives, especially ten innocent children or, in the case of Sandy Hook, twenty innocent children. What justice or goodness could be achieved by allowing such disasters?

These questions represent a crossroads for many of us. At this point, some Christian believers, unable to reconcile their belief in a good and loving God with such horrible events, will move down the path toward agnosticism and atheism.  If they continue to “believe” in Jesus, there is an overarching hostility toward Him, and a blatant refusal to acknowledge Him in devotion and worship. This is the point where our faith in God can be strenuously tested.

As I write this, I do not know why God allowed such events to happen. Maybe it is not for me to know. Mankind often has such an insatiable quest of knowledge that it discomforts us to realize that we cannot and do not know everything. Only God is omniscient. And my faith in Him demands that though I may not know or understand everything that God does, I still have to trust Him and believe that He has our best interest at heart. God has a purpose and a plan for us. Sometimes that is hard to swallow in the wake of such terrible events. We want to know. We want to understand. We want to make sense out of something that is senseless. But Romans 11:33 reminds us, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” In the spiritual realm is wisdom and purpose far beyond our limited and finite understanding.

I pray for the families of the victims of the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, and for the families of all the tragedies that have occurred in this country over the past year. I don’t know the purpose behind which they grieve. Some will say that God is trying to get America’s attention. Others will say that it is the sign of the last days. But whatever it is, my faith is still undeterred. God is still in control. He is still a good and loving God. Even when it seems like He isn’t.

Louis N. Jones, Author and Publisher
Dove Christian Publishers

Is it appropriate to refer to church abuse and spiritual abuse as rape?

Church abuse guide, "I've Been Raped by a Church."I have received some interesting and controversial comments about one of the new books that Conquest Publishers recently released. The book is entitled, “I’ve Been Raped by a Church: A Christian Recovery Guide for the Wounded.” The book chronicles author Vicky Lynch’s experiences with church pastoral abuse and gives biblical how-to advice to the reader about dealing with it.

The comments focused mostly on the title of the book (one person commented without even reading the book). The gist of the comments is that the use of the word “rape” in the title is troubling, especially since the book is not discussing sexual rape that takes place in church.

It is true that the commonly accepted meaning of the word “rape” is forcible sexual assault, an act that is violent, unwarranted, illegal, and causes physical and psychological harm. However, the spiritual and psychological damage that can occur with pastoral and church abuse is just as devastating as sexual rape, and gives credence to the use of the word “rape” as a metaphor for church abuse.

In some churches, the pastor or bishop is purported to be the representative of God in the life of that local assembly. The pastor may be just as vital to the local church as the pope is to the Catholic church. Church members often greatly honor, highly respect, and unequivocally trust their pastor. The pastor becomes heavily invested in the lives of his or her members, and vice versa. On matters of spiritual significance, the pastor becomes the final authority. The pastor becomes like a parent to them, and they like sons and daughters to the pastor. The pastor may not be God, but to local church members, he or she is about as close as you can get.

There are many church pastors who have this level of influence over their flock, and they use it with humility, govern in love, and seek only to bring their members into the potential that God has for them. But there are others who, unwittingly or not, use this influence to abuse and misuse their members. And because of the spiritual and psychological connection that exists between the pastor and church members, such abuse can —and often is—just as damaging as the spiritual and mental effects of sexual rape.

One can argue that an abused church member can always voluntarily leave the church, and thus avoid the abuse, while a rape victim does not have that choice. But abused church members often find it difficult to leave. Members that are heavily connected to their pastors often believe that God is speaking through them, and if they leave, they are dishonoring the pastor, and consequentially, dishonoring God. So, they will subject themselves to this dysfunctional relationship, believing that God will punish them if they sever the bond. For devout Christians who live each day to love and serve God, leaving the church and God’s representative is not an option. It is as if the pastor is holding a figurative gun to their heads and demanding that they stay, or else.

Therefore, as shocking and pointed as the word “rape” is, I believe the word is appropriate to describe the experience of a church member who has been subject to an unloving and abusive pastor and those who support that pastor. What do you think?

Louis N Jones