Sunday, September 29, 1996

God is in the rain, not the thunder

Plenty of people shout that God talks to them and tells them how to vote. But Leonard Pitts Jr. introduces a man who heard God whispering _ about how to live.
Leonard Pitts, Jr./Knight-Ridder

It has become axiomatic that just about anyone who invokes God in public these days is seeking to hijack either your pocket or your politics.

We have created God in our own image, endowed him with our characteristics. Small wonder that when people come before us claiming to speak with his voice, what we hear usually speaks only of human frailties and fears. God wants a yes vote on Proposition A! God wants you to send $100 to Rev. Jim! God wants you to elect a new school board!

They say they speak with the voice of God, but they don't. This isn't the voice that whispers when raindrops fall. Rather, it's a thunder of insecurity, a roar of self-righteousness, a clamoring racket of religious and political hacks all claiming a hotline to heaven.

I guess that's why Chris Carrier's story resonates. I guess it's why I'm struggling to conceive what seems inconceivable.

You see, Carrier, of Coral Gables, Fla., was abducted in 1974, when he was 10. His captor burned him with cigarettes, punctured his skin with an ice pick, shot him in the head and left him to die in the Everglades. The boy survived, though he lost sight in one eye. No one was ever arrested.

Then, recently, a man confessed to the crime and Carrier went to see him. He found David McAllister, a 77-year-old ex-con, frail, blind and living in a North Miami Beach nursing home that reeks of excrement. And Carrier befriended him. Began dropping by every day to visit, read to him from the Bible and pray with him.

No arrest is forthcoming; the statute of limitations on the crime is long past. Carrier says that's fine with him. ``When I look at him,'' he told a reporter, ``I don't stare at my abductor and potential murderer. I stare at a man, very old, very alone and scared.''

First thought: Is Carrier crazy? Maybe. But if so, it's a good crazy. Or at least, a crazy that gives pause.

The man is serious about God. I don't say that because he has a master's degree in divinity and until recently was the director of youth ministries at his church. Nor because by the time you read this, he will have moved to Texas, where he and his wife and two daughters plan to open a Christian bookstore.

I say it because he bowed alongside a man who tried to kill him.

I know I couldn't do it. The same probably goes for any number of TV preachers and pious politicians. We lack the humility, I think. We haven't the guts or the conviction.

Yet at the same time, those same sellers of sanctimony fill our political and social arenas, preying like hawks upon troubled minds that just want to reach a state of grace.

It's worth noting that Chris Carrier didn't stump for money, a vote, or ``family values.'' Instead he tried against all logic to redeem one weak and dirty little scrap of man. His deed reminds me of something I heard once in a gospel song: ``Maybe God is trying to tell you something''.

It's a quaint notion, I'll grant you. Does anyone still believe the deity speaks in a voice that fills the stillnesses? Isn't that just a conceit we wished up one day out of loneliness, a way of avoiding the idea that we might be unaccompanied in the universe?

I don't offer an answer, only an observation: believing gets hard sometimes. Because we have created God in our own image, and it's not a pretty sight.

So I'm glad Carrier did this crazy deed. It strikes me as an affirmation of things I'd like to believe. That the highest work of a lifetime is to become a truly human being. That courage sometimes disguises itself in unconventional forms. And that divinity often speaks not in the crash of thunder, but in the soft murmur of rain.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

DKD Replies

To the Editor:

Leonard Pitts ("God is in the Rain, Not the Thunder," 9/29/96) tells an inspiring story of Chris Carrier, who was nearly murdered as a child, but in his adult life visited his attacker in order to share God's forgiveness with him. Pitts then contrasted this vision of the Deity with the image of "TV preachers" who tell us how to vote. He creates the impression that you can be one or the other, but not both. Pitts should have considered the most famous preacher of our day, a regular figure on TV, who is pleading with us to vote in such a way that our society will not abandon the most helpless of our human family, the unborn. Interestingly, this same preacher was also the victim of an attempted murder, and he too (after he was released from the hospital) went to visit the man who tried to kill him and extended God's forgiveness to him. That "TV preacher" was John Paul II, whom many historians believe will be known in future centuries as John Paul the Great.

Mr. Pitts rejoices, as well he should, in the capacity of people like Chris Carrier to act in what he calls a "crazy" fashion--"good crazy." "I know I couldn't do it," says Pitts. But that capacity is the fruit of something that occurs when we surrender to God on a regular basis-- exactly what the "TV preachers" have been asking us to do. And yes, they ask us to submit our nation and our laws to the same kind of Lordship. Mr. Pitts likes the image of God as a nurturing rain, but objects to portraying Him as righteous thunder. Yet Christianity--which inspired both John Paul II and Chris Carrier--insists that God is both righteous and loving; He is compassionate and holy. Christianity is not a cafeteria religion. If you admire the fruit but despise the vine that produced it, what are you really saying?

David K. DeWolf