Sunday, January 17, 2010

That Little Question: Theodicy

As I prepare for my ordination exams, I keep tripping over the issues of suffering and evil. You'd think that I, of all people, would have a handle on them, but of course most of the explanations proffered in our couple of thousand of years Christian history are of little use in the face of reality, whether that reality be a family tragedy or something of the magnitude of Haiti.

In my roamings this morning, I found this, by Episcopal priest Matt Gunter. It's well worth a read. And if you're short of time, here's my favorite line:

"French poet, Paul Caudel, wrote, 'Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it away. He came to fill it with His presence.' ”

God knows my brain is so full of the bizarre conglomeration of material needed for the exams (Can you explain divine-and-human-in one? Whether to baptize a stillborn baby? How your church might purchase the vacant lot next door? The tension among ruler and prophet in I Kings? Anything at all?) that it has begun to leak. But I am going to file that line away for use forever.


14 comments:

Mompriest said...

well, I do have an explanation regarding the stillborn baby....it's a pastoral response. There is no theological reason to baptize babies, God receives them back into God's loving arms. However if it is important to the family, or if a nurse or family member has instilled in the parents minds that baptism is important for the eternal life of the soul of the baby, then you baptize them. There are rites available for such occasions. Now, can I find one of them? At least that is what has been decided by my clergy colleagues in our numerous conversations about this. In ten years of ministry I've never faced this one...

Now, the other stuff...um.. I do know Mat Gunter and I imagine he wrote something good, which I may read later. But mostly, I really struggle with what to say in the midst of such pain. My own, and others. I used to think that the presence of Jesus, Christ beneath us, Christ behind us, CHrist abeove us, Christ before us, was comforting. I used to think that the poem from St. Symeon, about awaking in Christ's body was enough. Now, I am not so sure...

But I am still a woman of faith, still wondering, still praying. So, that says something, right?

When do your exams begin? (and sorry for the long post)

Joan Calvin said...

I will keep you in my prayers during ORDS (which I actually found harder than the Bar--I hope you don't.)

Thanks for the quotation. I'll use it in my sermon today (assuming I remember). I'm preaching without a prepared script lurking somewhere.

The ORDs are such a cr*pshoot. One one I wrote I got a 5 and a 3-. The 5 by a pastor said it was one of the best papers he had read. The 3- by a pastor had all sorts of worthless comments indicating she had no idea what she was doing. Oh well. (Did you really need to know this right before you take them? Probably not.)

Rosa said...

Robin--that line. yes.

Vaya con Dios to the exams. I took mine 20 years after graduating from seminary, in the midst of the first serious manifestation of my daughter's behavioral/emotional issues. I felt translucent with exhaustion and concern. Taking the exams turned out to be a holy time of extraordinary grace. I didn't care if the answers were right. I was trying to write with conviction and honesty. That was enough...

Widening Circles said...

I hesitate to write this, because I know you’ve had a lot to say about feeling that God was not present after your son’s death, but I take heart in the final promise of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, the one about being “with you always.” I think ministry is specifically about presence, and about reflecting God’s presence to those who might be out of touch with it for whatever reason. And regarding the unimaginable suffering of the people of Haiti, I like this from Jim Wallis, in response to the Pat Robertson statement : “I want to say this: My God does not cause evil. God is not a vengeful and retributive being, waiting to strike us down; instead, God is in the very midst of this tragedy, suffering with those who are suffering. When evil strikes, it’s easy to ask, where is God? The answer is simple: God is suffering with those who are suffering.”

karen gerstenberger said...

Amen to that. It sums up the heart of the matter, doesn't it? XO

Gannet Girl said...

Look at all these wonderful comments!

MP and WC, there is nothing to say. I am with my spiritual director(s), neither of whom presumed to say anything for a very long time. But I am now, after many many months, able to say that Jesus has been with me in their silent but consistently supportive and eventually challengingly supportive presence. The silence was so important. I had only foul words for/to those who tried words of their own.

Gannet Girl said...

Rosa, I am in a similar place to the one in which you found yourself.

I went to a review session on I Kings (from which our Hebrew passage will come) Friday and I was quite struck by our discussion about God being most present in darkness and silence (eg, in the the temple). Hmm, I thought, perhaps I have been incredibly close to God without knowing it at all.

Gannet Girl said...

And JC, one of the old exams I read was very similar, except the scores were 5s ("brilliant paper") and 1s ("she has no idea what she's talking about") from the 2 readers on the same set of questions. And our Hebrew professor said he has read so many failed exams about which he could only say, "You so should have passed with this." So I am trying not to get too bent out of shape.

Purple said...

Gannet, I offer you this...from my Hebrew grad assistant before our first major test.

"God, Calm the fears in the student's minds so they may remember what they have learned." It did help me.

Word verf: perstst (I read persist).

Rev SS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rev SS said...

oops ... let's try again. I agree with MP, when what comforts and brings peace to parents of stillborn was baptism, that's what I do.

And, like Rosa, writing exams for me (expecially the exegesis) was a holy time of extraordinary grace. I pray it will be so for you too.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Blessings to you during your exams. I will pray for you.

Stratoz said...

if he came to remove suffering he would be quite a failure. Go Episcopalians. Go French poets. hope your desire to carry the words in your heart become reality.

Magdalene6127 said...

GG, it makes sense to me that you don't necessarily have a handle on issues of suffering and evil in terms of an answer that works for everyone. But I think you do have a deep and ever-widening understanding of what some of the wrong/ not helpful answers are, as well as the endless, bottomless questions that open up. Both these, I think, will enrich whatever ministry you end up pursuing.

I also had wildly divergent grades (the most significant, a 5 and a 2, on the theology exam). I love what others have said about writing with honesty and conviction. That seems the grace-filled way to go.

Much love to you. Are you going with the Hebrew scriptures?