M and I were having a discussion last night about my situation that wandered into the territory of theodicy–how we explain the presence of evil in a world created good by a good God. In particular she was going off on those who believe that if you pray enough, or are good, enough, faithful enough, or a “good enough Christian” that bad things won’t happen to you.
We came to the conclusion that this whole line of thought is fundamentally at odds with traditional Christian theology. We live in a faith that was founded on the blood of the martyrs. To say that God will keep all “real” Christians from physical harm is clearly and thoroughly refuted by the very facts of our beginnings. The promise we’ve received is not that everything’s going to be ok—rather, it’s that in whatever we face, we will never be alone.
That seems a rather ummm…Lutheran sentiment, somehow very cruciform and Pauline…even though if nothing can separate us form the love of God, even if it’s not okay, Fr. John-Julian would probably say it will be well.
I think, though, of Mthr. Teresa who knew nothing of consolation (in the Jesuit sense) for fifty years. Of times in my own life when even faith was not enough to see beyond desolation and even the demonic, if I can use that term because no other term quite applies. I think our not being left alone extends not only to God and consolation but often God reaches us through those who love us and surround us with care when otherwise we might see no way at all.
And that raises the importance of our being extensions of God’s care for one another during difficult times. On that note, know that at our Vestry retreat today, you were remembered in my prayers at Morning Prayer, Noon Prayer, and Eucharist.
On the subject of theodicy, I recommend Christ and Horrors, by Marilyn McCord Adams (Cambridge U Press 2006). Strong, sometimes scary stuff, but it does get you to thinking.
I would second your comments. I would add that Christianity has yet to recover much of it’s zeal as well.
I was reflecting on the spiritual acts of mercy and the almost complete lack of it’s use in christian society. The corporeal works get all the emphasis which is good but not to the exclusion of the former.
As an example on my blog I wrote about ransoming captives. If you read about the principle in either the first three centuries or it’s revival in the 12 & 13 centuries, one has to question if we have anyone today willing to perform such acts. I’m not speaking to giving money for the release of captives although this would be a great start, but of selling one’s selve into slavery to release another Christian.
The Chaldean bishop in Iraq kidnapped the other day came to mind.
Is our faith even capable of raising up such individuals today?
Perhaps pain and suffering or the “expected” lack of it is a first world experience not “inflicted” on third world believers.
Hey, I’m getting a reputation around here…
The truth is, the first words from Mother Julian that came to mind are “…for the soul can do no more than seek, suffer, and trust…” (Ch. 10)
And I am also absolutely certain that her “all shall be well” is incontrovertibly eschatological. No one living through three pandemics of the Black Death, the Great Papal Schism, the Peasant’s Rebellion, the assassination of a king and an archbishop, etc. would suggest that a Christian can avoid suffering!
My real hope has been in “those who endure shall be saved”.
Very very interesting post, and comments…
…also wasn’t there some other model for us, even before the martyrs…
Indeed there was, Peter, but I’ve sometimes heard it said in some circles that he suffered so we wouldn’t have to…
Definitely bad theology–but the martyrs serve as examples that our highest calling is to follow in those footsteps. Or, as Bonhoeffer so eloquently put it: When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die…
Fr, John-Julian: Again, I think Julian and many other of the medievals aren’t properly understood because our collective historical knowledge is so lousy. “All will be well”–as you so rightly put it–isn’t the naive optism that some today take it for but is a statement of confidence in the eschatological power of God in the face of ever-present realities that seem to contradict it. Thanks for the reminder of its *real* meaning!
Hmmm…I’d assumed that phrase was eschatological, so it’s good to see others do so as well.
I think though there is some teasing out of the difference between suffering and sacrifice as is sometimes used to justify our not being neighbor to someone else. We all suffer, Buddha seems to have gotten that right about life…kind of like Original Sin being our only verifiable doctrine. It’s our response to others’ suffering, however, that sometimes comes across quite poorly, salved over with bad theology.
Seems to me that yesterday’s Gospel is apt here: “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day;…”
As one who deals with this quite frequently, I acknowledge up front that I haven’t found a resolution of the question of theodicy that truely satisfies – even me. Then I come back, in full honesty and humility, to say that the faith of the Church is about how we can show God’s love in the midst of such things.
Of course, matters are somewhat complicated, still. Jesus had this awful habit of saying something like, “Anything you ask in my name you will receive.” Manifestly that is a deeper mystery than we know; but at the bedside folks hope they know just what it means. And sometimes, in the midst of it all, there is nothing to say but (and nothing more important than, really) “I will be with you, always.”