On Sinkholes and Suspicion: Part One
I can be the sort of person that gets a bit lost in my own thoughts. I work from home, primarily on the computer, while my wife is at work and my kids are at school. Often as I am going through the routine tasks of my work week, I’ll have CNN or NPR playing in the background so that I can familiarize myself with the events of the day. This practice can lead to great conversations with friends or make for some useful teaching analogy, but every once in a while a particular story can reverberate in my head for such a long time that it leads to a real existential crisis.
Over the last month or so, one topic more than any other has failed to work its way out of my thoughts as most eventually do: sinkholes are swallowing people from the earth’s surface. To be honest, human interest stories rarely capture much of my attention, but this sinkhole thing has really stuck around. Most of you will be familiar with the story of the gentleman in Florida, Jeffrey Bush, who on February 28 was sucked into the earth as a sinkhole opened up underneath his bedroom in his home and whose body as of yet remains unrecovered. A similar story involving Mark Mihal, who fell into the earth after investigating a depression of the 14th fairway at a Waterloo, Illinois course garnered less media attention. Fortunately, his friends were able to rescue him from the hole with a ladder and a rope, and Mr. Mihal escaped with only an injured shoulder.
After the obligatory google search I conducted after the news story captured my interest, I was shocked by the frequency of sinkholes not only in the United States, but around the world. Sinkholes happen with terrifying regularity across the globe. Places that were once homes, schools, parks, and businesses have fallen into what was once considered solid ground. Lakes have been drained, new lakes have come from seemingly nowhere. Growing up on the West Coast where earthquakes are a regular occurrence would, one might think, make the unpredictable nature of the earth’s surface less alarming, but I’ve been shaken (no pun intended) by sinkholes nonetheless.
The natural processes that cause sinkholes are, geologically speaking, fairly mundane, most often occurring as a result of drainage from running or even standing water. But for this humble blogger, there’s nothing mundane about the ground opening up beneath you. Stop and reflect on this fact: The earth opens up and swallows people on the reg! I have always taken for granted that the earth should with general consistency hold up under my weight. We even use phrases like “rock solid,” or “sure as the ground beneath your feet.” Believing God to be sovereign, even over natural occurrences, I am left to ponder God’s reason for allowing such things. This is a central issue in popular theology. The technical name for this is theodicy, from the Greek meaning “justifying God.” Rabbi Harold Kushner popularized the concept to a modern audience in his 1978 book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The basic question is, “If God is both good and all-powerful, why does He let things like this happen?”
I have trusted Christ for as long as I can remember. I’m fairly well-schooled in theology, and I know most of the rational answers to this fundamental problem. Smarter writers than I have written volumes on the topic and have come to some great conclusions (might I suggest Al Mohler’s posts on Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti as good introductions to the topic), but despite the countless sermons or podcasts I’ve listened to on this subject, with my own theological training, or my continued reading, I was still in a pretty deep funk after contemplating the sinkholes.
While driving to church a week or two ago, as I was picturing sinkholes devouring people from the face of the globe, I got to the point of a crisis of faith. These moments happen to me from time to time, and I bet, if you’re honest, it happens to you as well. I can’t lay out the logic to my crisis, because it wasn’t entirely rational. To be honest, sinkholes may not have had anything to do with it. In reality, like a well-worn tire ready for a blowout, my faith probably had some weak spots on the surface where a breach could easily occur. For whatever reason, the reality of sinkholes had me ready to doubt my beliefs and believe my doubts.
At this point, I’d love to put a pretty bow on this blog post. I’d love to tell you how God reached down and pulled me out of my own psychic sinkhole, but that conclusion requires more time and attention than this post will allow. I promise my next post will conclude the crisis, providing the happy ending we so desperately need. For now, let me just affirm those who may on occasion wrestle with their doubts, struggle with God’s sovereignty, or just find faith implausible in light of their own circumstances. You’re not alone. Even guys like me – a lifelong Christian, a worship leader and youth minister with a degree in theology, a husband and father trying to guide his family to and for Christ, a son of a pastor, a seminary student with a plan for lifelong ministry – even we experiences crises of faith, even over something as seemingly insignificant as sinkholes. More to come next time.