Fulwider 5-22-2013

My Word: A time to speak and a time to be silent

Fulwider, Bryan(Orlando Sentinel, May 22, 2013)

By Bryan Fulwider

As I watched the early TV reports about Monday’s devastating tornado in Moore, Okla., I responded in two ways — in rapid succession.

My first response, as you would expect, was simply to shudder at the sheer magnitude of the devastation and the high death toll that was all but inevitable. The human mind has great difficulty processing such horrors.

And if I found it so difficult while sitting in the comfort of my living room, what must the impact be on those who lost not only their homes but loved ones as well? And what about the abject terror of not knowing whether your child, spouse or parent has survived? Or under what pile of debris survivors might be languishing?

My second response, which may come as more of a surprise, was to shudder again as I asked myself, “How long will it be before some member of the clergy will jump in front of a TV camera to inform us with absolute certainty the exact role God played in this natural disaster, and how it wouldn’t have happened if we’d had our act together spiritually?”

I, too, am clergy — seminary-trained, even. I’ve studied the Christian scriptures, Jewish scriptures and the scriptures of other faith traditions, and I have read an array of treatises from learned scholars who wrestle with the problem of human suffering.

I’ve discovered that, insightful and provocative though their arguments may be, the scholars don’t agree. In many cases, their claims are contradictory. It’s a conundrum. Perhaps the biggest conundrum believers face.

J.B. Phillips’ translation of Romans 12:3 strikes a chord with me: “Try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities.” I try. I know this for sure: My capabilities don’t include being able to divine the workings of the divine in such situations as the devastation in Oklahoma. I do have faith that God is good; at times that takes a lot of faith.

I agree with author Anne Lamott: “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty.”

When tragedy strikes, I wish those who are so certain would show a lot less certainty and a little more faith. I think it would be appreciated by the victims as well.

The Rev. Bryan Fulwider is co-founder of the nonprofit Building Us and chair of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.