Monday, September 23, 2013

Does God have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Last week, I was talking to a friend who is an Evangelical street minister from East Oakland. She, herself, lost a son to a drive-by shooting and she was complaining that it is difficult to get folks to turn to God or Jesus on the streets of Oakland because so many have witnessed friends, children and other family members killed by violence. They ask, "Why doesn't God intervene at these unfathomable horrors and stop them? Where is God?" An unusual thought occurred to me, when I heard about their incredulity from my friend. I spurted out, "Maybe God has PTSD from witnessing the violence on the streets." My friend responded, "That's deep. Maybe God is sad."

As I reflect on our conversation, I'm getting increasingly convinced that God has PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Like Vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, women and men who are victims of sexual assaults, and those witnessing street violence in the inner city or in Baghdad or  those touched by the terrorism in Nairobi, maybe God feels survivor guilt and withdraws her/his will from intervening in human events on account of her despondency.

This quirky twist on the "problem of evil" or, more technically, theodicy, assumes that God is a present witness to the world. Theologians, such as Sallie McFague, posit that the universe could be viewed as the "Body of God" and that rich metaphoric descriptions of God, such as God as Mother or Friend or Healer, are paths leading away from the theological literalism of Fundamentalism or the irrelevancy of God as Father to contemporary culture. If the world is God's body and her body is assaulted by violence and pollution and neglect, it would seem natural that she or he would develop PTSD.

The idea that God might have PTSD hearkens back to the city lamentations of the Ancient Near East. In the Mesopotamian Laments of the City of Ur, the goddess Ningal weeps for the ghostly desolation that has befallen her beloved city, Ur. She is tearful and sad, like my friend's God who mourns over the unspeakable devastation and the loss of the children of Oakland. If God were all-powerful, then he could of course, in principle, intervene; if God were empathic, the she would cry over incomprehensible pain and loss. I choose empathy over power; loving awareness over detached principles. A traumatized God is preferable to an indifferent deity, if we are created in the image of the Divine.

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