Editor's Note: The Rev. Ian Punnett is the author of "How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God (Or Anyone Else For That Matter)" and a veteran talk show host. He has been married for 28 years and is the father of two college age boys.
By Ian Punnett, Special to CNN
(CNN) - “God never gives us more than we can handle.”
God, have I learned to hate that cliche.
As a clergy person, as a hospital chaplain intern and as a father, I have come to believe that, at best, that platitude is a classic example of meaningless bumper-sticker theology. It's easily said and only makes sense when it goes by you so fast you don’t have time to think about it.
At worst, however, claiming that God scales a tragedy up or down depending on our ability to handle loss is as heartless as it is thoughtless.
In the deadly aftermath of the tornado that destroyed so much of Moore, Oklahoma, pain is only compounded by the implication that somehow the survivors are complicit in the death of a loved one because of their strength as a person. In this view, if God is only giving me what I can handle, then it would seem my boys would be a lot safer if I were weak.
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Anybody who has stood in the reception line at a child’s funeral likely has suffered through the repetition of this dubious claim and its equally insidious cousin, “God must have needed a new quarterback (or ballerina) up in heaven,” another expression that has hurt more people than it has healed.
Instead of simply saying, “I am so sorry this has happened” or “I am heartsick over what you are going through” or “This is just so wrong,” some mourners attempt to explain the unexplainable by forcing the world into the “Everything happens for a reason” paradigm. Bumper-sticker theology of this type reorders the universe less for the benefit of the grief-stricken and more for the benefit of the person offering it.
Because what could be reasonable about the death of a child? Deadly tornadoes can be understood scientifically, to be sure, but there is nothing reasonable about a tornado wiping out a school full of frightened children.
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A tornado is not the finger of God squashing us like bugs on a sidewalk. If weather were God’s instrument of justice and tornado victims were singled out to reward the good or punish the bad, then meteorologists would be theologians.
In researching my book "How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God (Or Anyone Else For That Matter)," I spoke with dozens of people who told me that they lost their ability to pray - at a time when they needed it most - when family and friends pressured them into believing that God took their loved one on purpose, and that they were supposed to feel good about it.
In Oklahoma the death toll is 24, and it's expected to rise. I believe that God stands innocently with all the victims. The difference between those who lived and those who died is not the difference between those who had more or less faith, but the random difference between those who turned left and those who turned right.
In our hearts, we might crave the order of a world where God never gives us more than we can handle, but ultimately platitudes are placebos. They only work some of the time and their effectiveness requires the buy-in of the recipient.
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If a bereaved parent finds peace in believing that God needed a little quarterback in heaven, far be it from me to challenge that perspective.
That said, in the face of tragedy, I believe that the faithful can best serve victims with sympathetic ears and warm hugs in what is called “a ministry of presence.” If they want to cry, cry with them. If they want to laugh and tell stories, smile through the pain, and if they want to yell “Why, God, why?” at heaven, then shake your fist too and leave the question unanswered for now.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ian Punnett.
And he began polling out of the side-pocket of his coat various papers, and throwing them on the table one after another, hunting impatiently amongst them for the one he wanted to show me; but, as luck would have it, the one he sought was not forthcoming. Impatiently he pulled out of his pocket all he had clutched in his hand, and suddenly something fell heavily on the table with a clink. Anna Andreyevna uttered a shriek. It was the lost locket.
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WHAT IS YOUR SOURCE FOR THE TRUTH?
If you are searching for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, who and what are you going to consult? If you are looking for advice, information and instruction on how to be saved from sin and how to live the Christian life, where can you find God's inerrant truth.
Are you going to consult books written by:
Clement of Rome
Irenaeus of Lysons
Augustine of Hippo
Polycarp of Smyrna
Bishop Fulton Sheen
Charles "Chuck" Colson
T. D. Jakes
Joesph Smith Jr.
Mary Baker Eddy
Charles Taze Russel
Sun Myung Moon
L. Ron Hubbard
DO YOU REALLY WANT TO TRUST YOUR SALVATION TO THESE MEN?
As for me I trust the book written by these men:
I trust the book that was inspired by God.
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God....
WOULD THERE BE THOUSANDS OF DENOMINATIONS, IF ALL MEN WOULD JUST CONSULT GOD AND HIS VIEW FOUND IN, HIS BOOK, AND HIS BOOK ALONE?
THE BIBLE SHOULD BE YOUR MANUAL FOR THE TRUTH!
You are invited to follow my Christian blog at: steve-finnell.blogspot.com or you can google search steve finnell a christian view
Does your God condone stealing free advertising ?
I don't trust men's words, I trust reliable, testable results that can be verified by independent measurement. As for the god of the bible, he's too big a dovchebag to consider as a candidate for existence.
Here's an idea. Keep bad theology out of EVERYTHING.
You want to sing to fairies in the privacy of your home or your church, knock yourself out. Otherwise, STFU.
Act of changing or suppressing speech or writing that is considered subversive of the common good.
And "good theology" is what, exactly?
Good column in general. But if God is powerless to influence tornadoes, why call him God? How can he be "among the innocent" if he has the power to prevent it?
Though the sentiments presented here are nice, the theology remains irrational.
In Job, his friends decided that he was struggling because he had made God mad. God eventually gets involved to condemn his friends and remind them that they didn't make the world and have no call to claim why anything happens. This is actually a variation of that. A side effect of granting humans free will is the possibility that someone will make a tragic choice. God's involvement in this is one of love as someone who supports you when life hits a rough patch and promises a tear-free existence Later when we arrive in heaven.
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What would you do if you were dying because a boulder landed on your leg and severed it? The closest medical aid is miles away. Then you discover that your cell phone to call 911 was crushed in your pants by the boulder. You ask a pedestrian for help and they respond by telling you that you don't need their help. They say, "God never gives you more than you can handle." These are times that are obviously a cruel misuse of "God never gives you more than you can handle." However there are plenty of less obvious situations where people misuse this phase. I hope that society steps – ups in the less obvious cases too.
Personally, as a human being, I think I would respond with a fight or flight response in your described situation. I think morals and values come into play more than not and I dont think you can blame that on Christianity. God created us but he didn't give us a plan. Jesus came here to take on our sin. As a Christian I know that in life I am in a constant struggle to live up to what God wanted but I know that when I die I have eternal life. Ones personal power is in how they live their life. In my experience its been beneficial for me and those in my life to follow Christ.This world can use kindness. We have a choice. Period. In my experience, good things come from Jesus's preachings. I also attend an amazing church which breaks it down to our lives today. I found this article interesting.
I'm sick of all theology, but yes, there can be more than one interpretation for the tired old saw. From a well-meaning person it could mean "i'm so sorry, and I have confidence in you, I know you will get through. May you find peace" From a more incompetent person, it may may "I'm too lazy, unwilling or unable to think of anything better to say." In any case, I agree, the ballerina/quarterback comment is the height of insensitivity.
I too am sick of cliché, bumper-sticker theology and well-meaning but thoughtless people babbling, but can there be more than one interpretation of “God never gives us more than we can handle?” I'm reminded of the Mark Twain quote, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Mr. Twain cannot be more clear who he is describing . . . can he?
BUZZ OFF fake science poster.and chadie/faith/Austin/toothless and L$H saw you somewhere today........the cats !
all creationists HS too.
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Have a great life if you can crawl out of the green slim you are in.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.