Friday, June 13, 2008


As a child, I lived in the western part of Texas. One of the things I liked about that area was the thunderstorms. Thunder and lightning is beautiful in a way. There is nothing quite like being in a sturdy house as the rain pours down and the wind whips and the thunder booms. I was pleasantly surprised to find those kind of thunderstorms further north where I am now.

When the tornado sirens went off last night, just when I had gotten to sleep, I was not enjoying the storm so much. The birds weren't particularly happy to be woken up and hauled down to the basement, either. (Although it seems symmetrical, somehow, to them waking us up for an earthquake.)

At work today, everyone was comparing notes about the storm. How much water one had in the basement was a typical measurement; one man had two feet of water and won what seemed to have become an unofficial contest. There was a distinct feeling of camaraderie about the whole business.

During the day, I learning one of our customers lost his business. His company is in one of the most affected towns, and is now under ten feet of water. "Total loss" was how the news was conveyed to us. It is very unsettling to have someone I'm acquainted with lose so much that he's worked for decades to build up.

I feel like there's some meaning in the dichotomy of these experiences. It's tempting to judge the experience of a thunderstorm "good" when it's only effect is to inspire awe of nature, and "evil" when it pulls me out of a sound sleep in fear of my life. "Good" when it pulls people together with a common experience, "evil" when it causes massive destruction. But it's all the same storm.

A while back, I read a comment on Tiny Cat Pants that has stuck with me:

...we are the ones assigning labels like that. Do you think the universe, or God, looks down at a cat tossing around a mouse and cruelly killing it as “monster like”? Of course not. We assign flaw to humans. We say, since you did “this” or are like “that”, you must be flawed.... But, I don’t believe God looks upon us as flawed whatsoever.
I believe it's related to this kind of experience, where things humans judge as "good" or "bad" are actually just different facets of the same entity. Jen at "Et tu?" wrote just yesterday of how suffering is related to things we value in life. Jen approaches it from a Christian point of view, asking what the role of God and Satan is in these types of experiences. I'm not sure they can be separated into "God" and "Satan" camps, though: the good and bad seem to me to be inextricably intertwined: like they are coming from a being that does not view good and evil the same way humans do, that sees the universe from a more overarching perspective.

Jen called her post "half-baked", in that she felt this idea was important but she couldn't completely articulate why. I feel much the same way. Even after having these thoughts running around in my head for months, and now organizing them into this post, I think it's still something I'll be exploring for a while.


Tausign said...

I followed your link from Jen's blog here. "I feel like there's some meaning in the dichotomy of these experiences." Natural events are what they are. But we 'assign' their meaning, not of their own intrinsic nature, but based on how we perceive them, especially if they affect us. In their own 'nature' they are 'good': and lacking any free will, it's necessarily so. Peace and all good.

lyrl said...

A commenter on Jen's "On being special" post pointed me to some of St. Thomas' writing where he talks about things having degrees of goodness. The writing is not talking only about humans, who are the only beings considered to have free will.

My knowledge of Christian theology is rather limited. But from reading that tract by St. Thomas, I'm under the impression that even things without free will (possibly including natural events) can intrinsically have degrees of goodness, not necessarily being 100% good in nature.

I hope that helps explain where I'm coming from.

Tausign said...

My mind is too simple to discect St.Thomas of Aquinas in all his depth. My point as it related to your musing of the 'thunderstorm' was something akin to this: We may receive sunburn from the sun, but the sun has no 'desire' to burn us. We may witness drowning in a river, but the river does not 'look for victims'...and so on. Creation, in and of itself, since it created by a Creator who is all good; is good.

You expressed compassion for someone who you knew was hurt by the flood, and rightly so. But there is no necessity to assign any evil (ie. to create a dichotomy) to the natural event; no need to view it as punishment either. We often speak of misfortunes, accidents, or suffering even, as 'evil' in our common parlance, but this is an error(IMHO).

I think I'm in overall agreement with your sentiment as expressed in the post, namely 'the cat is not a monster', the cat is not evil. And neither are humans evil, to say so is heretical to proper Christian thought.

But sin is evil as it opposes God, who is ALL GOOD. (And humans do sin.) Sin (evil)is not a creation but a privation of good. This notion of God being 'all good' is the one issue in my mind that is the hardest for most people to except in practice, even if they accept it with their lips.

lyrl said...

Intent is certainly important in making an action good or evil, and non-living objects can't have intent; only their Creator can have intent.

I think we're making parallel points related to the definition of 'good'. By taking a common parlance definition of good, and comparing it to the results of certain elements of creation (and presumably intents of their Creator), one could conclude that God is not good.

My tendency is to say that God's nature goes beyond the way humans commonly understand good and evil; your preference is to say the common parlance is in error. I suspect these approaches amount to the same thing.

Tausign said...

I love your conclusion...yes much of this is beyond our understanding.

My hope for your friend/victim of the flood is that he doesn't blame God for the flood...doesn't blame himself for building near a flood zone, etc. But rather turns to God in hope and asks for strength to move on. Likewise, that all of us can have compassion on his situation and share what we have to help him move on. Something along those lines would be the best way to give glory to God. Thanks for a fine meditation post.