If this blog had any kind of a theme in 2011, it was the exploration of theodicy – to what extent is God responsible for suffering in the world, why does he allow it, and how does its existence change our view of him?
I feel like it ended somewhat hopefully – as, really, it should, given the time of year. The Christmas story is one of surprising love and fulfilled hope. So as we enter our first full year together, dear readers, I wanted to continue with that note of hopefulness by pointing you to the blog of Laura Massingill, who was diagnosed with cancer last year. She’s part of one of three shepherding teams at a small church our family attended for several months (we sadly moved on for practical reasons, but we loved the church itself).
Laura uses a story from Winnie the Pooh, in which Pooh finds himself stuck in rabbit’s doorway for a week until he can get thin enough for his friends to pull him free. Christopher Robin tells him, “You can stay here all right, silly old Bear. It’s getting out which is so difficult.”
In the end, his friends read to him – a “Sustaining Book, such as would comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness” – until he loses enough weight to pop out of the hole. Laura writes:
2011 for me was a bit like being stuck in Rabbit’s front door. Caught by cancer, wedged in some uncomfortable places, yet the days were made easier by the words of a Sustaining Book, written by a God of Surprises. It was a story of friends that visited, and hands that prepared food. Its stories contained the beauty of flowers bestowed, cards written, gifts given, and old acquaintances renewed.Its pages even held mystery. Unmarked envelopes with cash that appeared like manna from heaven, strangers offering prayers from corners of the world I will never see.
Some of you are a part of that Sustaining Story.
Others, like Rabbit, provided the comforting message that life still happens even in the midst of crisis, and we might as well get comfortable with it. Maybe even dry our towels on the back legs of the thing. Surgery recovery became a long slumber party in the living room. Hair falling out by the handful became a “New ‘Do” event. Shaving mom’s head in my son and daughter-in-law’s new apartment kitchen was celebrated like a house warming party.
What if the God we worship is indeed a God of evolution?
What if the movement in the world we expect to see from him is actually the thing he expects to see from us?
What if he would rather see his children comfort, protect, feed, house and encourage rather than prove his existence with a mighty, undeniable show of power?
The other thing I’ve discussed at length is how a literal reading of the Bible’s words gives incomplete or inaccurate views of God. We’ve taken the God of a seven-day creation, the God of the worldwide flood, the God of the Canaanite and Amalekite genocides and tried to fit him into the 21st-century equivalences of these events. We have formed a view of God, based on a poor method of reading the Old Testament, that focuses too much on his power, transcendence and judgment and not enough on his love, compassion and mercy.
In other words, we’ve not only forgotten that God is love, but that God is Jesus.
Jesus, the one who stooped to save the adulteress.
Jesus, the one who lifted the Samaritan woman from her dead-end life.
Jesus, the one who, yes, could have stopped the suffering and the abuse and the pain he encountered in one awe-inspiring display but chose instead to live in it himself.
God is Jesus, and he does not promise to obliterate the hole in which we are stuck, but he promises to be there, reading to us as we wait to be unstuck from whatever situation in which we find ourselves. And he uses his followers – as friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers – to do that job, to do the incredible work on which Jesus places such importance in Matthew 25.
Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then those who are righteous will reply to him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
Then the king will reply to them, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”
One thing I try to remember as I write this blog is that I don’t actually know anything. I could be wrong about all of this stuff.
I certainly don’t know why an omnipotent God would choose to wait billions of years before humans appeared on the scene, or why he would work so slowly or leave such major questions about himself unanswered. I don’t know why he would let the children of good parents who love them die while others are horrifically abused or grow up to take dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of other lives.
I don’t ultimately know why God would allow the kinds of things that happen thousands of times over every single day on this depraved, vicious planet.
But I’m pretty sure I know what God expects me to do about it.