Monday, October 4, 2010

Bad Health = Punishment from God?

I have to admit that I think I may have bitten more off than I can chew with this topic on health.  Quite frankly, I don't even know where to begin, so I'm plugging my nose and jumping right into the topic with this cannonball of a equation.  Does poor health = punishment from God?

The short answer, no.  The longer answer is, well, longer.

There is a common misconception in this world that God loves to punish people. The theory goes something like this:  God just sits around day and night waiting for us to screw up so he can zap us with some sort illness, bad turn of events or even just a crummy day.  He is wrathful tyrant with a massive chip on His holy shoulder who cannot wait to condemn all unbelievers, drinkers, smokers, homosexuals, adulterers and those of us who wear white after Labor Day. One way to appease this "God" is to feed Him with 10% of your gross income, and then He will dispense His good "favor" to you.  However, should you fall short, you had better watch the hell out because tragedy is on the way.  At 9.9%, it may only be a flat tire, however the closer you get to 0%, the closer you get to some debilitating disease or sudden tragic death (plane crash, wild boar attack, falling anvil from the sky).

This may sound funny, but turn on one of those "religious" goofballs on TV and this is pretty much the description you are going to get.  God will bless you with good health/good job/good sex if only you please Him, the Wrathful and Angry God. Those who propagate this sort of idea not only distort the image of the real God found in the Holy Scriptures, but also do one more thing.  They instill fear. When surveyed, 9 out of 10 historical despots will agree with me.  Want to control the people? Control them with fear.  Yes, the Scriptures say "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:9-11), but this fear that the Scriptures speak of has nothing to do with God wanting to hurt us, but everything to do with drawing our attention to Him.  It is HE that is in ultimate control and not I.  I am not the center of the universe, God is.  Once I figure that out, then it is the beginning of wisdom.

Now, if you subscribe wholeheartedly to above Wrathful God business then maybe my blog isn't for you.  I understand.  It's a hard thought process to break, especially if you have been raised in the US.  Our so-called puritanical "Judeo-Christian" roots, complete with witch hunts, slavery and prohibition, still choke us today.  The notion of a loving and merciful God in this country has never existed at the popular level, just the Big Bully Deity.  If you don't want to agree with me, then perhaps the Prophet Jonah's testimony can sway you (see my post on Jonah here) as to how loving and merciful God truly is. 

I am not saying that sin is non-existent, and that there are no health/emotional consequences to sin.  There are negative effects for sure, but these are not punishments, but sometimes natural consequences to the unnatural, non-organic uses of our body. Example:  If you smoke a lot, you may have an increased risk of getting lung cancer.  The warning is right there on the box for crying out loud.  I realize this is quite simplistic and doesn't answer other deeper questions like "Why do innocent children suffer?".  For those answers, I need to bring in a professional.
So my dear readers without further ado, I present to you this:

Sin:  Primordial, Generational, Personal by Fr. Thomas Hopko, $16
Cover art of CD is Romanian folk art of St. George slaying the dragon (dragon = sin/evil/Satan).
Now, don't let the name scare you.  This lecture is not scary, too theological, or dry.  It is quite funny, easy to understand but most importantly, very enlightening and relevant to life in the 21st century.  Trust me people, I have listened to this over and over again.  I have to because it gives so much food for thought that I will think about something Fr. Tom has said and then not hear the next 5 minutes of his talk.  Fr. Tom's lecture gives the Orthodox Christian understanding of what sin is, where it comes from, who is to blame and what we can do about it.  If you hate love, then this ain't for you.  If you love light and truth (which are the verses right beyond John 3:16 which people seem to ignore John 3:16-21) then I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this for your listening pleasure.

Times are tough, I know.  This may not fit into your budget, so if you live locally and would like to listen, give me a ring and I will lend you my copy.  Or if you wish to purchase your own copy go here.  I just looked at it and for some reason the font in the description is all screwy.  No worries, I'm sure your order will be processed.  And by the way, I profit nothing from this.  I don't attend St. Vladimir's Seminary nor have any connection to them other than I purchase items from them and used to visit there when I was a child.

Okay, I've said a lot of stuff, maybe even stuff that makes you a little uncomfortable.  But before you start throwing other Scripture at me and cursing me out, give me the balance of the month to explain myself further.  There is no way I can say everything I want to say right now, so throw me a bone and await future posts.  Thanks guys!

p.s. - Sorry for the messed up formatting in the paragraphs above.  I'm still trying to figure this blogging stuff out.


Jennifer Wilck said...

We've discussed this question with our Rabbi before and his answer has been related to free will. Man (and woman) have free will. In order for us to have free will, G-d had to give up some power. That is why bad things happen (to good people). I'm still grappling with it, but there are my two cents.

Desert Dweller said...

That's exactly what Fr. Tom says in his CD too.

There has to be free will in a true loving relationship. Since it is the Orthodox Christian teaching that God is Love, He gives us the free will to love Him or not. Not everyone choses this path of love and that's when crappy things happen. And since we live in this world with those who choose not to love, we innocently bear the consequences of that decision by others.

Why do children get cancer? They haven't done a damn thing except reap the horrific consequences of people not loving Creation.

That's pretty much the general gist of Fr. Tom's CD. He is much funnier and way more erudite than I of course.

Anonymous said...

I am glad to hear Fr. Tom is "much funnier". What's so funny about getting sick and die?

Desert Dweller said...

There is nothing funny at all about getting sick and dying.

I was really speaking about the manner in which he conveys his message despite the severity of the topic. Fr. Tom does not make light of sin or death, just at the world around us that seems to deny the existence of both. He speaks in a manner that makes this difficult topic one much more palatable. Cancer is not funny. My godfather is in his last stages of life right now with cancer. No one is laughing trust me.

Sorry, I was not more clear in my posting.

Anonymous said...

An urgent comment:
You said "the lecture is quite funny". I still do not understand: are the theological arguments funny? Can we laugh? One more thing: you are too serious, try to be funny. :)

Desert Dweller said...

I'll try to be funnier, really. I just want to be sensitive that's all.

Yes, the theological arguments can be funny. In particular, Fr. Tom speaks about the story of the Prodigal Son and then poses the question, what happens if the Prodigal Son does not return. The way he presents this alternative ending to the story is hysterically funny all the while quite profound and painfully true.

I think it is definitely okay to laugh. Fr. Tom pokes fun of himself more than anything else which I find very comforting. He doesn't elevate himself to "I'm holier than you" status. I can relate to him. He was a parish priest for many many years and has seen and heard it all. Not to mention that he is Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir's Seminary in NY.

Anonymous said...

Then I have to buy the CD. Thank you.