The Calvinist Gadfly has rendered a service to the church by reproducing part of an interview with Rick Warren in the wake of Katrina:
Warren: Right. Well, first thing we need to understand that not everything that happens in this world is God’s will. I have a will, you have a will, we have a free will… And so, we have a lot of things that go bad… But what God wants to do is he wants to comfort us. Somebody asked me when I was actually on the floor of the, the, the Houston Astrodome talking to people and praying with people, said, where is God in all of this? And I’ll tell you where God is, he’s in thousands of lives of people who love him and follow him, and they are the hands and feet of God…
So, as Warren would have it, not only do human beings have freewill, but hurricanes have freewill as well. Presumbly he’d also extend his logic to other natural disasters, such as floods, wildfires, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, tidal waves and so on.
BTW, have you ever noticed that those who espouse freewill believe that everyone has freewill except for God? We can do whatever we want, but God can't to whatever he wants, even though, unlike us, whatever God wants is for the good.
Now, I don’t suppose that Pastor Warren really is a devout animist, so why would he make such a nonsensical comment?
i) Like a lot of Christians, his theology is a softheaded muddle—especially when it comes to the problem of evil. And this is not an easy issue to deal with.
Still, the existence of evil is a central plank in Christian theology. You have the fall. You have a personal devil. The crucifixion is at one and the same time the greatest good and the greatest evil in human history.
So this is really not an issue we can sidestep.
ii) A lot of folks, including ministers, somehow feel that in the face of tragedy, it’s okay to spout sentimental nonsense.
You saw this with the death of the Pope. You had Catholic spokesmen, some of them quite high-placed, assuring their international TV audience that John-Paul II was now with God.
But according to Catholic dogma, they have no right to say that. According to Catholic dogma, barring private revelation, no one knows if he’s heaven-bound this side of the grave, and even if he were, he would ordinarily have to go through Purgatory to reach heaven.
Yet you had Catholic spokesmen simply lying through their teeth. Why would they do this?
Because it sounded nicer than the truth. They didn’t wish to offend. They didn’t wish to hurt anyone’s feelings or make the faithful upset.
Again, this is understandable at a certain level. It isn’t easy to say the right thing the right way in the face of personal tragedy.
Another example is when a high-profile pastor goes on national TV, but can’t bring himself to attach the word “hell” to those who died outside of Christ.
Again, he does really imagine that this question might not come up? Shouldn’t he have his theology worked out by now? Shouldn’t he have a well-rehearsed answer to a question like that?
After all, this is not a side issue. If you don’t believe that faith in Christ is a life-and-death, make-or-break issue, what are you doing in the ministry, anyway?
Mind you, I’m not talking about liberals. I’m talking about self-styled evangelicals who get sweaty and tongue-tied when they have to answer this question in public, before a potentially hostile audience.
Again, I’m not saying that this is easy. It’s not supposed to be easy.
But, you know, that’s part of the job. If a pastor isn’t prepared to do that, he isn’t fit for the pastorate.
And why did Rick Warren go on national TV without having a better answer to offer? Why did he think he was asked to come on the show if not to answer a theological question like that?
I guess he felt that he could bluff his way through with pious nonsense as long as the facial expression and tone of voice was right.
iii) The proper answer is to say that God willed Katrina for some greater good known only to himself.
This principle isn’t hard to illustrate. Does a surgeon intend to amputate a limb? I certainly hope so. I wouldn’t vest very much confidence in a surgeon who went around hacking off arms and legs without intending to do so. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to remove your foot. It just happened!”
But, of course, that’s no t the whole story. He amputates a limb, not because he likes to mutilate a patient, but to save the patient from a horrible death by gangrene.
Sometimes, too, the amputee is a better man for the experience. He doesn’t take life for granted.