“At times like these God is useless…” – quote from a Minister at a church service in NYC held the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.
That statement may seem harsh, caustic, and even reminiscent of the once famous proclamation of God being dead. But that is far from the truth. Rather, to me, it speaks to a rawness of truth that people who have been through tragedy can relate to, and often need to hear.
One of the biggest obstacles – when we try to experience spirituality and a relationship with God (in recovery) – our images of God are sometimes the greatest barriers to the relationship.
I have discovered that most people believe in a God who has an “EGO” – because only a God with an ego would get “mad” or seek revenge or rain down judgment or have his divine feelings hurt if I spoke some personal truth in anger towards him.
I have actually had people judge me and tell me I have lost faith all because I tell them that when I pray I sometimes cuss, that I rage at God when I pray because that is who I am; I am being true to the man God made, and yet somehow I am supposed to NOT be human towards God? I am also being true to the depth of realness in my relationship with God.
Let me state this as simply as possible, this ‘thing’ that transformed my relationship with God making it more real and authentic than at any time in my life is this change within me: I came to understand and “know” that God does not have an Ego.
Ego is defined as a “person’s sense of self-importance or self-esteem.” In psychoanalysis, ego has to do with the role the “mind” plays in mediating between the conscious and unconscious mind. See where I am going with this?
God does not need or have a “sense of self-importance” for God is self-contained – utterly whole and complete – the Power Greater Than myself. God does not need anything. God does not need me to placate his feelings with trite remarks of praise. God does not need anything from me, at all. Nada. God does not have a Mind that needs a mediating element. God does not need a mind. God just is. God is the all that is and that is all.
And because I now live my life from the particular space/place that God has no ego, I can freely state such things like God is useless sometimes and it is not heresy. In fact, it is particularly freeing and relevant.
Freeing because there is nothing more dangerous and powerful than a person who has been released to love and be with a God Who is so freeing and relevant because in the last few days I have had conversations with 2 different people – one whose sister died in a car accident a year ago and the other a young father whose infant daughter had died three months ago – where not only did I feel inadequate, but God seemed so useless as a source of presence or comfort. And know that all I wanted to be was some symbol of God’s presence and comfort in the midst of the unexplainable rawness of our shared and fragile humanity.
If there is anything I have learned in my struggles – which include the death of my both my parents (Dad when I was a teenager, Mom as I entered my forties), the death of my son in childbirth, the death of grandparents, an aunt, a brother, and the numerous deaths of friends to addiction and mental illness, and even in my own personal darkness – is that God can’t be made a scapegoat.
Frederick Buechner said, “God cannot make [tragedies] unhappen any more than we can use a floodlight to put out a fire.”
If I blame God for all tragedy, then in my scapegoating of God I remove free will and the grand mystery of it all and I end up hating God. Some religious people talk about the “Permissive will of God” as a way of explaining away tragedy and evil (i.e., God ‘allowed’ this to happen for some lesson to learn (which is a bullshit excuse, by the way).
Here are some squirmingly uncomfortable realities: EVERYTHING that happens falls under the will of God (if it does not then God is no longer omnipotent or omniscient); not everything has a human explanation or “purpose”; and some things in life will forever remain a Mystery. And in these moments our job, if you will, is not to solve the Mystery, but to live it.
God is always being blamed for all sorts of human tragedies and errors, while simultaneously we remove all elements of human error and the laws of nature as well as the reality that we humans create much of the variables that lead to tragedy and I refer back to the aforementioned reality of Mystery.
So when I echo the sentiments of the pastor from the post 9/11 service – that in times of suffering and death and pain, God can indeed be useless – I am not saying God is not a present reality. What I am saying is that it is a futile exercise to expect God to give us pat answers or solutions when tragedy occurs; that is putting ego into the equation.
I can hope for God’s presence, but in the brutal rawness of misery and tragedy, my senses tend to be numb and blind to any divine presence. I become lost in my own emotions, swirling and swimming, drowning me. What I can say is that in all the tragedy I have experienced, God is present more so in the pain than in any so-called answer given to me by well-meaning people.
So I try and remind myself when pain comes, and come it will, when suffering overwhelms my world, and I grasp and grope for God, for answers, hell, when I am grasping for anything to make sense of the pain, I will remind myself that although God is useless, God is still present.