Tuesday, April 7, 2015

is theology helpful?

Image from radiofreebabylon.com
The ever candid and refreshing Anne Lamott recently wrote: "Now, two Sundays ago, I had two boys out of three in my youth group that same age [17], who have had brain cancer. One still has it. The other is blind in one eye. At a church with 30 regular members. Right?
(The first thing I am going to ask God when we meet face to face is, "What on EARTH could you have been thinking?". And He or She will know exactly who I am talking about, the many way-too-young who have died or had serious pain so far, in my 60 years here. Who have been raised by closet psychotics. "What was THAT all about?" God will say what God said to Job--"I'm God, and I don't have to explain. Plus, there is a zero chance you would understand. No offense. Rock on.”)
I always teach them that they are loved and chosen, no matter what; that God's got it, no matter how hard and unfair things seem; that all we have to do is take care of the poor, the hungry and thirsty, including ourselves, and give thanks for the tender mercies of our lives. I hugged them goodbye. I said, "Go get em."" [1]
In thinking about the nature of evil and all things horrible, we can soon find ourselves asking, "How in the world did it get this way when God started it off with goodness oozing out of every molecule?" It is a question that is not likely to be answered to our satisfaction, as Anne suggests. This makes me think that it might not be the best question for us to ask. Jon Stovell (Vineyard Canada theology guy) suggests that we might do better to ask a different question. Instead of "Why would a loving and omnipotent God allow evil in his creation?" he suggests that we ask, "Why did he put us into this world before he was done perfecting it?"Jon bases his question on the idea that while God gave creation a really good start in Genesis, it is not yet completed. We see the final fulfillment, the end of the story, the new creation is all its splendour, evident in the final chapters of Revelation. And the answer to this better question, Jon suggests, is this: "To help."[2] In Lamott's words:"All we have to do is take care of the poor, the hungry and thirsty, including ourselves, and give thanks for the tender mercies of our lives."
The recurring themes in the Bible do not revolve around how to make sense of life, nor around providing rational answers to philosophical questions, not even around understanding what God is doing (though we as theologians keep looking for that). The recurring themes have to do with chaos being reordered into goodness and beauty, suffering being infused with meaning and mercy, and death being transformed into new life. I don't understand it, but I can participate in it. And that is the point Anne and Jon are both making. We are here to help the helpless, speak words of comfort to the disconsolate, hug the unloved, and bring beauty and kindness wherever it is lacking in this world. Because that is what God does for us. And to me, that is the task of theology.
"Only a few can be learned, but all can be Christian, all can be devout, and - I shall boldly add - all can be theologians." - Desiderius Erasmus

Matte in Montreal

[1] Anne Lamott's Facebook page, March 23, 2015.
[2] Jon Stovell's Notebook: http://jon.stovell.info/notebook/on-human-suffering-and-the-problem-of-evil/, February 2, 2015.