Sometimes an earthquake wakes you up. It shakes you out of your slumber and reminds you that there are things over which you have no control. It might end as fast as it started or, like the earthquake that hit in the early hours of January 23rd, it might last long enough for you to consider the beams of your house buckling or your windows cracking. It might go on long enough for you to think of the emergency preparedness measures you haven’t gotten around to yet. Do we have extra drinking water? Batteries? Fuel for the chainsaw?
After a shaker like that, most everyone is awake and experiencing a similar adrenaline rush. In the case of the earthquake the other night, phones were going off in bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens around town, transmitting alerts from the tsunami warning center. Sirens were sounding, and no one knew how it was going to end.
There was a sense that the odds were in our favor, that the wave wouldn’t amount to much. But nobody really knew for a while. How much water was displaced when the earth shifted? Was it a deep earthquake? Was it shallow? Those answers came in time, but when the voice on the loudspeakers said to evacuate to higher ground, images from recent tsunamis came to mind, like the one in 2004 that hit the Indian Ocean on Christmas Day and the one that took so many lives in Japan in 2011.
The odds might have been in our favor, but sometimes terrible things happen. Most Alaskans know what happened to Valdez and Seward in 1964. We’ve read stories about the destruction of the village of Chenega when a landslide from the Good Friday earthquake generated a 27 foot tsunami and killed nearly half of its inhabitants.
Regardless of the damage, or lack thereof, experiencing an earthquake is a humbling thing. Some would say when the earth trembles it’s an Act of God.
I pay attention to terminology that involves God, partly because I was raised in such a way that God and Jesus and all things biblical were a part of my everyday life.
My ideas of God have shifted over time. And like the earth underneath my feet, they continue to shift. Sometimes the changes in my spiritual life are so slow they’re hardly noticeable. Other times they’re more abrupt.
When the term Act of God is used, it implies that humans are off the hook. When the earth shifted the other night, it wasn’t our fault. No person or group of people could be blamed for the 7.9 magnitude earthquake, nor could it have been prevented. It’s a rare situation when humans are absolved without having to confess anything first, which is refreshing when most of the terrible things we hear about on the news are caused by humans.
In the case of an earthquake, the left can’t blame the right. The baby boomers can’t blame the millennials. Cat lovers can’t blame dog lovers. That temporary absence of blame presents us with an opportunity to just be human for a while, all on the same page for just a few moments.
The term Act of God summons the image of a Leonardo Da Vinci-type god pointing his finger at that spot in the ocean 175 miles from Kodiak City and sending some kind of supernatural shockwave to the epicenter 15.5 miles below the earth’s surface. It’s the stuff of mythology, and it makes for great stories. But we’ve learned a few things in the last few centuries. Now we know a new story. We have an explanation for a natural, geological phenomenon that once baffled us.
Even those of us lacking advanced geological knowledge know that sometimes the earth moves. We’ve seen the high school textbook drawings of fault lines and the earth’s layers. We get that earthquakes are a matter of physics even if we don’t have a scientific vocabulary to explain it.
And I find that there is room for God in physics. There is room for God in natural, scientific explanations. That God isn’t anything like a guy in the sky, though.
Giving god or gods credit for things we don’t understand is old news. We’ve been doing it for centuries.
Recently Franklin Graham, the son of famous televangelist Billy Graham said in reference to Donald Trump, “I believe that he’s the president of this nation because God allowed it. And I think on election night God intervened. He wasn’t supposed to win–he was supposed to lose. And I think it was God who worked in a mysterious way on election night to turn the tables.”
I agree with Franklin that Trump wasn’t supposed to win, that he was supposed to lose, but I don’t believe that god pointed his finger and performed magic to sway the vote on that fateful election night in November 2016. In this case, I believe there are people to blame, that there are circumstances that made it happen, and if we had all been more vigilant, Trump’s presidency might have been prevented. But to suggest that Trump’s presidency is the result of divine intervention feels like an insult to the divine.
If you believe in a Christian God, what do you believe He requires of you? Does He ask you to do bad things like lie, bag out on your financial obligations, incite violence, or vilify certain groups of people? Does He ask you to endorse candidates who do?
Can you offer an instance where Jesus asks an individual to lie or cheat or steal in order to help further His cause?
Yet many believe that God chose Donald Trump even though all the evidence points to him being driven by greed, fame, self-importance and power. If God is good, then isn’t goodness something worth upholding?
Much of my understanding of goodness comes from my upbringing, which taught me to follow the example of Christ. To be good, to be Christ-like, requires compassion, empathy, generosity, honesty, and humility.
Our president is not a virtuous man. He’s built his empire by slighting others. He is dishonest. He would not know humility if it smacked him in the head. If we’re using Jesus Christ’s teachings as the standard for what is right, and that’s what Christians claim to do, how does their support for Donald Trump make any sense? So many followers of Christ don’t seem to recognize the disconnection, or if they do see it, they’re not addressing it. It’s a loud silence.
The disconnection between reality and faith is something I think about, almost like an obsession. I’m standing on one side of the fault line, looking across at where I started. The space between the two sides is growing. It’s full of a lifetime’s worth of questions.