Terrible, beautiful mystery

by Elizabeth Cunningham

Many people were incensed by Pat Robertson’s remark about the earthquake being a punishment for Haiti’s pact with the devil. The equation of suffering with punishment is nothing new. There is even a book in the Bible which expressly takes on this all-too-human equation and turns it upside down and inside out. Pat Robertson, it is time for you to re-read the Book of Job.

Job, an upright man, is a favorite of God’s. In a backroom deal (I always imagine them smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and shuffling cards) Satan says to his crony, “Sure Job loves you; he’s got everything anyone could want. Take it away, and he’ll curse you fast enough.” So God does just that, and then afflicts him with boils to boot, at which point Job sits down in the ash heap and makes his case against God: Why do the innocent suffer? Why do the wicked prosper? He offers himself as a case in point.

Three comforters, as they’re called, come to contend with Job. He must have done something wrong, his suffering must be a punishment, for God is all knowing and all just and all powerful. Bad things don’t happen to good people. It is not just Pat Robertson or Job’s comforters who want everything to make sense in their terms. If Job was in the ash pit today, his friends might say, “Job, you must have been thinking negative thoughts.” Or “there must be a lesson you need to learn.” Anything to protect ourselves from knowing we are not in total control.

When God shows up using the whirlwind as a megaphone, he cuts Job down to size but also excoriates the comforters for “not having spoken correctly about me as my servant Job has done.” God never answers Job’s question directly. Instead God says, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” Then God gets completely caught up in marveling at the wonders creation. “What womb brings forth the ice, who gives birth to the frost of heaven…Can the wing of the ostrich be compared with the plumage of the stork or falcon?” God gives Job a completely non-anthropocentric tour of the universe. Brief translation: “It’s not all about you.”

In a thoughtful article (see url below)* Elizabeth McAllister describes the Voudo view of the earthquake and other natural disasters as earth’s attempt to restore a balance disturbed by human beings seeking only their own interests. It could be all too easy to replace a God who metes out punishments for our transgressions with an Earth Mother who does the same. But there are subtle differences. Catastrophe is not vengeance. The innocent do suffer and deserve compassion and aid, not judgment. Balance and imbalance on this planet are an ever-shifting dynamic that we do not control (and when we try to control it for our own ends, we often wreak havoc). We would do well to seek to know that balance better, to wonder at its terrible, beautiful mystery.

* http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2010/01/voodoos_view_of_the_quake_in_haiti.html

On the same subject “It’s not all Pretty” from MaevenSong. Go to http://passionofmarymagdalen.com/ Click on Magdalen Rising. Look for the song link at the top of the page

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5 comments

Elizabeth Cunningham January 19, 2010 - 10:47 pm

Here are the lyrics of "It's not All Pretty" from MaevenSong. Text from Magdalen Rising

It’s not all pretty
the earth knows terrible things.

She receives all deaths, gentle and brutal
She bears the pain of every birth
She turns all things back into herself
And she worries the bones to dust.

She is changing, always changing
She is changing

Layers shift
her own bones crash and break
tides heave
and rocks erupt into fire

She is changing, always changing
she is changing.

Layers shift
her own bones crash and break
tides heave
and rocks erupt into fire

It’s not all pretty
It’s not all pretty, pretty, pretty
It’s not all pretty.

Beauty never is.

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Unknown January 20, 2010 - 2:38 am

Humans do try to explain things like earthquakes, or freak deaths, or getting cancer by laying fault on the victim–she smoked, they're risk-takers, and so, why not ol' man debbil for an earthquake?

If it's their fault, in some way, then you can feel superior rather than just lucky, or guilty that you survived.

Guilt may be an especially painful sin in the three Book religions, since they all teach it. It's why Satan has been so popular down through the ages, but especially with Christians like Robertson. What better justification than that the Devil did it?

So, you really touch on something important here, and as usual, your prose is also poetry.

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~ January 20, 2010 - 4:19 am

I saw that Pat Robertson remark and thought about it some too. I thought about the mechanical property of mind called demonizing.

If we dislike something, or fear it, and reject it, then when we use our own natural way of seeing others, our mental simulacrum of them, we can easily see what we fear as emanating from them.

The real demonic thing about it is that when we do this, to an observer it looks like we are acting crazy…the thing we want to hide from is obvious to an observer. Its what leads to the 'long spoons' story, and to many of the ills in the world.

All these stories we find in the world around us, deities, devils, and the rest, both divine and mundane, are all happening in our own heads and the rest of our body, where all of the world we will ever know resides. Perhaps.

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DavidASosa January 20, 2010 - 11:51 am

Yet another awesome blog. We humans put things in boxes or into a comfortable perspective so that we can better understand things, in retrospect this is one of the many things that hunder us as well. We tend to put things in a box and then only look at it one way, limiting ourselves from what could be the truth, or another truth.
Pat Robertson is a prime example of this, through his narrow minded study he didnt realize that God was made a pact with not the devil. It was through the worship and offerings to Saint James also known to the africans as Ogu God of Iron, Justice, and a warrior in his own right. WHo else to emplore with help for a revolt aginst injustice?

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Celt Goshawk January 20, 2010 - 10:27 pm

Thanks, Erol is a mindful man

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