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> What Are You Asking? -January 2005

Tom Ehrich
Tom Ehrich


What are You asking?

Pastor, Author and Speaker Tom Ehrich responds to
your questions about God, faith and
living spiritually

Send us your questions



What about the tsunami in the Indian Ocean?

Faith communities should be discussing this deeply. Raising money is a good thing, certainly, but we also need to be examining what this tragic event says about God. I will share my understanding, but I encourage you to explore deeply with your pastor, within your faith community, and through the words of those thinkers, writers and leaders whose understanding of God brings you new insights.

First, I don’t believe God caused the undersea earthquake that started the tsunami. Such undersea events happen because the earth is made that way. It does God a great disservice to blame God for this specific event. We don’t protect God’s sovereignty by saying that this, too, must have been part of God’s “plan.” We merely make God a monster.

Second, I don’t believe God aimed the resulting waves toward Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, as opposed to other targets. The areas hit had done nothing to “deserve” the tsunami. Some assert that God was punishing those areas because residents had sinned, perhaps by failures in personal life or by choosing the wrong religion. To deduce from a storm that its victims were sinners being punished is nonsense and an affront to God. Ours is a God of mercy and forgiveness. Our call after the storm is to help in alleviating misery, not to pile on more misery by blaming the victim.

Third, I don’t believe that God caused certain people to be nearby when the wall of water hit shore. I know that many people want to believe in a God who controls all things, who has a plan for our lives, and who determined long ago where each of us would be on December 26, 2004. I just don’t believe God works that way. Scripture shows God as being engaged dynamically in humanity’s journey, as surprised as we are by the way events proceed. God was surprised by the behavior of Adam and Eve. Abraham wasn’t a puppet when he bargained with God for Sodom. God was appalled by David’s choice to seduce Bathsheba, a married woman. Theories about God’s having a plan usually come from the prosperous and powerful, as a way of justifying their good fortune. Such theories mean less to a man carrying a dead child out of the water.

Fourth, I don’t believe that we can make our world safer by blaming God for misfortune. If we want to make our world work better, we need to stop distancing ourselves from other people’s suffering by blaming it on God, and to start seeing how we are bound together: American and Indonesian, Christian and Muslim, rich and poor. We will never have safety until we see ourselves and each other as God sees us, as beloved children of a merciful God.

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Why does God hate me? Just tell me why.

I can assure you, without any reservation, that God doesn’t hate you. There may be hatred in your life – from others toward you, from you toward yourself, from you toward others – but that hatred isn’t of God. God is love.

Jesus said we are to love our neighbors, even our enemies, even those who hate us. God, then, is our companion and strength in trying to turn the tide of hatred. That’s what lies behind the ancient command to “turn the other cheek.” If you respond in love to all, even to haters, then evil has less room to flourish.
Responding in love isn’t easy. Hatred wants to engender more hatred. If you “change the dance,” as they say, you will pay a price. Your strength, however, can come from prayer – the prayer for “daily bread,” after all, is a prayer for food before the battle. And strength can come from Christian fellowship – where people consciously try to live in a new way.

If the hatred you feel is you hating you – far more common than we realize – then you need to own it. Rather than project your self-loathing onto God, which is a flourishing practice these days, you need to examine yourself. Victims of parental abuse, for example, often come into adulthood with strong feelings of self-loathing. God didn’t cause the abuse, and God didn’t think of them as deserving abuse. God is a source of healing.

That healing, or any healing of self-hatred, can only proceed by way of honest examination of oneself, seeing the difference between behavior by others and behavior by oneself, seeing the difference between who you are (a child of God) and who others want you to be (a category, a label, unworthy).

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Could I please be granted wisdom?

This probably proves the adage: “Be careful what you pray for.”

In my experience, God and life do work together to teach us wisdom, but nearly always at a great cost. Failure, for example, is a better teacher than success. Loss opens our eyes better than gain. Being lost is prelude to being found. Sin opens the door to forgiveness, and God means little until one tastes unmerited mercy. Jesus came as “good news to the poor,” “release to captives,” and “sight to the blind.” True blessedness, he said, comes to the poor, hungry, weeping and rejected.

Wisdom isn’t learned from books or lectures, but from life, especially from one’s failings and yearnings. Smarts help, but aren’t the key. Some of the wisest people I know aren’t highly trained or intellectual. The key seems to be letting life in and learning from it. Wisdom arises from engagement with people in all of their flaws, from an honest assessment of oneself, from curiosity about the world, and from humility on the edge of chaos.

I believe God is eager to confer wisdom. The question is whether we are eager to receive it. Wisdom yields little wealth or power. But by arising from sadness and struggle, wisdom enables us to live boldly in the world as it is. That, in turn, leads to joy.

How to take the next step? Unplug your escapes and diversions, and engage life.

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As a single woman in a highly family-oriented community of faith, how may I be enabled to not feel left out?

The Apostle Paul understood that all members of the body are needed for the body to be whole. And that each member of the body should do what it is uniquely able to do.

Whether the body sees that same need is less certain. Like a person who eats poorly and expects heart and liver to function anyway, the community of faith lives in a certain denial. It considers some people expendable, some better than others, and some invisible.

That is not the head speaking of course, because Jesus considered all worthy and necessary. Any wise community knows that none are expendable or superior, and that when some are un-free, then the freedom of everyone is endangered. Not all communities are wise, however, especially when wisdom conflicts with personal needs-fulfillment.

Churches that consider themselves family-oriented often fail to see other kinds of families, such as single-person families. What changes that blindness, I think, is perceiving the single person as having gifts that the body needs. Singing, for example, or leadership, or certain skills, or a heart for mission. One form of mission would be compassion for the stress and anxiety that are causing families to be blind.

Rather than try to be like them in order to gain acceptance, I suggest you be fully yourself and put your unique gifts to work.

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Teach me to pray.

Prayer starts in listening. Listening to yourself – the stirrings of your mind, the aches and joys of your heart, questions not answered, answers not working. And listening to the world around you – loved ones, neighbors, strangers, newspaper headlines.

What you hear changes hour by hour, day by day. So, then, does your prayer. The key, I think, is a discipline: not a schedule, not a posture, not a formula, but an intention, a commitment to take your life and world seriously, and therefore a willingness to be touched and disturbed. That discipline might fall neatly into a routine, like the monastic cycle of “hours,” but probably not.

Having listened, what do you say? In my experience, the language of prayer comes naturally, like a child’s cry or lover’s sigh. The point isn’t eloquence, but honesty. A true word spoken truly will have its own eloquence.

To whom do you speak? God has planted in our hearts a spirit that knows God and cries out to God. We don’t have to learn about God before we pray. We will learn more about God in the course of praying.

What happens next? I believe God listens and responds. The nature of God’s response probably won’t follow a straight line: you pray for X, and God gives X. More likely, the fruits of prayer will be discernible over time in a life transformed.

How do you learn to listen? That may be your first prayer.

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To learn more about Tom Ehrich’s writings, visit www.onajourney.org.


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