I was reading today about the conflict in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania involving its controversial bishop, Charles Bennison, who has returned to his post after eluding deposition on a technicality. (The latest Episcopal News Service story about the situation can be found here.) There is now ongoing discussion in Episcopal circles about how we might facilitate the removal of a bishop whose relationship to his or her diocese has become dysfunctional.
My reading led me to thinking about how we choose our bishops, a process we say is influenced by the Holy Spirit. We have maintained this view even though the process sometimes goes awry. (I’m sure that many Pennsylvania Episcopalians have been thinking that their convention made a terrible mistake in choosing Bennison.)
On the other hand, we protest whenever some evangelical preacher suggests that a natural or artificial disaster is the fault of its victims, who are said to have been punished for their iniquities by means of divine intervention. (The instrument of destruction might be an Indian Ocean tsunami or airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center.) We resolutely dispute that God metes out vengeance in such a fashion, even though the Bible speaks frequently of such instances.
We are inclined to attribute good things to heavenly dispensation, but we dismiss the possibility that bad things have an equally metaphysical explanation. Likewise, we pray for the sick to recover but do not blame God when they fail to do so.
We cannot, I think, have it both ways; either God intervenes in worldly affairs and should be credited with doing so, or God does not intervene, and we are pretty much on our own.
At the risk of being accused of heresy, I am inclined to see God as uninvolved in the day-to-day management of the universe. Prayer is probably useful, but not for convincing God to grant our wishes like some genie found in a lamp on the beach. Prayer, I suspect, makes us more sensitive, thoughtful, and less anxious. It does not make us richer, our families healthier, or our enemies either nicer or transformed.
I’m not sure if these thoughts make me a bad Episcopalian. Be assured that I am open to listening to counterarguments for the point of view expressed here. Perhaps I should pray for guidance.