“He’s got the wind and the rain in his hands … He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

We sing that lullaby to babies, teach the hand motions to children, and believe it when the sun is shining. But after Katrina …?

Where was God in the storm? Was God doing something or nothing when disaster struck? When we call a hurricane an “act of God,” does that mean Katrina’s fury is God’s fury? Or is God as powerless as we to prevent natural disasters?

Believing minds and unbelieving alike want to know. Unbelief is simpler. God is not a factor, because the world is all there is. But if there is a God, then you have three classical choices of how to think about God.

Theism. From the Greek word meaning belief in God, theism holds that God is above and beyond the world, selectively intervening perhaps, but never affected personally by what happens in the world. God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good. God may choose to send judgment or mercy from afar, but either way it can only be called a free act of God’s righteous nature. It cannot be the result of God’s personal involvement in the suffering of the world.

Pantheism. God and the world are one. The world is the body of God. Everything and anything that happens to the world happens to God, too, because God is in every cell of creation. When you feel pain, God feels pain, because God is a part of the world, not apart from it. Storms and sin both affect God — whether God likes it or not. If theism makes us question God’s goodness, pantheism makes us question God’s power.

Panentheism. God’s being includes the whole world but is not trapped in it. God experiences all of life with us, because God is with us personally in all things. God has power to act, but God’s power is always shaped by God’s goodness. God’s power is generally a gentle breeze inspiring goodness rather than a hurricane blowing through. God actively suffers alongside us to redeem and restore. God puts things right by putting it into people to put things right.

What’s your take? I favor the last.

He’s got the whole world in his hands, but those hands have known hurt themselves. In times like these, you might even be able to see the nail-scars.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.