Monday, December 30, 2002

theodicy notes

How does Christianity explain this world of hurt?

As you may realize, the short version of Christianity’s answers are:

1. Creation suffers, struggles and grieves in pain with death’s agents and with death itself because creation is fallen. All of the incalculable manifestations of death point toward this fallenness. How did this fallenness, asunder-ness, this sin come about? By humanity’s not living in the image of the God in Whose image God created them; by abrogating their call to creativity and community and, paradoxically, by grasping the gift of freedom - which also means they’ve made a whole lot of mistakes and taken lots of missteps.

2. Christianity’s answer is a free and sovereign God of mercy and love, justice and life Who in freedom and sovereignty suffers, struggles and grieves with creation: a God Whose answer always is resurrection. This God, Who raised Jesus from death to new life, is manifest in all creation and present to every one of us, most specifically in the Church as the new Body of the Risen Christ. God is present in, with and under creation with the hope, the promise and the reality of redemption. BUT, the signs of God’s presence remain elusive – our Free God cannot and will not be contained: “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Just as you said, God cannot be limited by time and space and, as I keep trying to explain, I agree. Even as revealed in the human Jesus, God cannot be contained limited or defined. In freedom God remains the One Who will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy…though still, response to creation's needs continues to be God’s primary passion.

3. My point about death’s agents and about death itself is that the sum of the parts not only is synergistic in being greater than the literal addition of the parts, but it’s also vastly different in kind from any of the individual parts and assumes a real liveliness and a dynamic of its own. Although at their origins the “powers and principalities” are practically inert, in combination they take off on their own with a cosmic presence and a cosmic influence far beyond anything they ever could have as discrete elements. They become real persons with personalities and with tremendous power to extinguish life. This gets back to what I wrote about the infrastructure supporting the epistructure. Possibly systems of all kinds begin with the individual? –Colossians 2:15; –Ephesians 6:12

Having said that. I remember your telling me you don’t go with the theology of the Servant God. Yes, it is one of Christianity’s main theological currents, and it’s also where we derive our Christian identity of a servant people. We know the God Who condescends to us and identifies with us in every way, ultimately in the death of Jesus of Nazareth, in Jesus’ death meeting us in the experience we all inevitably have in common. And God again meets us in the experience for which we hope in Jesus’ resurrection.

Theology/Theodicy Question

Originally posted in a slightly different version on Best Friends Animal Society Forums.

Trust me to jump in whenever there's a "theological question!" "Why God allows this" is the question of theodicy, and there's general consensus that none of the world religions or spiritual ways possess anything remotely resembling an adequate answer.

Some of you on these message boards know my perspective is Christian; theology is one of my principal passions! In the seminary classroom we learn about biblical content and sources and redaction and authorship and about scholarship and "higher criticism"; we learn responsible biblical interpretation (especially for preaching and teaching), church history, languages...but we don't get easy answers for all the hardest questions of life and existence.

As one of you wrote, "we flawed humans let God (and creation) down." Humans abrogated their charge, their stewardship over creation. That's one of the partial answers theologians often give; in other words, sin has inevitable consequences of brokenness, dysfunction and decay, and those consequential costs frequently escalate - or at times disintegrate - into something immensely chaotic, seemingly random and completely out of control. The sin, whether thought, word, or action, in itself is a sign of separation between humans, God and creation, and the sin also causes further disjunction between heaven and earth. A couple of you observed, "we disobeyed God in the garden," and that's another traditional and accurate but still incomplete answer.

Historically there have been a multitude of suggestions and ideas as to just what is this "image of God" in which humans, as the crown of creation (as a matter of fact woman is the chronological crown of creation) are made. To me one of the most credible ways we human creatures image the Divine is with our free will or agency: all so true about disobedience in that paradisiacal Eden of Genesis 2 and Genesis 3, but it's also true at the moment of violating God's authority that caused a such a rupture in the relationship among humans, creation, and their Creator, humans also seized the gift of agency or free will and therefore at the same time also took responsibility for their daily lives and their own well being, just as someone here mentioned. And as she says, free will also means "free choices." Sadly correct that at that same time humanity gave up the stewardship of creation God had charged them with as well, just as one of you already said.

In terms of "Why God allows this," although God's sovereignty is one of Christian theology's main spins on the biblical revelation, we always distinguish between God's perfect will and God's permissive will; that is to say, God never would plan suffering, grief, pain and brokenness, but since humans have the gift (=given) of free will, God doesn't force us to do good and avoid evil. Created in the image of our free God—God's freedom is another essential tenet of biblical theology—humans also are free to some extent.

Furthermore, God is watching and God does know when you pay kindness to animals or to humans or to the earth or to any part of God's cosmic creation, the total environment included! And as you suggested, prayer indeed is one of the most important ways we share responsibility with God.

And everyone, please remember: the day will come when all our enemies will be defeated, will be no more, including the enemy of death! Once again, my perspective is Christian, and the Bible claims Jesus' death and resurrection resulted in the death of death. Parts of the New Testament witness seem confused and confusing but the general Christian conviction is that although salvation/ wholeness/ reconciliation and all the rest of the promises of God already are "done deeds," in Jesus Christ, but there's still a sense in which creation remains fallen. We also have the indwelling Spirit, enabling our response in prayer, word and action to the many needs we see about us. And there will come a day we'll see, hear, touch and live totally within a redeemed and restored creation. That day will be the fullness of redemption. We talk a lot on these Furoms about "Rainbow Bridge." The familiar story begins, "Just this side of heaven..." When each of us and each of our animals leaves this temporary body, we go to the Rainbow Bridge, or a place that closely parallels it, where it's almost heaven. At the end time (the Eschaton in biblical Greek) all creation will be reunited and restored and in perfect bodies. No longer will we dwell "Just this side of heaven"; we'll live in the fullness and completion of heaven, the arrival of the Day of Jesus Christ, the world of a restored creation. What form will that take? Another subject of major speculation!

As the book of Job 12:7-10 reminds us all:
You have only to ask the cattle, for them to instruct you, and the birds of the sky, for them to inform you. The creeping things of earth will give you lessons, and the fish of the sea provide you an explanation: there is not one such creature but will know that the hand of God has arranged things like this! In his hand is the soul of every living thing and the breath of every human being!

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