On my way home for lunch today, I drove past a house in our neighborhood that sustained some wind damage this past weekend from an arctic cold front that has moved into our area. The damage consists of a large section of vinyl siding that has come off the side of the house, exposing the insulation and packing material underneath.
As I was driving by, I thought I saw a statue of the Blessed Virgin on the front porch of the house. Upon closer inspection, I realized that whatever had caught my eye was not a statue at all. I think it may have been a shadow. But regardless, for that split second in which I thought they had a statue of Mary on their porch, the thought ran through my mind, “Well, I guess the Blessed Virgin didn’t help keep their house safe during that storm.”
This fleeting notion began a whole train of thought for me about finding the good in bad situations, and thanking God (or whichever god, saint, or prophet you prefer) for those good things we find in bad situations.
Most importantly, I began thinking about whether it’s appropriate and emotionally satisfying to connect the two.
In the scenario above, a good Christian wouldn’t say: “Well, I lost some vinyl siding in the windstorm, so God obviously didn’t protect my house.” A good Christian would say: “Boy, I’m glad a few pieces of vinyl siding is all we lost. God really blessed us.”
But what if it hadn’t been vinyl siding, but rather several broken windows?
“Well, a few windows got broken, but that’s easy to repair. It could have been the whole roof that blew off. God really protected us.”
What if the roof had blown off?
“Well, we lost our roof, but at least our whole house wasn’t taken from us, and we didn’t lose any vital possessions. We can get a new roof. God was really watching out for us.”
What if the whole house had been blown over?
“Well, we lost our house and possessions, but at least none of us where hurt. We still have our health, family, and loved ones, and material possessions can be replaced. God really took care of us.”
You see how that works? No matter how bad the situation is, religious people can always find away to give the credit to God.
Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s bad, or irresponsible, to look for the silver lining, or to focus on the good in a bad situation. Of course that’s a better, happier way to live, and I would encourage anyone to do this. The question is whether it’s appropriate to bring God into the equation.
I don’t wish to discuss whether God exists or doesn’t exist. That’s material for a different topic. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that some kind of “creator” or “all-loving” deity does exist, whether or not we can ever know this deity. Even assuming that, is it reasonable or appropriate to bring God into the equation in situations like this?
If you simply try to be positive, and look for the good in every bad situation, I would think this would help you to deal better with stressful situations, have a more pleasant outlook on life, and generally get through difficult times more quickly and with less negative side effects.
But if you choose to couple that with your conception of God, and attribute the good things drawn from bad situations to God’s “blessings,” then I would think you would actually decrease your overall happiness, your ability to handle tough situations, and your ability to pick up the pieces and move on.
If you leave God out of it, then you are simply thinking positively, focusing on the good, and learning to see difficult times, and even tragedies, as temporary in nature and not life-shattering or earth-shattering events.
By drawing God into it, and saying things like, “Well, we didn’t lose the house, so God really blessed us,” you are suggesting that God is physically capable of protecting your house, and therefore could have protected your roof too, but chose not to.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me feel better. In fact, that makes me feel worse. Why didn’t God protect my roof too, as well as my house? No one else’s roof came off. Why did mine? Is God trying to test me? Why would God want to do that? Don’t I have enough stress in my life as it is?
For the intellectually honest person, bringing God into the equation just raises myriad unanswerable questions - which leaves you ultimately either feeling disillusioned, or forced to fall back onto the same old “God works in mysterious ways” argument, which is unsatisfying to start with.
So my feeling is that it is best not to bring God into the scenario. God neither caused the damage to your house, nor prevented it. A storm came through and your house got damaged. End of story. Look on the bright side, find the positives in the bad situation, and begin moving on.
Injecting God into the situation only hinders recovery and healing, because it brings up so many unanswerable questions, and it turns God into some kind of capricious, uncaring wizard, who intercedes in human affairs at his whim, takes apparent pleasure in our suffering, demands our complete faithfulness, and feels the overwhelming urge to continually “test” us to make sure we stay in line.
I don’t want to worship a god like that, and that’s why I am learning not to conceive of God as a whimsical and capricious supernatural genie – which is exactly what the traditional concepts of God imply about God’s nature. Only a whimsical, untrustworthy, insecure deity would be capable of saving my roof, but choose not to.
So I wouldn't thank God that my house was saved. I would just focus on the fact that I only lost my roof, which can be repaired, and this frees me to heal from the tragedy, and to move on in life, working to spread love, be all that I can be, and live my life to the fullest – which is what “thanking God” really means to me.