Saturday, April 29, 2006

Suffering and Platitudes: Lies About God

Please be forewarned. What follows is graphic and troubling commentary about human suffering.

What follows is also a rant.

I am so weary of gumball-machine faith -- insert a penny and out pops a sweet numbing treat.

I am tired of hearing false remarks about God in the presence of real pain. Here is my least favorite remark. "God never gives you anything you cannot handle." The hell, you say.

Tell that to any of the over 2 MILLION people left homeless (that is equal to the entire city of Houston, Texas) as a result of the genocidal wars of Dafur. Chad just closed its border with Sudan, leaving about a .5 MILLION (equal to the entire population of Boston) starving refugee people isolated from food aid.

Tell that to families decimated by AIDS deaths and unable to get medicine in the AIDS Belt of Africa. Africa has 12 MILLION AIDS orphans. (Imagine if every person in Los Angeles and New York City was a child orphaned by AIDS. Then add another 200,000.) Tell them that God made them orphans, and that they can handle it.

Of the 40 MILLION (equal to ALL of Canada PLUS New York City) people worldwide living with HIV, 33.5 MILLION are in Africa. Tell them.

Over 135 MILLION of the world's girls and women have undergone genital mutilation (equal to the TOTAL population of females in the USA - every woman and girlchild), and 2 million girls a year (equal to Detroit + Dallas) are at risk of mutilation - approximately 6,000 per day. You tell a nine year old screaming and bleeding girl to handle it. [And in the event you do not understand what it is - Female genital mutilation -- FGM -- is the term used to refer to the removal of part, or all, of the female genitalia. The most severe form is infibulation, also known as pharaonic circumcision. An estimated 15% of all mutilations in Africa are infibulations. The procedure consists of clitoridectomy, where all, or part of, the clitoris is removed; excision, removal of all, or part of, the labia minora; and cutting of the labia majora to create raw surfaces, which are then stitched or held together in order to form a cover over the vagina when they heal. A small hole is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to escape. This is often done with crude and unsterilized instruments such as kitchen knives or broken glass.]

These lists of atrocities and inflicted brutal pain could go on and on. And the victims of this suffering and these horrible injustices should never be told that "God never gave you anything they couldn't handle." Or that "God never closes a door, but that He opens a window." or "Think about it -- this is just part of His plan for your life." or any of the other slick and glib platitudes that we use to fend off reality, to blind us to our own responsibilities and to obscure and distort the real force of the Gospel. These sayings, when exposed to something beyond our own comfort are seen for what they are. They are lies about God.

People all over the world have much, much more than they can handle. Whether it is the 30,000 raped Bosnian women who were victims in the 1990's to the almost 1 million butchered Rwandans, to the 6 million slaughtered Jews in the Holocaust - there is too much for the victims to handle.

That is why God sent us - and the church, and every faith. That is why we who are Christians are called "the Body of Christ", a body that does not exclude the great "them", those who suffer. I refuse to believe that God WANTS his children to be starved, abandoned, mutilated and slaughtered as part of some obscure cosmic plan.

I do believe, however, with my entire heart that God is WITH the suffering and the victims. I believe that He is on their side. I believe that He speaks up for them. And I also believe that He is waiting for US to join Him.


Anonymous Pat Z. said...

Hi Mata, I have always felt this way too. Knowing how well off we are compared to the rest of the world carries a responsibility to do something to help. We sponsor a little girl in Honduras through our church, it's only $20.00 a month, but to her family it means so much. When I was younger I did lots of volunteer work and belonged to Amnesty international. There is always some way that a person can make a difference no matter how small if we all did our part, it would add up. I don't blame you a bit for ranting!

6:38 PM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Pat you are so right. Every attempt to help is important.

9:01 AM  
Blogger The Harbour of Ourselves said...

I like your rant. don't stop!

1:19 PM  
Blogger Maggie Rose said...

it is a platitude. and it is an insult to those in deep suffering. our words are best carefully placed. yes.

and our words do reflect our way of thinking.

however to cut ourselves to prove that we are bleeding along with those suffering is not a worthwhile endeavor, imo.

the idea of suffering and how God is in the suffering and pulling one through the suffering and challenging the sufferer is a topic well beyond my theological training or ability

but the fact remains: God does not give anyone more than they can matter what it looks like to us

it seems to me that a pure rant helps clear away the frustration but it doesn't really serve in any other capacity, does it?

I will be glad to read how someone thinks ranting serves others any more than platitudes do

kind regards,

5:17 AM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Maggie -

I do not believe that severe suffering is given by God. It is clearly often given to some by the greeed or cruelty of others. I believe that people have more than they can handle almost everywhere I look, and that we are here to care about others.

I do get angry about platitudes, and rarely find them helpful. In some cases of global injustice, they are not only not helpful but dmaging. My point is that platitudes often are used by people to justify not extendiung themselves to help. If God never gave anyone more than they could handle, why should anyone help them ?? After all, they can handle it themselves. People too rarely examine the impact of these catch-phrases that are used so often, or what these phrases say about God. So, I could not agree with you less about that phrase being a fact.

As for rants -- next time I warn that one is coming, as I did with this one -- feel free to just not read it. That really is why I gave advance notice, so people could self-select out if they chose. And reagarding your comment about "how someone thinks ranting serves others any more than platitudes do.
" -- I sure wouldn't rant at someone suffering. Everything in its place. But I understand if strong assertiveness isn't to everyone's taste...which is why I announced it in advance.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Maggie Rose said...

right. but in addition mata I don't think it is platitudes in and of themselves that keep people from extending help to others

in some cases, the fact of a platitude indicates someone is at least aware of a predicament

in some cases, that is all the speaker him/herself HAS to offer

the over-riding issue, for me, is to take the moment of wanting to rant, recognize it as a passion against injustice, and then use that same passionate energy to do something productive

as I mentioned in the other posting: Dorothy Day always comes to mind in these social justice issues...whether soup kitchens in NYC or the tragedies occurring in Africa

she is the model that I think of first: passion put to work for others, no ranting

in addition because of my extensive travels, I am often up next to the very suffering people that you refer to in your post

I can assure you that I am with them (emotionally and prayerfull) in their suffering, as I am shown it

and the wanting to do more is always in me. it is never not there

but there is precious little that I can factually DO about any individual's suffering or a collective group of suffering

still. I don't rant. I focus on prayer. because for me God IS there with them, pulling them through and even lifting them up

even as God is not the cause of the suffering

no question there as far as I am concerned; it is definitely man-made issues

and, of course, man-made solutions

kind regards,

4:02 AM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Maggie - You don't rant. That's fine with me. Once in blue moon, I do. That's fine with me too. The real point is not (it seems to me) whether you or I or Dororthy Day or Jesus or anyone else ever ranted at injustice. The only issue that matters is helping those who need help as best we can. On that I am sure we agree.

10:25 AM  
Blogger P.S. (an after-thought) said...

Some branches of Amereican Christianity seem to be very American-centered, at least when looked at from the outside. Maybe groups are in-turned so they don't have to look at suffering.

My DH just went to a conference called "Consumerism and Christianity" which wasn't complementary about churches which seeminly encourage consumerism.

If we did look at the suffering that could be alleviated with some monetary donations, we could not justify the mega church money spending, Starbucks in the church,(not to mention $5 for a cup of coffee), or even the ornamentation in our little churches. Nor could we justify the home-dec craze shown on TV. {$40,000 to re-do a bathroom, and they go over budget in a room meant for pooping?)

In a stewardship talk in our church, one of the members said, in regards to our own church budget problems: "There is good news and bad news. The good news is that we have the money we need to meet our budget. The bad news is that it is still in your pockets."

Now, this was said to a church in an area of no rich people. How much more would it apply to some neighborhoods? Would a "tithe" of 20% be too small to help?

10:42 AM  
Blogger Maggie Rose said...

hey again mata. well. actually I rant too...but usually in my own room :-)

I really should have waited before I posted my own strong response to your blog. sorry that I didn't

my response truly was not aimed at you but at the idea of "just" ranting vs. actively doing something

but of course that might be hard to believe since, after all, I did post my strong response on YOUR blog

sincerely though I was addressing the issues even though I was writing to you

I think p.softly has really done a better job of getting at what I was after as well

I read that post a couple of times and agree in so many ways

but also I am astonish: is it true that some mega churches have designer coffee shops in them?!

oh now I feel a rant coming on


I too had heard that good-news bad-news humor (and truth) once from a pastor in charge of a building committee

and the whole idea points to how much is "enough" so that we can use the rest of our monies as good stewarts

well. I happily and easily offer a peace branch mata because my words were left on your blog but I truly was addressing the issue of what to do...and let's get active

kind regards,

6:06 AM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Maggie --no problem - respectful disagreement is part of life's bounty because it teaches.

Re rants vs action - I never saw them as mutually exclusive. In fact, passionately expressed feelings can be a call to action.

8:55 AM  

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