Q & R: Why isn’t God doing anything?

Here’s the Q:

My name is xxxand I am a pastor in [the midwest]. I just got this question from one of my members and feel it is a question that will need to be addressed as we take on an expanded view of the Kingdom and justice. I’m hoping some good books are already out there but also that more are coming. I’d like to know your thoughts. Here is the question:

… I feel angry with God. Why would this awesome God of ours, this mighty Creator that created everything from nothing, who split the Red Sea, who felled thousands by plague and snakes and the earth splitting open, who raised the dead and healed the lame, why would he allow what he allows when with a word he could clean the waters, send manna from heaven to the starving and keep millions of chlidren from being orphaned? Why would he choose to withhold his aid and rely on damaged humans to do his work? How could he allow this great disparity between rich and poor to develop? How can he want my heart to be broken by the things that break his heart when he’s in a position to change the situation and I’m not? Yes, I can give up things I don’t really need to be able to give to those who need so much but how can that change anything? Even if everyone in our church, our community or even our state gave a lot more generously, how could that possibly put a dent in the millions, billions of dying, starving, hurting people? Yes, I can understand that if what I give saves even one starving child’s life it is worthwhile but why isn’t God DOING something about all this???????? How can I believe in, trust in, worship and glorify this God? Was I right when I believed all those years that even if there is a God, how can he be good when children are being starved, raped, crippled, exploited right under his very nose? Yes, I have believed that I’ve seen him at work in my life and others, I’ve seen miracles that could be nothing else, I have thought that I have palpably felt his love for me at times – how do I reconcile this?

Here’s the R:

Thanks for passing on this question. The passion and intensity with which it is asked are, I think, signs that you’re doing a good job of helping your people see that faith truly is a matter of ultimate concern.
If I were talking with your church member, I wouldn’t want to try to “resolve” this tension. I wouldn’t want to give him (or her) answers so he could walk away “feeling better.” His frustration (anger, fury, etc.) is, I think, a key ingredient of the call to service, mission, activism, and prayer.
I would first let him know that he is entering into one of the toughest and most conflicted areas of theology and human inquiry … theodicy is one term for it, but I prefer the category of “divine agency.” What kind of universe did/does the Creator want to create? What kind of relationship did/does the Creator want with creation? Does the Creator want a chess-master relationship with the universe, where we are pieces being moved around the board by God? A master-servant relationship – where God gives orders and we submit? A partnership relationship – where we enter into the creative process with God, where we are God’s hands and feet in the world, seeking to bring God’s dreams to reality?
Second, I would try to help him see that certain cliches and conventional sayings (e.g. “God is in control”) can be highly problematic – depending on how we answer the first set of questions regarding God’s agency.
Third, I would try to help him to discern in his frustration a call to participation. In some ways, I went public with my struggles in this regard in my book Everything Must Change. It might be a helpful recommendation for your parishioner.
Finally, I would help him turn his experiences of God’s presence into a model for his own gracious presence in the sufferings and needs of others, so he can truly become for them “an image of God,” an embodiment of God’s kindness, as Steve Bell beautifully sings here (sorry for the weird jumps in the video – the song plays through a couple times):