One of the more disturbing aspects of religious belief is the notion that God intervenes to save people. Why does such a seemingly loving act perturb me? Because it implies that God, a being of infinite love and wisdom, is selective about who receives his mercy.
Consider an old be still relevant article inYahoo News titled “Tornado Survivor Vainly Claims God Saved Him,” by Andrew Riggio. It takes a very critical stab at a man named Paul Lord, who a few months ago survived a tornado that killed several others. The statement that has garnered Riggio’s ire (and my own) is the following:
“We are truly blessed. God saved us, and that’s what it’s about.”
To which Riggio responds (as I certainly would):
That’s a load of baloney for several reasons.
For his statement to be true the events would have to have been under God’s direction. If so, describing anything about a tornado that destroys a town and kills several people a blessing is unwarranted. A true blessing would have been God’s hand directing the tornado away from the town so no one got killed and nothing got destroyed.
It’s also the height of hubris to claim God saved him. For that to be meaningful it must be assumed Lord was somehow more worthy of being saved than the five people the tornado killed. Three of the victims were girls of ages 5, 7 and 10 years old. Were those three children so vile in the eyes of God that they deserved death while Lord was deserving of rescue?
I’m happy that Lord was lucky to survive, but he’s displaying profound arrogance here, even if he doesn’t realize it. What makes him so special that the most powerful being imaginable personally intervened to save him, even though millions of people around the world suffer horribly without such intercession? All of it seems so arbitrary to me.
Of course most believers would argue that this is all part of God’s mysterious plan, though that of course is an assumption, since no one really knows what God’s plan is. In any case, what kind of objective would necessitate letting children die while men like Paul Lord are saved?
Furthermore, it always strikes me as odd that survivors of a tragedy will cite their faith in God as the reason for their survival. Weren’t many of the people who died also faithful? Didn’t they pray just as hard and go to church just as often? (remember, a lot of these disasters occur in very devout rural communities). What was God’s determining factor in picking and choosing? Why is he even doing that in the first place?
The fact is that religious believers will rationalize God’s will regardless of the outcome. If people survive, God saved them; if equally deserving people die, it was only because God called them up to heaven. You simply can’t lose.
As you could imagine, given the subject matter, the responses have been numerous and contentious. It was close to 700 comments last I checked. Here are a couple I found most interesting, in defense of God:
[Riggio, the writer] is obviously someone who believes, as is his right, that this life on this earth is all that there is. God has always taught that His ways are not comprehendible to us, so maybe He did spare a life while taking another for purposes we cannot understand.
Maybe, but why? Why spare one life and not another? What inconceivable purpose could it be, given that God could literally do whatever he wanted in this world? He could just as easily make it so no natural disasters exist. People will make all sorts of justifications about why these kinds of tragedies are necessary, but that doesn’t change the fact that God could have made the world however he wanted, such that we wouldn’t even need a concept of tragedy or struggle.
Here’s another favorite of mine:
Kleb • 22 hrs ago
Wooooooow. Bitter much? The author’s argument presupposes that from God’s point of view death is bad. People of “true faith”, as his last sentence mentions, are equally grateful to God for His providence in death as in life. Look at the great heroes in Christianity. When they died they weren’t bawling and begging God to spare them, they were profoundly relieved to be joining Him and, at the same time, deeply grateful for the ride they had been on in this world. From a Christian perspective, then, there is no inconsistency here. The survivor is grateful for the life God has given him here, as he should be, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t also looking forward to meeting the Lord.
Really? If that were the case, Christians wouldn’t be so keen on avoiding dangerous neighborhoods, having lifesaving surgery, and doing everything in their power to stay alive (and keep their loved ones alive too). Billions of people on this Earth would pretty much live recklessly, even nihilistically, under the assumption that they’ll go to heaven anyway.
Plus, let’s take this statement to its logical conclusion: should 6 million Jews be grateful to that God wanted them to join Him during the Holocaust? What about the 5 million children – many of them devout Christians – who die every year before the age of five, from any number of horrific causes? Should I tell them to chin up because they’ll join God anyway, even while I thank God for keeping me healthy and alive?
Karen W • 1 day 1 hr ago
Riggio, What gives you the right to pass judgement on someone else’s belief’s? I bet if you stood in his shoes and survived what he went through you’d suddenly believe in miracles too!
Get a life and get a real job! You’re obviously no good at what you do!
And for every miracle that convinces someone that God’s around, there are millions of senseless tragedies that cause untold suffering and death. Heck, there are people who thank God for helping them pass a test or win a sport’s match while accepting that evil exists in this world and there’s nothing God can or should do about it (because, again, it’s part of his plan, etc). But God clearly needs to get his priorities straight if his mysterious intentions involve helping well-off people win competitions while the less fortunate die in droves.
Thankfully, there are a few voices – or I should say words – of reason as well.
Ted • 21 hrs ago
The problem is that human beings respect logic. If Paul Lord was honest with his assessment he would have thanked God for sparing his life and in the same breath criticized God for killing those three little girls? I mean, is God responsible for all things or not? You can’t have it one way and disregard the other. Atheists cut to the chase; they say God is not responsible for any of it; it is just nature (probabilities and chance), no mysterious guiding hand to assign blame or gratitude to. If you think about it, this makes sense.
Obviously, God is too busy picking baseball, football and NASCAR winners to be bothered with saving Paulie from twisters. Ask any of them… they always seem to have god’s help.
To be clear, I’m not trying to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities. I’m merely trying to make sense of this logic. I was religious once, and I could certainly see the temptation to believe in God, especially given my fear of death and my despair at all the cruelty and suffering of this world. But as open-minded I am to the possibility that there is something out there (I don’t rule it out), I have hard time imagining that it is an incalculably wise and loving being, given the problem of evil.