Tying the hand of God

I've been listening to a truly horrid little audio book called "The Complete Infidels Guide to the Koran." The book has an imprint from the conservative Regnery House, which was the first red flag that this might not be a totally unbiased look at Islam and the Koran. And I was right. But more about that later when I finish the book.

What caught my attention and got me thinking was a series of supposed Koranic quotes about Allah considering it heretical for people to believe that the hand of Allah was tied." (Sura 5.64) I'm no Koranic scholar, but I saw in this the sense that it was important to preserve the idea of Allah being fully capable -- the Lord of all creation -- with nothing that happened on earth being out of his control or contrary to his will.

Which got me to thinking about what is often heard in Christian circles when bad things happen -- that God has a plan, and that he is in control. This belief is supposed to calm the afflicted, and perhaps often does. But it is a problematic stance -- does God send earthquakes, floods and tornadoes? How about financial meltdowns, wars and poverty? Disease, storm and oppression?

A number of fundamentalist preachers, notably Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, turned God into an avenging machine -- raining down destruction indiscriminately on evil cities, nations and people. Hurricane Katrina, which famously inundated New Orleans in 2005, was seen by Robertson as a judgment by God on the US for allowing abortion. That Robertson's dislike of abortion may have helped his TV ratings or his political ambitions id not come up.

But is this vision of God biblical? Or is it just the creation of those seeking to make God into their own image -- malevolent, bigoted and violent-minded? The God of the Bible does cause his hare of havoc -- the Flood of Noah being the most extreme example. But after wiping out nearly all humanity (not to mention tweety birds, frogs and bunnies) God self-limits his own power, promising never to devastate the world by water again. One  might wonder whether fire or earthquakes are still OK. But the more gentle of us might suggest that God was ruling out world-wide destruction of any kind. But does that leave the door open to smaller cataclysms? Would our loving God still be OK with wiping out a whole continent or city -- as long as the destruction as not global?

This would make God into an attorney -- always angling or the loophole -- but not a loving, forgiving father.

So what does this say about storms and wars being vessels of God's judgment?

It came to me that in the end, we would be judged not on whether we claimed to see God's wrath in the weather, but in how we responded to destruction. Would we be judgmental, high-handed and dismissive like the Pat Robertsons of the world, seeking personal or professional advantage from disaster? Or would we see the end of the storm as the opportunity to build a rainbow of charity, love and comfort for those afflicted?

To me the choice between a) a vengeful, all-powerful God who rains destruction on people I already hate, and b) a God who claims no power except the power to move hearts to love, is an easy one. Whether Jew, Christian, Hindu, Muslim or atheist, the call to respond to people in need -- and to image a God who approves that choice -- is the only sure way to love one's neighbor as oneself. (Matthew 22:37-39, and Leviticus 19:18).