Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The meaning of it all

We human beings are cursed with the inescapable need to assign meaning to events. Whenever a major tragedy happens in the world -- as with yesterday's immensely destructive earthquake in Haiti -- we wonder what it means, what it signifies, the ultimate "why" of it all. And some people with microphones and followings aren't too shy to tell us their conclusions. Pat Robertson, for example, declares that the earthquake is the result of a curse placed on the Haitian people after "they" (he doesn't specify who among the population or leadership) made a deal with Satan to serve him if he would drive out the French colonialists.

It's not just the big tragedies that lead us to assign responsibility and infer divine significance. What does it mean that we didn't get into the classes we need to graduate on time? What about that bank error in your favor? The second budget cut in the current fiscal year? The leak in your dishwasher supply line? An opportunity for extra credit? A pop quiz?

Figuring out how to maximize good fortune and buffer yourself against bad is an appropriate response to the vicissitudes of life. Assigning the responsibility for outrageous good fortune to God's favor (and therefore our righteousness) and the blame for unimaginable suffering on God's judgment (and therefore our sinfulness) -- although tempting for those in charge of mediating God's ways to man -- is theological hubris.

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