Reverend William Sloane Coffin’s Take on God’s Will

By dancingintheraine

September 18, 2009

Category: Uncategorized

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He was a distinguised former chaplain of Yale who, with Rabbi Heschel and Daniel Berrigan, founded Clergy and Laity Concerned. On Tuesday, January 11, 1983, Coffin gave the eulogy at the Riverside Church in New York for his 24-year-old son who died in a car wreck. Here is part of what he said…

When a person dies there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said… The night after Alex died, a kind woman came into the house carrying about 18 quiches, saying sadly, “I just don’t understand the will of God.”

I exploded, “I’ll say you don’t, lady. Do you think it was the will of God that Alex never fixed that lousy windshield wiper, that he was probably driving too fast in such a storm, that he probably had had a couple of beers too many? Do you think it is God’s will that there are no streetlights on that road and no guardrail separating that right-angle turn from Boston Harbor?”

For some reason, nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with his finger on triggers, his fist on knives, his hands on steering wheels. Deaths that are untimely and slow and pain-ridden raise unanswerable questions… Never do we know enough to say that a death was the will of God… My own consoluation lies in knowing it was not the will of God that Alex died; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

The author of Constantine’s Sword, James carrol goes on to say that The alternative to thinking of God as a “cosmic sadist… an eternal vivisector,” in Coffin’s phrases, is to stand before the unfathomable mystery of death– the death of Jesus, the death of one’s own son, the deaths of the six million (the Shoah)– without attempting to understand it, and also without attempting to deny its character as a terrible outbreak of evil. It is here that these questions break out of narrow reference to religion, Christian or Jewish, to press against the awful anxiety that every human must feel in the face of death.

I find this to be quite interesting, as I have always viewed God to be a loving God, not one that would send anyone to their deaths. At some point in time, man has to take responsibility for the things he does, while other things are left to the fault of evil and life in general. But that’s just my opinion.

The book this was taken from was “Constatine’s Sword” by James Carroll, a former Roman Catholic priest, who left priesthood to preserve his faith. The book is about the “war” between Christians and Jews, and is a search into history, not a fictional piece. I am only on Chapter 7, and I recommend it for all Christians and Jews to read.

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