May 22nd, 2013
08:34 AM ET

My take: Keep bad theology out of Oklahoma

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
[twitter-follow screen_name='deaconpunnett']

(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.

CNN Belief: Who hears #PrayersForOklahoma?

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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (631 Responses)
  1. Erik

    Praise Thor for those that survived. What, that's absurd? How is that any more or less absurd than praising "the lord" ?? Difference, Thor might have existed....

    May 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • John Sharp

      Beautifully said.

      From what I am seeing it does appear that there is a turning of the tide. Rationality is slowly taking over and the religious people are realizing that they are wrong. The god they worship does not exist.

      How they attribute their god with all of these wonderful characteristics even in the face of the contradictory daily evidence is amazing.

      Oh yea, god works in mysterious ways. This god is mysteriously a dick.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • Tim


      May 22, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • sam stone

      great comeback, timmy

      May 22, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  2. Gingeet

    This has got to be the most reasonable / realistic / sensible Belief blog article that I have ever read!

    May 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Don

      Another cliche that would best be left ubsaid is "God only takes the best." Where is Odin when you really need Him?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  3. Colin

    We need to make school prayer mandatory. It is the best thing we can do.

    We do it in the following manner. Upon entry into high school, each child “adopts” a wounded veteran or other person who has a visible and incurable condition, such as a lost leg, arm or eye. Each day the children pray to God that the person recover their lost appendage.

    Those children who have other beliefs can bow, bob, chant, jiggle an amulet, stare into a crystal or do whatever they wish to “pray” for their chosen ailing person.

    Prayer sessions are held every monday morning and the entire country of high school kids prays for the wounded people. Five years later, at their graduation, prayer can put up or shut up. We parade the injured people through the graduation ceremony so the children can see the results of their 5 solid years of constant prayer.

    Just how many limbs, eyes or ears do you think will have re-grown? And why are you so sure of that? Does God hate amputees? Why does he always have to hide his medical miracles inside the body of the sick, where things are less medically certain?

    The doubtless, consistent and universal failure of their prayers will help the students understand:

    (i) that there is no god listening and that praying is a futile exercise when the results can REALLY be tested;

    (ii) the frailties of their religious leaders as they scurry for excuses –“god won’t be tested”, “god moves in mysterious ways,” “perhaps the people have been healed spiritually”, etc; and

    (iii) the weakness of human nature (and a basic lesson in politics) as the religious right moves to shut the experiments down.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • JJ

      Forget Prayer and believe in yourself, Where is this so called "GOD" at when all these people are getting hurt, Stop trusting in fictional characters and trust in oneself that's all you need in the world, faith in yourself and family. People, there is no god, and there is no way you can ever convince me there is.....

      May 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • Colin

      Thanks JJ. Now you might like to read my post.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • John Sharp

      You need to be locked up. You are crazy.
      Your god does not exist.
      If he does, he is a dick.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Colin

      Thanks John. Now you might like to read my post.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • lionlylamb


      Let go and let God's wisdom be one's guide provided one can see the clarities of dumbfounded vainness tripping their mindedness shadows of doubtfulness. A sober man might not ever have drank the drunkenness but a drunken man knows well the drinks' drank drunken revelries of their fallacies dirtied emotionalisms.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim

      "Let go and let God's wisdom"

      LL sounds like fred, right after being bitten by a rabid dog when he just happened to be browsing his thesaurus.

      May 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • logical positivist

      I have a question. Are these human veterans or turbellarian flatworm veterans? It makes a difference because your experiment could backfire and make flatworms even more religious than they already are. Quite a few of them go around saying "Thank god I'm not a tapeworm".

      May 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  4. MagicPanties

    The author is so right, but... why in the world continue to embrace the imaginary being at all?
    Take the next step.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  5. NewEnglandBob

    Bad theology is a tautology.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • logical positivist

      Is "bad theology" another term for other people's religions or is it just a redundant term?

      May 23, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  6. religiousstupiditybogglesmymind

    Christianity is a sort of religious Communism!

    May 22, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • lol??

      Everything is fine until you speak.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  7. religiousstupiditybogglesmymind

    Both god and dog are man's best friends!

    May 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • lol??

      I've seen yer image doin' a hula dance in somebody's back window of their car.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • religiousstupiditybogglesmymind

      God is for dyslexics!

      May 22, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  8. lionlylamb

    Treat one and another with dignities and pleasing and nurtured abundances. Suffer others not lest you be among the suffering also for, nothing but tempered goodness is availed in humanisms' suffrages. God hears only the mumblings of human suffrages and is not moved nor swayed by the conditional e c u m e n I c a l swerves as being nothing but background noises. God is a tempest teapot and we are the waters inside the teapot waiting ever to be exhaled! All celestially grown atomized life forms are clay-born, watered down formularies within godly grown endorsements of humanistic aggrandizements in ever nurturing wants thru godly pride manifestations of all living life encroachments bearings. From the very first beginnings of our one celled life formulary did come about all living life abundances within which we now are all as parts of conditioned cellular structures of the atomically framed.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  9. robert

    Is this the 21st century?

    May 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • sam stone

      not for the pious

      May 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • religiousstupiditybogglesmymind

      No, we are still in the dark ages.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Colin

      Sadly, yes, we still look to sky-fairies for an explanation of natural events.

      I expect future historians will look back of that as one of the greatest paradoxes of the 21st Century USA. We have the internet, space travel, medical science so advanced it would look like magic to people even 100 years ago, modern communications, transportation that can put you in any major city in the World in under 24 hours, AND YET, an enormous number of us still believe in devils, gods and other mythological beings straight out of Greco-Roman Jewish mythology.

      We are very talented at gaining knowledge, we are just very bad at spreading it around, or, put in more colloquial terms, our education system sucks.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever"


      May 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • lol??

      Dark ages?? Vikings win!

      May 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  10. Ted Jones the crusader not for khrist

    God hates children...and smites them

    May 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  11. lol??

    The A&A's can only see God through wicked eyes. This is not God's problem.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Billy

      Of course if God is real it's God's problem. Are you saying Satan exists independently from God and is equal in power? If not, God had a choice to keep Satan out of the picture, right? If God exists, and he is not equal or less than Satan (and if Satan is independent from God), the God's choices SUCK and he can keep them. What makes more sense is that there is no such things.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      It is not God's problem, but it is yours?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim

      Remember Billy, only some of the believers think that way. They are a very conflicted lot.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Billy, you posted "Of course if God is real it's God's problem. Are you saying Satan exists independently from God and is equal in power? If not, God had a choice to keep Satan out of the picture, right? If God exists, and he is not equal or less than Satan (and if Satan is independent from God), the God's choices SUCK and he can keep them. What makes more sense is that there is no such things."

      Answer: God exists. That's who made all, including us. Satan is not equal to God but Satan wants to take over God's position. That's how everything started. Satan got 1/3 of God's angels to rebel against God. Same as today, look at all the folks that treat God with disrespect and rebel against Him? Coincidence? Not in your wildest dreams. Satan deceives everyone and has most people's ears to believe his lies against Jesus.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Billy

      More idiotic "justifications" from HS. "Make it fit, preacher, make it fit!"

      May 22, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  12. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim


    May 22, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • G to the T

      AHHHH! Fear is the mind killer...

      May 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  13. MidwestJoe

    Only on CNN can you find an atheist "clergy man"

    May 22, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  14. Andrew B.


    Well said. I am not particularly religious (more of an agnostic, sort of Christian), but your words resonated with me.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  15. Aerin

    god? what god?

    May 22, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Chris

      SO BRAVE

      DAE read articles on theology even though they don't believe in God and have nothing to contribute to the conversation?

      May 22, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  16. Heretic

    Ban God, for he killeth indiscriminately.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • lol??

      Don't be late fer yer appointment.

      "Hbr 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:"

      May 22, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  17. WASP

    ", is coming to rain down fiery death on all who don't believe in His magic powers."

    i think god needs glasses he just sent a tornado through a largely christian town. lmfao

    May 22, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  18. Chad

    @Colin "The World's population was about 190 million at the time the Bible gicves for Noah's flood"

    =>when was Noahs flood?
    I was not aware that the bible gave a date.. odd..

    May 22, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • HeavenSent

      The date of the "Ice Age."  The "last" one is estimated at ending approximately 14,000 years ago (which coincides rather perfectly with the 6,000 years from today back to Adam, and the 8,000 years from Adam to the end of the Katabole  (each Creation Day being a 1,000 years with man [2nd Peter 3:7]).  6,000 + 8,000 = 14,000.  Coincidence? 

      May 22, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim

      Wow – those ancient geologists were quite talented to be able to record all that junk all along.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      google "epic of gilgamesh"

      May 22, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Coincidence? bwa-ha-ha!

      What do 'kataboles' have to do with temperate zone glaciation?

      You do realize that life existed before the ice ages right?

      H0mo sapiens appeared about 120,000 years ago and proto-human primates around two million years ago.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • HeavenSent

      If you add up the years of the lives of the sons of Adam you will arrive at the date of the Flood year as 2348-2347 B.C.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim

      HS: [ a bunch of self-serving mumbo jumbo ]

      Yes, dear, making those numbers fit the desired story is called . . . . apologizing...

      May 22, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • HeavenSent

      I'm not a GOPer, "foundation" in the KJB is the Greek word "katabole."

      2 Corrinthians 4:9

      9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down [kataballo], but not destroyed (KJV)

      Hebrews 6:1

      1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying [kataballo] again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God (KJV)

      Matthew 13:35

      35 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. (KJV)

      Matthew 25:34

      34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: (KJV)

      Luke 11:50

      50 That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; (KJV)

      John 17:24

      24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. (KJV)

      Ephesians 1:4

      4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: (KJV)

      Hebrews 4:3

      3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. (KJV)

      Hebrews 9:26

      26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (KJV)

      1 Peter 1:20

      20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, (KJV)

      Revelation 13:8

      8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (KJV)

      Revelation 17:8
      8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. (KJV)


      May 22, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      "2348-2347 B.C."

      Which is toward the end of the Eqyptian pyramid building period and the fifth dynasty of the old pharonic kingdom.

      The sixth kingdom began in 2345 BC after the death of Pharoh Unas in 2345. His reign was 2375 – 2345 so apparently he missed the flood somehow.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • Colin

      Now Chad, I'm sue the Gospel of Luke would not be in error. Luke sets it out the geneology of Jesus back to Noah quite nicely (whistfully ignoring that he was supposedly not Joseph's son, but that's another issue). Look at World population charts. You will find that the World's population was of that order of magnitude. There were human beings living all throughout the World with the exception of New Zealend and the more remote Pacific Islands. I wonder how many little Australian Aboriginal babies were drowned? How may Chinese children? How many Amero-Indian children? How many Sub-Saharan Africans suffered and died due to God's temper tantrum over a few Jews. Ahh Greco-Roman mythology is a wonderful thing.....



































































      May 22, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      "God's temper tantrum over a few Jews"

      Well, not Jews per se – ancient Iraqis if anything.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim

      Here's an interesting page:


      Wow – passage grave in France – 4850 BCE. Wow.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • JMEF

      Since you were mouthing off about Christian doctrine on the other thread, why are there so many different estimates about the date of the supposed flood, from we don't really know, to Topher and HS 2347-2348 BC? You nutter Christian freaks cannot even get your sh.it together amongst yourselves, how do you suppose to convince anybody that wasn't brainwashed?

      May 22, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  19. Atheist Hunter

    1 At this also my heart trembleth, and is moved out of his place.

    2 Hear attentively the noise of his voice, and the sound that goeth out of his mouth.

    3 He directeth it under the whole heaven, and his lightning unto the ends of the earth.

    4 After it a voice roareth: he thundereth with the voice of his excellency; and he will not stay them when his voice is heard.

    5 God thundereth marvellously with his voice; great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend.

    6 For he saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth; likewise to the small rain, and to the great rain of his strength.

    7 He sealeth up the hand of every man; that all men may know his work.

    8 Then the beasts go into dens, and remain in their places.

    9 Out of the south cometh the whirlwind: and cold out of the north.

    10 By the breath of God frost is given: and the breadth of the waters is straitened.

    11 Also by watering he wearieth the thick cloud: he scattereth his bright cloud:

    12 And it is turned round about by his counsels: that they may do whatsoever he commandeth them upon the face of the world in the earth.

    13 He causeth it to come, whether for correction, or for his land, or for mercy.

    14 Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God.

    15 Dost thou know when God disposed them, and caused the light of his cloud to shine?

    16 Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge?

    17 How thy garments are warm, when he quieteth the earth by the south wind?

    18 Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?

    19 Teach us what we shall say unto him; for we cannot order our speech by reason of darkness.

    20 Shall it be told him that I speak? if a man speak, surely he shall be swallowed up.

    21 And now men see not the bright light which is in the clouds: but the wind passeth, and cleanseth them.

    22 Fair weather cometh out of the north: with God is terrible majesty.

    23 Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out: he is excellent in power, and in judgment, and in plenty of justice: he will not afflict.

    24 Men do therefore fear him: he respecteth not any that are wise of heart.

    Heed the warning America!

    May 22, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • sam

      Shove it, loser.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      No trophies yet for your wall, eh? Perhaps you should try a differnt approach, Hunter, like one, say, maybe, where you don't just yell stuff at the "prey."

      May 22, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • meifumado

      Satan laughs! Damnation sinks it's talons deep in to the womb of utopia spilling forth great rivers of virginal purity and bliss.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • G to the T

      Hold on now – we've got one group saying it wasn't God's wrath (Heaven Sent, Topher) and another saying it was... how can the same book say 2 different things (and still be infallible)?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Your name Atheist Hunter perfectly describes why more and more people find your religion and all extremist religions to be odius, perverse, and repulsive. "Believe what we say or we'll hunt you down and kill you."

      How pleasant! Sign me up for your religion, so that I may find peace in the Lord your god.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      it is atheist who spew hate, not true christians

      May 22, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Joey

      I think Atheist Hunter just admitted that he is not a true Christian, whatever that is.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Okey doke, you're obviously a man of great compassion and love... um, what did you say your name was? Oh yes.... Atheist Hunter.

      I can only dream to aspire to the kindness and joy that you convey, as you hunt down fellow humans who happen to disagree with your world view.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      EnjaySea, you posted this babble "Your name Atheist Hunter perfectly describes why more and more people find your religion and all extremist religions to be odius, perverse, and repulsive. "Believe what we say or we'll hunt you down and kill you."

      How pleasant! Sign me up for your religion, so that I may find peace in the Lord your god."

      Answer: You must have fallen into the web of deceit from other unbelievers pretending to be Christians. After all, your side lies.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
  20. Atheist Hunter

    But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.

    Don't know what bible you all read.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • meifumado

      Your lord is nothing!

      My master waits sleeping, but his time is near. Hold close those you hold dear and despair!
      You will soon know the exquisite sufferings of his malevolence.

      Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!!!

      May 22, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • G to the T

      I agree with you AH – it seems for other christians though that one line in Luke is enough to counter all of the book of Job... odd that eh?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
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