As you can see this is one piece of a five-part essay. If you’d rather read it all at once, you can find it in barneywiget.com.
“I don’t trust Christians,” said Pascal. “They know too much about God.” Of course he spoke sarcastically, since he knew that what we think we know we most likely don’t know at all, especially since what there is to know about God is too big for our small minds. It was probably to our small mindedness – claiming to know more than we know – that the philosopher objected.
Most of us are uncomfortable with perplexity and unresolved issues when it comes to God and the life we have here in his world. We want everything to line up with logic, for every problem to conclude with a logical solution. It’s the most immature faith that assumes everything can be reduced to reason and formulas. Our need for spiritual formulas that work more like magic spells than Scriptural principles is evidence of a childish approach to the spiritual. Faith can’t be reduced to the formulaic. Don Miller wrote, “Formulas seem much better than God because formulas offer control; and God, well, He is like a person, and people, as we all know, are complicated.”
A man was born blind. He’d lived his entire life in the dark. It was obvious to those with a faith of formulas that either his parents were bad or God knew he would be a bad person when he grew up, so he punished him ahead of time. A vicious dictator sent troops to a religious service and murdered the worshippers in the middle of their liturgy. No doubt, something must have been wrong with their religion for God to allow such brutality during their service. Eighteen people were crushed to death when a tower collapsed on them. It was widely assumed that they were probably a collection of particularly immoral people for this “act of God” to happen to them.
Bad people have bad things happen to them. That’s the way it works. If you’re good, God always protects you from disasters. There’s obviously something wrong with you if God brings or allows these kinds of judgments into your life. What goes around comes around. It’s Karma, a Christian version of it of course.
The elite agents of such fortune cookie platitudes and prefab answers for every occasion were Job’s friends. (I use the term “friends” in the least literal way possible.) Though God himself said Job was the most righteous man on earth at the time, those guys, who were allergic to theologically untidy circumstances, repeatedly found creative ways to blame him for his trials. Everything was cause and effect. To spiritually constipated God experts, A plus B always equals C. Theirs was a God-in-a-box theology, out of which, though allegedly all powerful, the divine could never fight his way out. “Any snappy explanation of suffering you come up with,” wrote Anne Lamott in regard to Job’s counselors, “will be horses**t.”
Twice, in John 9 and Luke 13, Jesus was approached by religious people whose mantra was “Suffering is universally caused by sinfulness.” Regarding specific sufferers they posed to him their standard philosophical query: “Who sinned?”
This is a brief look at both of those passages, the only such times in the Gospels where he addressed a correlation between suffering and sinfulness. People asked him in these two scenes about disabilities, disasters, and deaths by murder. His replies tell us a lot about what Jesus thought about universal* victim blaming.
*It would be silly to claim that no suffering is caused by bad behavior. The connection between the liver’s cirrhosis and the abuse of alcohol is widely known, for instance. Breaking God’s laws has repercussions in the short run as well as in the long. Therefore, I use the term “universal” in order to denote all victims and their blameworthiness. My objection here is about the notion that all sufferers have incited God’s disapproval and therefore deserve the bad circumstances in which they find themselves.