God’s Responsibility

A reader sent us an email recently. It was one of those missives that circulate around the world, passed from one correspondent’s address book to 100 other’s, spreading virally until every third person with a home computer has seen the message.

This one included images made by a sidewalk artist in Europe. His trompe l’oeil chalk drawings of precipitous caverns and shimmering ponds are so convincing that passersby gawk in amazement and disbelief. His work with perspective and optics is provocative and extraordinary, and when the final panels in the email show how the artist executes his illusions in two flat dimensions, one is even more astonished.

The writer who sent us the emails appended a brief note, which said, “The amount of talent in God’s people is amazing.” Yes, we thought, that’s true. But so is the amount of avarice, cruelty, and viciousness.

Usually, however, we don’t circulate emails highlighting this fact. We don’t recall anyone sending me images of Sudanese genocide perpetrators standing over their bloody victims, or smiling portraits of Timothy McVeigh, or children assembled inside an Indian brothel, with the comment “The amount of evil in God’s people is staggering.”

Many athletes, from pugilists to runners, basketballers to golfers, give credit to God for their victory, as though He has time and interest in a mere ball game. (Maybe he does, which would explain why He’s not working more effectively on the situations in Iraq and Nepal, among other areas of intense unholiness.) One never hears the losers blaming God for not wanting them to win.

When someone makes a miraculous recovery from a terrible illness, God gets the glory. When someone suffers horribly and dies far too young, God’s out of the picture — or, more precisely, operating clandestinely in ways that humans can’t understand (until they meet Him after death).

No one seems to get angry with God for his colossal and continuous screw-ups. (Those are all someone else’s fault and responsibility.) The good stuff, however, is all His doing.

We’re willing to give God all the credit for wonderful sidewalk painters and brave marathon finishers. But we would also like him to start taking responsibility for all that is ignoble and troubling, too. Nobody said being omniscient is easy.

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