God’s economy of grace

By Rev. Susan Baller-ShepardPresbyterian minister As Haiti reels from a death-dealing earthquake, I attend a visitation for a young man … Continued

By Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard
Presbyterian minister

As Haiti reels from a death-dealing earthquake, I attend a visitation for a young man I know. I have been here before, at visitations for people under 30, people deemed too young to die. On Dec. 26, 2004, when the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake turned into the Indian Ocean tsunami, I had just gotten word of the death of a young person in a car accident. With both of these earthquakes, I’ve been struck by the immense grief of one family, dealing with the death of one child, set against the backdrop of thousands of families grieving thousands of dead.

If God is a gracious and loving God, then why doesn’t God bail us out of these super-sized, seismic earthquakes? With climate changes in the works, we hear on the news that there will be more cataclysmic catastrophes. Some say, “There is no God, hence, no One to bail anyone out of anything.” But, for those who do struggle with belief in the midst of tragedy, God appears to be missing in action. Where is God when the errant car swerves on ice, when the cancer continues destroying from the inside out? If the Federal Reserve can bail out, why can’t the Almighty?

We have an old clock that needs to be wound once a week. It belonged to a grandfather, and if we don’t wind it, the pendulum swings to a stop after one week. Some believe the Creator of the universe(s) set creation in motion, to let it wind down like a clock, that no Self-respecting God would intervene in creation once it got going. That’s called Deism. God was involved, got things set up and running, but bail on the world, God did. God bailed out.

Looking at bailouts, the North American International Auto Show is being held January 11-24 in Detroit, with many mindful of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) , and of the $23 billion initially provided to General Motors and Chrysler. Ford, which did not take bail out monies, is seen as the strongest of the Detroit big three, and took both car and truck of the year awards. How Ford continues to do remains to be seen. The one who did not take a bail out proved to have the strongest showing. It was true at the car show, but is it true in life? Do we become stronger by not being bailed out?
My brain cannot wrap itself around the depth and breadth and height of this tragedy in Haiti. I cannot fathom the human cost, the children orphaned, the relatives bereft, a poor nation left staggering.

Perhaps the best bailing out we do as humans is to respond to the needs of other humans, and let God do what God will? I do believe in the mystery of the Divine, that I cannot comprehend the depth and breadth and height of that either. I find myself returning to Eliza Gilkyson’s “Requiem,” a song Gilkyson wrote after the 2004 tsunami, which a friend of mine and I played as my friend was dying of breast cancer. In this economy, we can donate to good causes and be kind and compassionate knowing there is plenty of grief to go around. For those seeking comfort, Victor Hugo said it well, “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”

Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard is parish associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Normal, Illinois. She is editor of spiritualbookclub.com and its blog.

  • LeeH1

    You are looking at the tragedy wrongly. People are not a body that has a soul, it is the other way around. The soul has a body. Everybody is born to die.What is important to God is not what happens to the body, but what others around you do. If there is hunger, feed the hungry. If there is homlessness, shelter them. If they thirst, give them drink.God did not use the earthquake to kill people he didn’t like; to them they are all souls in human bodies, that are born to die anyway. It is like the coat of a three year old child. The coat is not important, the child is. Some parents can afford nice coats; some only dirty rags. But if the coat takes the heat and burns to a cinder, yet protects the child underneath from the burn, then every parent will bless the coat and hug the child.So what is important is how other people respond to the crisis. If you turn away in distaste because of the race of the victims, or use God’s judgement as your excuse to turn away, or you are too busy with your own self-importance, God will see you and God will judge you.Yes, it is sad when someone dies. But if those around have faith that they will meet in the afterlife, secure in the promises of Heaven, then death is only a short parting of the ways. The dead have not left the house- they are only in the next room.Death is beautiful, but dying is not. Leaving the body behind is difficult. There is pain, then a reward for a good life. Enjoy this life to the fullest, but don’t fear death or be too sad. You only put away the coat when you enter the doorway and have come home.

  • samxstreampools

    “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples saying, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments; And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues; And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi! Rabbi!! But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in Heaven.Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves’.”