“Shit Happens,” and Other Theological Considerations in the Shadow of Another School Shootings

The first time I heard the statement, “Shit Happens” was in 1988. I was sitting in Cyprus at the villa of the director of our Middle Eastern Christian mission. He made the statement that the last time he flew home to the states, his college-age daughter picked him up and on her back window was a sticker that had those words. To reveal where I was at the time, in my thinking, I was pondering that his daughter was clearly not a Christian, as to embrace such unchristian words so boldly. This was before my, “Peter on the rooftop” experience, where God showed me my own cultural prejudices. But more so, it was beyond my comprehension that within the next decade, those words would represent a major shift in my concept of who God is and how he relates to his creation. More on that in just a minute.

People who didn’t know me assume that when I was diagnosis with cancer and my world was turned upside down, that I began to ask the big philosophical questions. One person stated, “I see that your cancer has caused you to wrestle with God.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I have been asking difficult questions my whole life, much more since 1990. I had been blogging–candidly–about those questions for almost twenty years. Being diagnosed with cancer, while emotionally devastating, had no spiritual consequences except to make a good spiritual life even better. I have not had one second of doubt about God’s love or greatness during this journey.

The reason I have not had doubts about God after my diagnosis isn’t because I have my act together. It wasn’t because I was so smart or spiritual either. It is because I had already worked through a devastating loss in the 1990s and spent ten years picking up the pieces. During that process, the greatest theological lesson I learned was, “Shit Happens.” This was a titanic shift from my previous twenty years as an evangelical when we had a theistic deterministic view of life. I suspect theistic determinism is still the view of most Christians. I also suspect that no one reading this will agree with my perspective, and that’s okay. I am not writing to criticize others who still adhere to theistic determinism or to challenge them to think differently. I write for the same reason I often write about controversial things, so that those who no longer believe the mainstream ideas know that there are alternative ways to think.

Theistic Determinism

First, I must define what I mean by this term. Simply, this is the notion that everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is set in motion by God’s direct intention. Nothing is left to chance or cause and effect within a world dominated by the laws of nature. As an evangelical we were taught that to have a God big enough, he must be omnipotent (all powerful) and omnipresent (in all places at once). That Omnipresent nature of God implied that every tiny detail of our lives was being managed and micromanaged by God. For example, if I had a flat tire, it wasn’t related to me buying a bag of screws a few days earlier and having dropped a couple in the driveway by accident. It was because God, the creator of the 13.5 billion-lightyear-wide universe, wanted to teach me patience, or was his way of causing me to leave late for work and avoid an otherwise fatal accident.

This kind of God does give comfort, at least at first. Many of our Sunday morning praise songs assert this kind of God. However, it eventually leads to some bizarre understandings of the world in which we live.

In (circa) 1980 the seventeen-year-old son of the spiritual leader of our discipleship group was violently killed in a freak accident. This boy was a good friend and the loss to me was deep. However, for this leader, and he was just trying to live consistently with the theistic determinism that he proclaimed, did not show external grief, but he and his wife preached the sermon at our church the following Sunday. Tearless, they proclaimed that “God does not make mistakes.” In private, this leader told me with confidence that his son had been experimenting with marijuana and this (violent) death was God’s way of removing the boy from the temptation. A bizarre notion in my present opinion. What kind of God would do that?

That kind of deterministic God gives many a sense of peace and comfort. It is also present in Islam (God is control over everything) but colloquial Islam also has a place for the “evil eye” or the devil causing some events. Evangelicalism will also attribute some events to the devil.

I’ve heard the same sentiments from friends who ascribe to eastern religions, Hinduism, and Buddhism. “Everything happens for a reason (a very popular cliché within our society even quoted by atheists) is how they would state it. But eastern religions have a profoundly different metaphysical idea of reality than do the monotheistic religions. For to them, this world is only an illusion and therefore the events within, good or bad, are part of that illusion. In the Abrahamic faiths, reality is not an illusion but is material.

Doesn’t the Bible Teach Theistic Determinism?

There are verses in the Bible that might be interpreted in a theistic deterministic way, such as Romans 8:28:  And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. I will not attempt to give an alternative interpretation to those verses because of time and space. But I will say, that much of the Christian’s interpretation of scripture is via the cultural lens. I will also say, as I have before, that if God exist, he lives dwells within reality. The more we live within that reality, the better we can see him. He gives truth via his written word and through his created reality. So, our interpretation of scripture, must agree with life and the reality around us. For example, those who interpret scripture as saying the earth is 6,000 years old must ignore a enormous amount of data from reality that shows that the earth is much older. To interpret the Bible as saying that God causes everything leads to absurdity, as with my spiritual leader’s son’s death.

So, what is the Meaning Behind Life’s Events?

We are living in a reality created by God with real laws. These are physical laws, such as the Newtonian laws of physics. There are also laws of human behavior and society. They play out according to those laws and most of the time, with no higher meaning. This does not lead to a smaller God as some evangelicals would claim, but in my opinion, the opposite. The real God is not held in bondage to our concept, a narcissistic concept at times. A poor example of this is a powerful bronze-age king. If he decided to control every tiny detail of your life, or not, has no relevance on his power, or his love. If we were his subjects and we insisted that this king MUST rule over the tiniest details of our lives, then we would be the king’s king. Determinism also makes us impotent. That is why so many Arab countries have lived under ruthless dictators. That is why we in America choose to live under such incompetent politicians. The way things are is God’s will . . . right?

Cancer … and Another School Shooting.

School shootings piss me off. I’m sick of it! And we all sit around with our hands in our pockets as if somehow this is God’s plan for us. Those on the right screaming that it is the dysfunction of the core family and family values that’s the cause. Those on the left are screaming that it is allowing anyone and everyone to own AK-47 type weapons of war. It is both. When you look at the situation, of course there are school shootings. Close down the mental wards in the 1970s with no good mental health substitute. The deterioration of the American family.  Then hand out weapons of war like candy at a fourth of July parade, of course you will have a disaster. I am profoundly disappointed in conservative Christians in our country who are so deep in bed with right-wing politicians, whose main source of income is the NRA, and have no longer a moral voice. I am also disappointed in the left-wing Christians who have embraced a post-modern interpretation of reality, where there is no truth anymore, and no reason to be critical of evil. Pop theologian, Richard Rohr is wrong when he says that nothing is profane. Evil is real and we are empowered to change the course of history for good. That is our mandate. We don’t have to be whipped to the left or right by the whims of chance, thinking it is the will of a deterministic God. We can hate cancer without hating God. We can cry at disaster without thinking our grief is offensive to God. God cries too. It is a beautiful, but broken cosmos, where cause and effect can bring ungodly things.


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2 responses to ““Shit Happens,” and Other Theological Considerations in the Shadow of Another School Shootings”

  1. Re “Shit Happens”:
    Wasn’t that what that Rabbi from Nazareth said regarding the Siloam Tower Collapse?

    Re “Theistic Determinism” i.e “In’shal’lah”:
    Islam and Calvinism, especially the X-Treme forms so popular today.

    Re “If God exists, He dwells within reality.”
    Tell that to he Holy Nincompoops living in the 100th floor penthouse with their Bibles and Private Revelations.

    Back in the Eighties, Rich Buhler’s “Talk from the Heart” was one of the better talk shows on local radio. One of “Rumor Rich”s favorite tag lines was “God Lives in the Real World.”


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