From the Prophet Amos:
Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment?
Does a lion roar in the forest when it has no prey?
Does a young lion cry out from its den if it has caught nothing?
Does a bird fall into a snare on the earth when there is no trap for it?
Does a snare spring up from the ground when it has taken nothing?
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Amos 3:3-5 (NRSV) – December 3, 2013.)
This series of questions is asked by Amos just before he asks, “Does disaster befall a city unless the Lord has done it?” (v. 6b) He’s provoking his readers (originally, his listeners) to answer each preliminary question, “Of course not” so that their answer to his capper will also be “Of course not.”
Amos’ question: “Does disaster befall a city unless the Lord has done it?” Amos’ answer: “Of course not!”
What is Amos saying here? Is Amos promoting that sorry sort of pop theology that says, “Everything happens for a reason” and implies that the reason is the will of God? Is the prophet promoting that equally sorry sort of personal religion that, when some misfortune strikes, asks, “What did I do wrong?” and implies that personal unhappiness, too, is punishment from God for a failure of faith or a paucity of piety?
If so, I reject the notion. I think the prophet is just dead wrong! “Does disaster befall a city unless the Lord has done it?” Sure. Everything does happen for a reason, but not every reason is God’s doing. Sometimes, perhaps more often than not, the reasons have nothing to do with God, and everything to do with the nature of the physical and human reality within which we live.
I used to practice personal injury law litigating cases where misfortune befell people who then sued other people because everything has to be somebody’s fault . . . somebody else’s fault . . . and that somebody should be made to pay damages because of my inconvenience. I reject that notion, too. All too often the cause of injuries and misfortune is pure accident. Nobody did anything wrong. They couldn’t have done anything other than what they did. And yet … well … there’s a bumper sticker that (politely rephrased) reads, “Stuff Happens.”
That’s the nature of reality . . . that sometimes “stuff” just happens. Not because somebody willed it so, not because somebody made a mistake or acted negligently or did anything wrong, and certainly not because God decreed it. It just happens. The great British preacher Leslie Weatherhead once said, “Surely we cannot identify as the will of God something for which a man would be locked up in jail, or put in a criminal lunatic asylum.”
In fact, Weatherhead suggested that to blame catastrophes and other terrible events on “the will of God” is “a greater blasphemy than the denial of the Holy Trinity.” He went on to say, “One of the first things we must do is to dissociate from the phrase ‘the will of God’ all that is evil and unpleasant and unhappy.” Evil, he noted, is never creative of good; I think that was his polite British way to say “stuff happens.” But in every circumstance where calamity and misfortune befalls us, where “stuff happens,” there is opportunity for good to be revealed.
So what does a person of faith do with that? When “stuff” happens, what should a person of faith do? That’s a pretty good Advent question because one thing I know about Christmas celebrations is that, invariably, stuff happens. Things don’t go according to plan. Presents get lost or broken. Special dishes don’t get cooked properly (or at all). There are arguments. Feelings get hurt.
Be prepared for it! And when it happens look for the opportunity to redeem it, to sooth the hurt, to be an instrument of God’s good and creative will to redeem the “stuff.”
A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.