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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Theodicy



Sunday closest to October 19

The number one sin of my life is my addiction to reading; the second sin being collecting the books to stoke the reading habit.

I call it a sin fully realizing that is simply a misuse and exaggeration. It is something of an addiction, since I find myself acquiring books that I simply cannot explain why, at the time I feel the compulsion to possess the book, I should need this book. Yet, I know that the books are not a substitute for my relationship with The Holy One. In fact, most often the books are vehicles of communion with God as well as saints and sages of past and present.That fact removes sin from the equation of my self-judgment.

Nevertheless, the addiction is real.

This addiction is acutely manifest in the inability to walk past tables of books on sale, and tables, bins and racks of books especially if the receptacle bears a sign "free".

Years ago I snatched up a book by Theologian and Ethicist Stanley Hauerwas, after having read several other works of his for a Christian Ethics course. The book had a title that grabbed me instantly, although, after I brought the book home and attempted to crack the cover the first time around, it simply failed to capture my attention. Like John the revelator with the seal of the scroll in the Book of Revelation, I felt incapable of entering the content. Unworthy or unready; that might be the question. The fact of the matter is, at the time I grabbed the book, I was probably too close to having experienced some significant losses and was simply not at all ready to explore the content being broached at the time.

The book Naming the Silences is one man's attempt to critique the theological category of theodicy. As I have been digging deeper into components of the healing ministry of the Church, this book now becomes very timely. The subtitle is God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering.

Hauerwas tells in the preface that he had, at the time of writing, a desire to write something that could bring consolation, thereby helping people cope with great suffering. Naming Rabbi Harold Kushner as one who has done so, and the psalmists who with poetic ability have been capable of doing so, Hauerwas retreats from that desire, and submits his text to the examination of a more direct approach to the problem of suffering.

Hauerwas contends from the outset that attempts to explain evil such as a parent witnessing the suffering and early death of their child, is a "theological mistake."

The Book of Job is Scripture's inconclusive attempt to explain the dichotomous relationship between the claimed role as Chosen People of God, and their seeming lack of favor, exhibited through the various trials undergone. Even the most righteous person, Job, is not completely shielded from trials, sufferings, loss of property and kinsman; all except his wife.

Hauerwas writes,
"I cannot promise readers consolation, but only as honest an account as I can give of why we cannot afford to give ourselves explanations for evil when what is required is a community capable of absorbing our grief." (xi)
This is hugely important to me. For whosever cares, the reason I engage in ministry no longer has very much to do with any concern for rewards in heaven, when I own body fails me. What I do now is very much more connected with my own understanding that community is absolutely the foundation and gift we experience most fully when we gather week by week in worship, and where we encounter the Holy which sustains us through the trials and tribulations of earth-bounded living.

Community is the place where we can bring our deepest sorrow, disappointments, disillusions, and brokenness. In community we learn of Jesus as the one who suffered, just as completely as we have, and even more so that he could reveal to us himself as God's Son, a companion on the way. Jesus does not take away all the suffering. Instead Jesus suffers with our suffering. Not only that, he asks us to accompany each other through the trials of life since each of us need something more tangible to cling to than the Spirit of God.

We need to grab hold of "clay vessels", and feel the scabs of old scars to know that we are not alone.

We may sing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" hoping to feel a mighty wind within the room, but sometimes the fount that must be encountered is one trapped within us. Sometimes what must flow is the fount of tears; of sorrow, deep and mysteriously arising from within in order to begin to receive the consolation and comfort of God through community.

It is possible to go along through life without a genuine community. But few people go their entire life without needing at some point a place to be known and loved wholly as a beloved child of God, and still flourish.

The Gospel lesson for this week offers us an insight into the community of followers of Jesus. James and john were looking for power and authority to govern a new kingdom. What Jesus offered them was a glimpse into the reality yet to unfold. Jesus does indeed promise them a share in the power, only it will be the power to share in the suffering which all humanity will in one way or another experience. With that suffering they will become more like Jesus, capable of caring for others, as servants to many.

But where and if James and John will receive power to rule...only God knows.

Tough lesson to grab hold of.

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