In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.
God doesn't punish nations
Rabbi Robert L. Tobin of Congregation Beth Shalom, Overland Park, Kan.: The question presumes that our economic hardships and military conflicts are brought about because of some moral or ethical sin on our part as a nation. God knows, no nation is perfect, and many are corrupt and violent beyond peaceful redemption. But America remains the great force for human dignity, freedom and prosperity in the world.
Even so, does God punish and reward any nations in our day? In the last century, we learned that God did not stop even a Nazi regime that slaughtered innocents by the millions and tried to conquer the world within its reach. No, God is not in the business of punishing nations by force or miracle in our day.
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What we have learned is that the miracle of divine intervention is dependent upon human action. Our divinely created free will can create the world as it should be. It is our responsibility, not God's, to create a world of justice for the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and all of us.
Writing in the 12th century, the Jewish scholar Maimonides articulated a well known philosophy: The Theology of Plentitude (modern term).
This belief tells us that God has already provided for us in abundance exactly what we need, and has made scarce those things that are irrelevant to true happiness. We live in a time of hardship. But as with all questions of peace and prosperity, the lack is not ordained by God. The solution for all is within our reach.
Disasters are not sent by God
The Rev. Holly McKissick, pastor of St. Andrew Christian Church, Olathe, Kan.: When a well known Topeka, Kan., minister known for anti-gay protests took his "show" to the campus of the University of Chicago, the students were ready. They knew he'd show up — with his children and grandchildren — holding posters that read: "God hates fags" and "AIDS is the wrath of God." In his distorted faith, every hurricane and wildfire, every soldier's death and Toyota recall was God's act of vengeance against a nation that has strayed.
The students could have returned the preacher's hate by hurling tomatoes and obscenities. Instead, armed with the word of God, they made their own signs. In bold letters they wrote "God hates figs." Others held posters that read "Jeremiah 29:17" (where God sends sword, famine and pestilence to the people, making them like rotten figs). Still others read "Mark 11:14" (where Jesus curses the fig tree).
The students were intentionally ridiculous, but they made a point: In the Scriptures, figs incite more holy wrath and destruction than homosexuals.
God isn't a punishing, all powerful despot, and the next disaster won't be sent by God. I side with the majority Christian view that says if this earth is destroyed (whether it's global warming or nuclear war or who knows what) it will not be God's judgment, but our own, a result of our failure to live as God has invited us to live — justly, generously, peacefully.