When I was a nineteen I asked my father, a Methodist minister, a theological question. At the time I was still discovering my own spiritual identity.
I didn't phrase the question well, by Dad knew what I was asking. It went something like this. If God is good, and God loves us, why does God allow bad things to happen to us?
At the time I was talking about current events of the day; probably apartheid. The question could just as easily apply to any of the tragedies we have recently witnessed.
His answer was simple. God doesn't do bad things. People do. People are flawed. God is not flawed.
Over the years I have gotten a lot of clarity in my own spiritual beliefs. I don't always refer to Higher Power as "God." I often refer to Higher Power as Goddess, or the Universe. I often use names from different cultures; Isis, Hecate, Diana, Brigid, Neptune and Lugh.
To me God is so big that God can wear all those names and faces, and more. I cannot limit my view of God to one culture, or one period in time.
Recently there has been some conversation about "God not being allowed in schools." This conversation comes from people who claim to have some inside knowledge of God. In fact, some are His self-appointed spokesmen.
The claim these folks make is that bad things happen to kids because of the 1962 Supreme Court decision banning the practice of religion in schools.
Had my nineteen-old-self asked these people the question I asked my father, the answer would have been quite different. It would have been about punishment and retribution. The answer would have suggested that God lets (or causes) bad things to happen because we are bad.
It saddens me that the very people who have become God's spokespeople have such a limited view of God.
Higher Power is everywhere. No Supreme Court ruling, no law, no barrier can keep God's presence away. God is not a petulant teenager who gets offended and walks away.
On Earth there is pain and suffering. On Earth there is sickness, violence and greed. This is not punishment. This is the nature of the Earth God has created. This is the nature of the people God has created.
We can only speculate on God's purpose, but I think it may be this. If we can keep our faith, if we can heal, if we can work to make things better, we are honoring God's mission for us. It's about trust. It's about faith.
If life on Earth were perfect there would be nothing to cause us to grow. There would be nothing to test our faith. There would be nothing to strengthen us.
The idea that God either punishes us or blesses us according to our adherence to a random list of rules is limited thinking. From a Christian perspective, God gave us a clear paradigm for forgiveness. When Jesus on the cross asked for forgiveness for his torturers, he showed us the true nature of God. We cannot let the fables of the Old Testament override this one powerful act. God forgives us, and wants us to forgive others.
As humans have evolved over the years our ability to understand the greatness of Higher Power must also evolve.
Even in places of great sorrow and unthinkable devastation, Higher Power is present. Even when we cannot imagine our path to healing, Higher Power is present, showing us the way.
Whether we see Higher Power as Jesus, Kirshna, Great Spirit, Allah, Ganesha, The Great Mother, Shiva, Cernunnos, Demeter or by any other name, Higher Power is present without limitation.
Our challenge is simply to have faith. The tough thing about faith is that when we need it most it's the hardest to have. But faith, even in the darkest of times, is what is required of us; to have faith, to act with faith, to carry on with faith.
God does not punish us. We punish ourselves. God is not an angry, abusive father who's had too much drink.
Bad things happen every day to people all over the planet. Sometimes, the heartbreak seems unbearable. It's our job to find ways to heal and to help each other. It's our job to help our planet evolve; to make things better for the future.
Casting blame isn't the answer. Shaking your finger and saying "If we didn't have this law this tragedy wouldn't have happened" doesn't help anyone, and doesn't do God's work. Offering compassion and finding solutions for the future does.