Saturday, September 13, 2008

God's situational ethics

His means can be mean

In the words of William Cowper's hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.” Furthermore, the Bible assures us that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). Good thing, too. Otherwise some of God's stunts might persuade us that he's just a sociopath. With enough faith, you can find rationalizations that permit you to forgive God for practically anything.

Catholic radio talk show host Johnnette Benkovic is like Job in her willingness to sing the praises of God while her deity rains abuse down on her head. During yesterday's broadcast of her Women of Grace program, Johnnette favored her listeners with a homily on the virtues of forgiveness. (The on-line archive for Women of Grace stores only a week's worth of programs, so the Friday link will be replaced with next Friday's broadcast in a few more days.) She had received a call from a woman who had been treated badly by a former friend. The woman expressed her concern that God would fail to punish her ex-friend for the offense, so Johnnette explained (at 27:44 into the broadcast) that God might have had hidden motives for allowing the incident to occur:
One time years and years ago, God presented to my mind someone I needed to forgive. I did not want to forgive this person because this person hurt me very, very deeply and really in some ways inflicted tremendous scars on my heart and to my entire being. But the Lord told me I had to forgive and so I asked him to help me to enter into that process, but I sure did not want to do it.

And a wise spiritual director of mine at the time told me, Johnnette, pray for the desire to forgive, and if that's too close, pray for the desire to desire to forgive; and if that's too close, keep backing it up. And I've got to tell you, as I engaged that process against my feelings, you know—and this is a matter of the will, against my feelings—as I engaged that process, the Lord began to show me a whole lot of things and one of the things that he showed me was that this person was probably very bereft of anybody that was praying for him. This person seriously needed prayer and perhaps God permitted this offense into my life so that I could be somebody who would pray for this person.

And then as I began to pray for this person, I began to have a different attitude of heart toward this person. I began to see that this person— Had this person really understood who God was, or a relationship with God, or if this person truly understood the sanctity of the human person or any of these things, this person never could have committed that sin against me. And that person then deserved my compassion, not my anger.
All things considered, I have to say that this example of turn-the-other-cheek Christianity is far superior to today's dominant go-to-hell strain of evangelical and fundamentalist Jesus worship. I doubt, however, that it's any more rational. Still, if it's a choice between a painfully rationalizing God-is-always-good apologist versus a God-hates-fags sign toter, it's pretty easy to give Johnnette the thumbs up. She'd be a much better neighbor, even if cloyingly nice-nice.

But isn't rational thought still better than rationalization?


Courtney said...

In my mind, forgiving people who don't deserve forgiving isn't doing them any favors. But maybe I'm just cynical.

Felicia Gilljam said...

Courtney, it's not likely to do THEM any favours - but it might do YOU a favour. I think it makes you a happier person if you learn to move on rather than hold a grudge. I'd like to think that this is me being rational. Johnette's rationalisation is unnecessary and rather odd.

Karen said...

I agree with Felicia: forgiveness is most helpful to the forgiver. I've also noticed that it is nearly impossible to forgive someone until you can get your mind around their ordinary human frailty and human penchant for mistakes. Perhaps, if you are a believer, praying for the person is the most efficient way to achieve this.