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A Pastorally Adequate Theodicy

Way back in my first year as a philosophy student at the University of Lethbridge, I took a class which dealt with the various philosophical responses the problem of evil (free will defense, best-of-all-possible-worlds defense, process-theology defense, etc).  The class was taught by a flamboyant, bombastic, atheistic Jew who claimed, nonetheless, to be angry at God and to be determined to personally offend each one of us and force us to abandon our simplistic understandings of important questions like the problem of evil.  I think he liked the idea of taking the first class to try to terrify and overwhelm a bunch of 18-19 year old kids (many of whom were “religious” in some form or another) who had never seriously thought about some of these questions.  Maybe it made him feel important or smart or irreverent or superior.  I don’t know.  But at least initially, I wasn’t very impressed.  It seemed like a rather adolescent and petulant display and I wasn’t much looking forward to the class.

But a few days into the course, the professor said something about the problem of evil that I have never forgotten.  He said that at the end of the day nobody gives a damn which of these theories logically coheres the best or is the most intellectually satisfying.  The only thing that matters is whether or not our theodicy—our explanation/reconciliation of the existence of God and the nature of suffering—is “pastorally adequate.”  “When you are faced with a real live human being for whom evil and suffering are no longer abstract concepts but existential realities, what will you say?  If what you believe about the nature of evil and suffering can’t be offered to someone who really is suffering, your theodicy is worthless.”

That one statement began to change my opinion of this professor.  I began to see a man who, beneath the outward abrasiveness and tough exterior, was deeply sensitive and cared immensely about the problem of evil and how it affects real human beings.  I began to develop a bit of a relationship with him.  In fact, he ended up supervising my undergraduate thesis on evil and the nature of God’s foreknowledge (of all the atheist philosophers on campus, he was the only one even interested in the philosophy of religion and willing to take me on).  He even ended up writing my letter of recommendation to Regent College!  I ended up taking 2-3 more (fairly forgettable) classes with him over my time there but that one statement about the importance of a “pastorally adequate” theodicy will always stay with me.

It stands out even more now that I find myself in a position where people actually come to me looking for answers about suffering and evil (I am no longer granted the luxury of simply writing about evil!).  Just last week I was speaking with someone who lost a toddler to a rare disease and an adult child to suicide.  This person has been angry with God for a good part of their life.  They have come to believe in and trust God later in life but massive questions remain.  “I still don’t understand why God had to take my children.”  Me either.  What is the “pastorally adequate” response for someone like this?

Over the last few months I have also been following (from a distance) a friend from my childhood’s battle with cancer.  He is blogging/journaling about it as he goes through it.  His entries are raw and painful to read.  He expresses the full range of emotions, from hope and optimism to rage and despair to fear and confusion.  His prognosis isn’t great.  There is hope, but as is so often the case, it is a precarious hope that seems to hang by a thread.  I had a brief exchange via email with him during the summer and struggled mightily with what to say.  Words seemed like such a meager and useless offering in the face of what he is going through. I told him that his courage was inspiring.  That I would pray for him.  It didn’t seem like much to offer.

One of the central arguments of my masters thesis was that the problem of suffering and evil is central to every explanation of the world; the problem of evil is what makes worldviews necessary.  If everything went the way we wanted it to all the time, it’s difficult to imagine people having a need to explain things.   All worldviews are theodicies, at some level.  They all address the problem of what’s wrong with the world and what the solution is.  They all place suffering in some kind conceptual/existential structures that allow us to make our way through our days and to go on in the world with a sense of hope.

But it must also be said that suffering is the feature of human existence that all worldviews stumble upon.  There is no adequate “rational” response in the face of someone who is truly suffering or has truly suffered.  There is no “explanation” to make things better, no theory or system in which suffering and evil can be placed so that it all of sudden “makes sense.”

The “Christian theodicy,” to the extent that such a designation is proper or even helpful, is that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the means by which the world is made new.  It makes forgiveness for the bad things we have done and healing for the bad things that are done to us possible.  It promises that new life and hope will emerge out of the wreckage of evil and sin and suffering that we see around us.  It promises a redeemed creation where every tear will be wiped away and God himself will be among his people.  It promises that “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1-4).

But not yet.  And while we wait—while we groan and those we love groan and all of creation groans—it seems to me that the only “pastorally adequate” theodicy that can be offered in the face of real suffering is that we are not forgotten by God.  That he knows that we are but dust, that he understands our pain because he, too, has suffered.  That somehow suffering is part of the way in which God makes all things new.

27 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks Ryan for sharing this.

    September 15, 2009
  2. Ken #

    I think a theodicy that says that we are not forgotten by God is the one found in the Psalms and Isaiah mostly. It is the one that goes with waiting for God. At the same time, that theodicy is not one that says God understands our pain because God has suffered too. I think this latter version is only contemporary, even though it finds expression in the suffering of Christ.

    My own view is that in a pastoral situation one must discover the theodicy at work in the person – what is credible to the person. We have to work with that. For example, some people do cope with suffering by seeing in their suffering an identification with the suffering of Christ. Others cope, or wrestle with their suffering, by seeing their suffering as the result of bad decisions they have made (which is a form of the ancient idea that good is rewarded and evil punished.) I would never suggest either of these theodicies to people who are suffering, but if that is where they are, then I have to work with that.

    As for me, theodicies fail, all of them. Worldviews are unstable in modernity.

    Eliade’s suggestion is that theodicies represent order. Without them, all is chaos. I fear that indeed all is chaos. The faith that I do have is only that somehow, someday everything will be made right in eternity and I find comfort not in theodicy but in the intuitive, irrational sense that there is a goodness to life and an order to it in spite of the apparent chaos.

    BTW, your professor has the heart of a rabbi. He is a good man. And clearly the same applies to you, for you responded immediately to his pastoral sense.

    September 15, 2009
  3. Hi Ken, just curious how your following statement is different than theodicy?

    “The faith that I do have is only that somehow, someday everything will be made right in eternity and I find comfort not in theodicy but in the intuitive, irrational sense that there is a goodness to life and an order to it in spite of the apparent chaos.”

    Your approach seems to fit into Ryan’s general definition of worldviews as a form of theodicy: “All worldviews are theodicies, at some level. They all address the problem of what’s wrong with the world and what the solution is. They all place suffering in some kind conceptual/existential structures that allow us to make our way through our days and to go on in the world with a sense of hope.”

    Doesn’t your statement propose hope amidst chaos – e.g. theodicy? Sorry if I’ve missed your point, as I’m relatively inexperienced on the topic of suffering (personally and intellectually)…

    September 15, 2009
    • Ken #

      Depending on how one defines theodicy, I think that theodicy is perhaps inevitable in Christianity. To the extent that I do have faith, a Christian faith, it does involve a theodicy (if, as Ryan writes, that “designation is proper or even helpful”) like that in the Psalms in which goodness will prevail. I don’t think Ryan was equating worldviews and theodicies. I think he meant that worldviews generally involve theodicy because they involve ways of explaining or dealing with evil.

      I think that theodicies fail in modernity in the sense that we ultimately do not believe them, that we ultimately cannot explain evil. We do not believe them because our worldviews are unstable in a pluralistic society. As Ryan said, all worldviews “stumble” on evil. An in modernity the plurality of them makes it hard to sustain any.

      The other way I deal with it is perhaps something like love of fate – the way of Nietzsche, the way of Darwin. But I prefer the way of the Psalms.

      September 15, 2009
      • Thanks for your clarifications Ken here and in your response below. Oh, and thanks for the correction to my comment equating worldviews and theodicy – my mistake…

        Just curious how we “do not believe” our theodicies? Personally, I do believe in the theodicy that God will one day restore all of creation – a process initiated in the resurrection of Christ. And while I agree that the chaos of our world brings suffering more often than hope, we can already get glimpses of restoration – however small they may be – in the personal stories of redemption in people’s lives. It’s these small glimpses that give me reason to believe my Christian theodicy is in fact believable. And I’m with you, the Psalms are invaluable for offering me patience and hope in the midst of this world.

        September 16, 2009
      • Ken #

        On how we “do not believe” our theodicies: I was thinking about the modern tendency to find evil ultimately inexplicable, like Ryan wrote about in the seventh paragraph of his blog entry. My faith and hope are very close to yours. It is only perhaps that my struggle with disbelief is so large. And like you, I do find reassurance in the “glimpses of restoration.”

        September 17, 2009
    • You’re right, Ken. A lot depends on how you define “theodicy.” I operate with a fairly broad definition (a “massive blanket” from which there is “no escape,” in Tyler’s words :)) where any attempt to locate evil into a coherent structure that makes hopeful living (or even an unwillingness to give in to despair) possible. In that sense, as David points out, I would certainly consider your “intuitive irrational sense that there is goodness to life” and that “someday everything will be made right in eternity” a theodicy.

      “Theodicy” is not synonymous with “worldview” on this definition (not unique to me, by the way), but it’s getting close. I think worldviews must also incorporate accounts of goodness, truth, beauty, etc. These, too, require explanation (especially on views of the world that see our existence as owing to nothing beyond a brute struggle for survival over vast amounts of time). Obviously a theodicy would not need to include this. I do think that the questions of theodicy play a large (in some cases, even a determinative) role in our consideration of worldviews.

      September 16, 2009
      • Ken #

        I agree with your position on worldviews, including the importance of dealing with evil within them, and including the idea that they stumble on evil, at least in modernity, in a pluralistic society. If we differ on anything here, it only appears to be with the specific way each of us deals with suffering personally. When talking to people who are suffering, I don’t try to teach them my way. Instead, I listen for their way and then do what I can to work with them on the problem, if that is their concern. I imagine you would do the same.

        When I wrote, “The faith that I do have is only that somehow, someday everything will be made right in eternity and I find comfort not in theodicy but in the intuitive, irrational sense that there is a goodness to life and an order to it in spite of the apparent chaos,” I should have inserted “in addition” after the first “and.” I meant to say that I seem to have two ways of dealing with evil – one based on the eschatological Christian hope and the other based on love of fate, as in Nietzche’s writings, and as Darwin implied. Although the latter approach is a kind of theodicy by atheism which lets God off the hook and attributes evil to necessity (in the sense that Darwin and Nietzsche saw necessity,) I think something similar to it can be found to a limited extent in Bible in Psalm 104 and in Job.

        From your writings here and in many of your blog postings, I have the impression that morality, or goodness, is one of your central concerns, probably your major concern in theology or world views. As I imagine you have noticed, for me it is not. I am reading Taylor’s book now, the one your brother is reading. I imagine you have read it. Taylor’s central concern is goodness and how our view of goodness shapes our view of ourselves and life. I do find his analysis of the self and world views quite illuminating. I also find the analysis of Mircea Eliade illuminating and his analysis does not center on morality or goodness. Although Taylor does not mention Eliade, he has undoubtedly been influenced by him. Everyone of Taylor’s generation read Eliade I am sure and I see it in Taylor’s use of the terms order and chaos. It sounds to me like your professor was also influenced by Eliade. While an atheist, your professor kept his interest in religion, or philosophy of religion, or history of religion or religious thought and he certainly possessed a keen sensitiveness to the pastoral problem.

        BTW, I think Mdaele’s concerns typically find resolution in the way of Nietzsche or Darwin. Ultimately, I think their explanation is the most plausible in modernity and, at least for the highly educated, has the most cultural support – it has the backing of scientific enterprise and of the still great faith “the enlightenment.”

        September 16, 2009
      • Morality and goodness are certainly big concerns of mine but I don’t think I’m very unique there. I sense the same thing in what you write, even if you wouldn’t describe yourself in these terms. Every sense or intuition or protest that the world ought to have more meaning or order or goodness than it presently exhibits is a “concern for goodness” in my opinion. It’s a generically human need.

        I’ve not read much Eliade (or Taylor, for that matter). I’ve read sections of Sources of the Self and around half of A Secular Age. I don’t feel like I’ve read enough to offer an intelligent comment on their thought.

        I think Mdaele’s concerns typically find resolution in the way of Nietzsche or Darwin. Ultimately, I think their explanation is the most plausible in modernity and, at least for the highly educated, has the most cultural support – it has the backing of scientific enterprise and of the still great faith “the enlightenment.”

        I disagree. I don’t think there is any “resolution” to be found in the way of Nietzsche or Darwin. Nietzsche and Darwin render us inexplicable to ourselves. This is no great accomplishment or step forward in my opinion, nor do I think it is where “the highly educated” must end up. I think that Nietzsche and Darwin have the support of a very specific interpretation of the scientific enterprise, but there is much—far too much, in my opinion—about good and evil and God and humanity that remains unaccounted for on this view of the world for me to embrace it.

        September 16, 2009
      • Ken #

        Here is the sense in which I mean “resolution.”

        Nietzsche and Darwin basically offer the same explanation of evil, or suffering. It is part of the struggle for life. Life depends on some degree of suffering and on a large measure of death. Their expressions of this are different to some extent, but each embraced amor fati, or chance and necessity. These ideas do explain “evil.” That is the resolution. I agree that from a Christian perspective this is generally not considered a favorable resolution. Still, many people who find the future hope that is part of Christianity incredible have accepted this explanation and understand suffering in that context. Some Christian theologians have tried to integrate this explanation into traditional theological terms. I think Paul Tillich is an important example, and John Macquarrie – basically, all theologians who have built theologies along the lines of the philosophy of Heidegger.

        Other Christians who find the traditional narratives of hope unbelievable have turned to Marxist theologies for an alternative, this worldly hope. Marxism offers an explanation of evil and a remedy for it. Of course, not many people find that narrative believable either today and in practice it has produced more despair and death than either traditional theology or the ideas of Nietzsche and Darwin ever have.

        I think the explanation of Darwin and Nietzsche is the most persuasive one we have today, at least for a lot of people. It is to me, even though I prefer the one of the Psalms.

        September 16, 2009
      • Thanks for the clarification. I still have reservations about saying that Darwin and Nietzsche “explain” evil. There is some plausibility in saying that the struggle for life produces a certain amount of brutality. But I have read several philosophical discussions that wonder if the kind of evil human beings are capable of and drawn to goes beyond what could logically be expected from species seeking their own biological advantage (I’ve written a bit about this here).

        For me, the evil that humans commit seems better “explained” by the language of Romans (and the Psalms and the prophets…) than by the story told by natural selection where we are nothing more organisms adapting to our environment and seeking to pass our genes on. People often assume that the Darwinian story has a problem with genuine goodness, altruism, etc; but I think that genuine evil also presents challenges.

        September 17, 2009
      • Ken #

        Fortunately, for the sake of my hope, I share your reservations.

        Within the Darwinian narrative, love and hate are the same to natural selection, whether they are necessary or superfluous. Within the Christian narrative, and within that of Judaism, they are not the same, and they are gratuitous but not superfluous . As Charles Taylor, reflecting on Augustine, wrote in Sources of the Self, page 139, “There is something gratuitous in love as well as in the refusal of love; and this, of course, is at the heart of the Judaeo-Christian outlook.” It is.

        I am quite sure that Darwin would concur that a genuine evil would confound his argument. I don’t recall him writing about this, but he did write about a similar concern related to beauty.

        Beauty, goodness and evil will forever puzzle us.

        September 17, 2009
  4. The brilliance of Ryan’s point is it covers all world views. There is no escaping his massive blanket 😉

    September 15, 2009
  5. Ryan,
    Good words as usual.
    As you already know my questions come in regards to the ‘eventual’ nature that you suggest is somehow intrinsic to a ‘Christian’ theodicy. ie. the idea that we must wait for some redemptive future
    You already know my arguments in this area – about how this perspective tends to alienate us from our current reality, etc.
    I wonder if you have thought about this: why do we need an eventual restoration/redemption?
    I might assume you would say that the eventual redemption is the basis for hope.
    but…
    What is the substance of a hope that is based in an eventuality that is largely inaccessable from this side of our mortal reality?
    Shouldn’t the greatest burden of our theodicy especially ‘pastorally’ be to give light to the struggle and suffering of the present in its own contextual and temporal framework?
    It seems to me that a theodicy that says, “wait” is both easy and hard. It is easy to espouse a theodicy like this because evidenciary criteria are relegated to the domain of the unknown and proof needs largely to be imagined. Yet it is equally hard to espouse such a theodicy since it seems to ultimately avoid the temporal consequences of its perspective with an unsubstantial hope.
    I suppose I just can’t shake the consequences of those questions and I’m not sure I have heard or read a satisfying answer for an idea that I really want to embrace whole-heartedly.
    there you go…

    September 15, 2009
    • Thanks Dale. I hear your concerns but am not sure what I can say that I haven’t said in past conversations. Perhaps the most obvious question would be, on what reading of the NT could you conclude that there is not an inherently future redemption/restoration involved in the Christian “solution” to the problem of evil?

      What is the substance of a hope that is based in an eventuality that is largely inaccessible from this side of our mortal reality?

      Well, the substance comes from a combination of areas. It comes from Scripture (the OT concept of shalom, the hope of Israel described, for example, in passages of Isaiah, and obviously NT passages like the one I cited in my post). It comes from our own experience (times when we get tastes of goodness, peace, justice, security, forgiveness, etc and long for their permanence; the deep longing for these things that seems to be an irreducible component of our humanity). It also draws from reason (why are we creatures that long for things that are bound to be frustrated?) and tradition (centuries of Christian reflection, prayer, reading Scripture, etc). It’s not like we’re all just dreaming up fantasies on our own is it?

      In addition, you say that hope located in the future is based on “an eventuality that is largely inaccessible from this side of our mortal reality.” Where do you see a basis for a hope that could satisfy us from this side of our mortal reality? In other words, where would we turn for a more “accessible” source for hope?

      It seems to me that a theodicy that says, “wait” is both easy and hard. It is easy to espouse a theodicy like this because evidenciary criteria are relegated to the domain of the unknown and proof needs largely to be imagined. Yet it is equally hard to espouse such a theodicy since it seems to ultimately avoid the temporal consequences of its perspective with an unsubstantial hope.

      Aside from disagreeing (for the reasons stated above, among others) that we have nothing to go on but our own imaginations re: the shape of the Christian hope, I don’t understand why you feel this view necessitates an avoidance of living responsibly and hopefully in the present. There is nothing about locating the ultimate fulfillment of our hope in the future that requires an unwillingness or inability to “give light to the struggle and suffering of the present in its own contextual and temporal framework.”

      September 16, 2009
      • Mdaele #

        It is not possible to deny the straightforward instruction that the NT gives on the existence of an ‘eventual’ redemption. That being said, I would suspect that as with the equally clear instruction on male headship or homosexuality that some careful hermeneutical work could inform what has been traditionally held as rigid understnading of that eventual redemption. I suppose that the starting question for me is why is the instruction on eventual redemption included in the way it is in the NT and what cultural values inform the distinctives that might otherwise be reinforced better with other pertanent teaching and principles found in scripture?
        As far as dreaming up fantasies? Reason might also lead us to conclude that the state of our existence (and the nature of suffereing itself) is humanly centered concept that does not nessicarily reflect the divine reality. What we consider evil or horrible must be referentially labelled that way to our human experience. In this case our temporal objective is not to vanquish suffering but to deny hedonism in acceptance of our own life course with humble grace. The indicators that we have that suggest that there is more to come afterward might only be the exageration of our own selfishness which seem to be at the root of evil itself.
        I suppose that a more accessible hope would be one that offers ‘sufferers’ meaningful ways to access Godly characteristics of grace in the face of suffering. If the goal is to rid oursleves eventually or now of the pain of suffering we must assume that we deserve something better than we are getting which puts us in demand of God’s intervention – which to me reduces God’s authority and sovereignty.
        Lastly I agree that people with an eventual hope can and are effective in the temporal work of redemption. It is in this perspective however that I find the greatest problems with alienation of our earthly existence. It also seems to me that the hope offered has a tendency to be ‘sold’ in much the same way that penis enlargement adverts are flogged in my junk mail box. I am not suggesting that that is the case for everyone but…

        September 16, 2009
      • I would suspect that as with the equally clear instruction on male headship or homosexuality that some careful hermeneutical work could inform what has been traditionally held as rigid understanding of that eventual redemption.

        Are you suggesting that if we did the proper hermeneutical work we could/would come to the conclusion that we ought not to locate our ultimate hope in the future? That the reason Christians have a future hope is because we’ve been reading our Bibles wrong?

        Reason might also lead us to conclude that the state of our existence (and the nature of sufferer itself) is humanly centered concept that does not necessarily reflect the divine reality. What we consider evil or horrible must be referentially labeled that way to our human experience.

        So evil is a relative concept? I would be extremely hesitant to say that to someone who has suffered. I would be extremely hesitant to tell the person I referred to in my post that the death of their 3 year old and the suicide of their adult son was “referentially labeled” to fit their experience—that it couldn’t objectively be called “suffering” or “evil.”

        I suppose that a more accessible hope would be one that offers ’sufferers’ meaningful ways to access Godly characteristics of grace in the face of suffering.

        I wasn’t asking about what an accessible hope might look like. I was asking where we might get the resources to inform it from. You said that the future was inaccessible to us and that it therefore was of no use to us in guiding the present. I’m asking, what do you see in the present that would give you good reasons to or grounds for hope?

        Lastly I agree that people with an eventual hope can and are effective in the temporal work of redemption. It is in this perspective however that I find the greatest problems with alienation of our earthly existence.

        What do you mean by “alienation of our earthly existence?” If people with an eventual hope can be and are effective in the temporal work of redemption, whence cometh the alienation?

        September 16, 2009
  6. “Are you suggesting that if we did the proper hermeneutical work we could/would come to the conclusion that we ought not to locate our ultimate hope in the future? That the reason Christians have a future hope is because we’ve been reading our Bibles wrong?”
    I suppose I am wondering if there is a valid reason why our interpretation on things like heaven and future redemption are closed interpretively while other equally as direct concepts in scripture seems to enjoy a new openness in interprative perspective?

    Does ‘relative’ evil actually cause that much of a problem? I certainly appreciate that it seems calloused to suggest to the sufferer that they just need to change their perspective. However, it seems somewhat disingenuous to ask that person to believe in a future redemption that at least in part forces the sufferer to dismiss their present suffering because a future redemption awaits.
    I would suggest that teaching people how to graciously accept hardship and suffering is the ability to give them the freedom from the dibilitating nature of that suffering. It seems to me that the key to learning that gracious acceptance comes from an understanding of how the divine perspective might see those hardships differently.
    Re: “alienation of our earthly existance”
    i mean to suggest that those that believe in a future redemption as the central source of hope are more inclined to see the temporal existance as an alienated reality from the true reality which is to come and thus are inclined to dismiss the vitality of this present life as a centrally important.
    As you know I am not settled on these topics and I am willing to be convinced. As I have said before it is not that I do not beleive in a future ultimate hope but I am questioning the usefulness of keeping it as the central part of our understanding of hope and redemption.

    September 16, 2009
    • I suppose I am wondering if there is a valid reason why our interpretation on things like heaven and future redemption are closed interpretively while other equally as direct concepts in scripture seems to enjoy a new openness in interprative perspective?

      I guess I would see the destiny of human beings and the cosmos as more of a macro issue than the other issues I cited. If I’m wrong about my views about women in ministry it seems less critical than if I’m wrong about the goal of life, history, etc. The question of what we can hope for seems like the broad tent under which everything else takes place, in my view.

      I certainly appreciate that it seems calloused to suggest to the sufferer that they just need to change their perspective. However, it seems somewhat disingenuous to ask that person to believe in a future redemption that at least in part forces the sufferer to dismiss their present suffering because a future redemption awaits.

      Once again, I don’t see why this is necessary. There is nothing about believing in a future hope that requires dismissing present suffering or not advocating facing hardship with grace and courage. For me, the climax of ultimate redemption feeds back and infuses every instantiation of proximate, temporal redemption along the way with hope and meaning.

      September 17, 2009
  7. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying the issue, but isn’t this debate centered around how we interpret the “now, not yet” character of Christian eschatology – the belief that while we hope for Christ’s future redemption, we also experience it, however minutely, in our present situations?

    Some emphasize the “now” while others the “not yet.” And different life situations likely warrant a different emphasis on this eschatological spectrum. In some moments our hope in redemption is “now” (e.g. cancer recovery) while in others it is obviously “not yet” (e.g. cancer diagnosis). Personally, I take comfort in both sides of this tension in that it reflects how Christ’s redemption is aimed at all aspects of life in our unpredictable experience in a broken world.

    September 17, 2009
    • I forgot to say, I think Ryan’s emphasizes the “now, not yet” reality of Christian hope well with his comment:

      “the climax of ultimate redemption feeds back and infuses every instantiation of proximate, temporal redemption along the way with hope and meaning.”

      September 17, 2009
    • I don’ think it’s an oversimplification at all. Well said Dave.

      September 18, 2009
  8. Paul Johnston #

    …”One thought might promise some consolation: When I was sick it became clear to me how carefully others watched my reaction-would my faith help me at all, they wondered? Does a professional practice of faith offer some strength? In sickness we are not powerless. We still have the ability to teach. I learned this from my congregation.

    I told this man, my friend Isaac, that his children and grandchildren were watching him. Here was a chance to teach his greatest lesson. They would remember much about him to be sure, but they would never forget how he died. His acceptence, his dignity, even his hope, could change their lives…

    The two of us in the hospital room held hands, and agreed that if we could, we would pass from this life with words of love and hope for awakenings to come. Shortly afterword, Isaac passed away. His children speak of him with reverence for his life and for the way in which he faced death. As with all meetings of the spirit there was not one who gave and one who took; there were two who stood with each other before God, and even in their sadness, felt blessed.”…

    From “Why Faith Matters” by David J. Wolpe

    September 20, 2009
  9. Mdaele #

    This is late I know but whatever…
    I suppose it is fair to suggest that issue of purpose of life (as it entails future hope etc) is a bigger tent issue. I also suppose that it could be equally important to approach our interpretation of this teaching in the Scriptures with humblity and reverence. It seems almost reckless to suppose that because this teaching has a greater import that revelation on it to humanity has any more guarantees of accuracy than those other issues we mentioned. My goal is not to suggest that our interpretation of eschatological principles is wrong but rather that it may need just as ardent evaluation as other issues do.
    On the latter question
    It seems that waiting for the future hope forces us to ask sufferers to forego the resolution to their pain or an understanding of its function in their lives until the point when they will receive the ultimate answer and resolution on the other side. The rhetorical question that frames this problem is this: Is God enough for me today?
    That is to say, are the prinicples and teaching found in scripture and encountered in a Godly community able to offer the gracious response needed for the pain of suffering? Are the principles of Godly character able to help the individual meet the darkness of thier despair with courage and gratitude? Are these ideas big enough to avoid being consumed by despair and disillusion so that there is no ability to see goodness in their lived experience? The ability to see possible goodness is the essence of hope. Right?

    September 22, 2009
    • It seems that waiting for the future hope forces us to ask sufferers to forego the resolution to their pain or an understanding of its function in their lives until the point when they will receive the ultimate answer and resolution on the other side. The rhetorical question that frames this problem is this: Is God enough for me today?

      I think at the deepest level, none of our pain is resolved this side of eternity. God can be “enough” for today—indeed, he must be—but the ultimate consummation of our hope remains in the future. To say that God is enough for right now is simply to say, “Given the parameters of temporal existence (as we know it), God has promised to be sufficient.” But an important part of the Christian hope is that the parameters of temporal existence are not permanent.

      I think your last paragraph asks some hugely important and perfectly legitimate questions (for Christianity, but also for any worldview). These are the questions that churches and individual Christians have to be prepared to answer, both in word and in deed.

      September 23, 2009
  10. Paul Johnston #

    Jesus on the cross, feels forsaken; alone, abandoned…but does not break faith. Faith, bereft and made silent, if it is to survive, becomes hope. Sometimes it is all we have.

    Mdaele, maybe it is a question of priority. If the present shapes my future and my present circumstances are tragic, then your desparing tone resonates. If however I believe in a future that works towards informing my present, well…more than having hope, I am hope.

    September 23, 2009
  11. I think presence, the incarnational presence of Jesus in us, trumps any words we could offer.

    June 2, 2017

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