Question depends on what is considered an error
The Rev. Joanna Harader, pastor, Peace Mennonite Church, 615 Lincoln St.:
The forbidden fruit fiasco. Enron. The enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt. The enslavement of African people in the United States. The murdered and dismembered concubine (see Judges 19). Stories of rape in the newspaper. The execution of Jesus. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you read the Bible, it is easy to find reasons to question the infallibility of the divine.
If you believe in God, and if you pay attention to the world, you are bound to wonder why God does what God does. Or at the very least, why God allows what God allows.
Surely, there has been a mistake. Or two. Or two hundred trillion.
I run into two problems as I try to answer this question about whether God can make a mistake.
First, how do we determine what is a mistake? Was a failed marriage a mistake? What if that marriage produced children? Created opportunities?
Was dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a mistake? We’re still debating that one.
How long does it take to tell if something is truly a mistake? And what criteria do we use?
Here’s the second problem I run into in answering this question: How do we determine what occurrences can be attributed to God?
You can say that everything is God’s fault, because God gave humans free will. You can say that nothing is God’s fault, because God gave humans free will. You can blame God for the bombings in Iraq. Or you can blame the terrorists. Or Bush.
Can God make mistakes? Despite the inherent difficulties of the question, I’m going to say “no.” But I’m not sure exactly what that means.
Except that in a world of imperfections and lies, there is one who can be trusted.
— Send e-mail to Joanna Harader at email@example.com.
God can reconsider actions when we petition him
Valerie Miller-Coleman, executive director, Family Promise of Lawrence:
As portrayed in Judeo-Christian Scripture, God can reconsider actions when humans petition, God gets things half right and then tries again, and God is open to correction when a human argues a point. Incarnated in Christ, we see a God who sometimes uses the tools of contemporary medicine with only moderate skill.
In these texts, human authors record their experience in relationship with God and retell the stories about God that resonate with their communities. They tell of a God in dynamic relationship with humans, one who invites argument and debate. This is the record of witness we inherit from scripture.
Because our experience in relationship with God continues to unfold, however, none of us can say that we know with absolute certainty the contours of the divine. As in any relationship, God may always surprise us. I can say with certainty, however, that the spirit of God revealed in scripture and in my own life creates healing, weaves redemption out of human error and blends justice and grace together. I also know people who believe that God has failed them. My certainty in the healing, redeeming, just and gracious nature of God leads me to call them to hope again in God’s trustworthiness. Pastors, priests, rabbis, congregations, parents, siblings, spouses and friends make mistakes all the time. Chances are good that our perception of God’s failure owes much more to human error than to God’s.
— Send e-mail to Valerie Miller-Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org.