Saturday, August 10, 2013


Excerpt from GOD OF OUR SILENT TEARS ch 2:

I have administrative bones to pick with God, . . . .. I’ll say God seems to have a laid-back management style I’m not crazy about. I’m pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I’m not seeing how we can get together on this issue, he and I . . . .
David Foster Wallace

They were confused, the chaos too much for them
destruction as far
as 3 miles in
where are the people
hundreds of shoppers
swept from an outdoor
market. Roads
remain impassible

One child watches
the cremation of his
sister. And in
the pale boy’s arms, the

“They Were Confused, The Chaos Too Much For Them,”
by Lyn Lifshin

The tsunami that devastated South Asia is the largest modern natural disaster. In the midst of that catastrophe, there were stories of unlikely, seemingly miraculous survivals, like a toddler who floated on a mattress for five hours before she was rescued. But more than 100,000 people were not rescued. A six month old Australian baby, Melina Heppell, was torn by the waters from her father’s arms. Tamara Mendis, the wife of a Chicago Lutheran pastor, was visiting her family in Sri Lanka when the waters overwhelmed her train and took her life. To say Melina and Tamara were in the wrong place at the wrong time doesn’t begin to explain why any place should undergo such a time.

“The problem of evil” arises out of certain assumptions that if there is a God, then God is a certain way. God is the all-powerful designer, manufacturer, and ruler of the world. God is loving, good, and kind. Up against that, we experience a world in which horrible things happen. Everything must be the way God wants it. Then why are things so bad? All of the attempted answers to that question have a name – “theodicy.” It means, in the words of John Milton, “to justify the ways of God to man.” We will begin by examining the main theodicies of Christian tradition, the main ways Christian theologians have tried to make sense of this conundrum. . . . .

After the funeral, the mourners gather
under the rustling churchyard maples
and talk softly, like clusters of leaves . . .
They came this afternoon to say goodbye,
but now they keep saying hello and hello,
peering into each other’s faces,
slow to let go of each other’s hands.
From “Mourners” by Ted Kooser
in Delight and Shadow

The basic problem which we call natural evil is that we are not God. As creatures, we are mortal, so we die. Sad as that may be, it is just how it is. But why can’t God make us immortal? One reason is that life is meaningful only if it is made up of real choices. Without death, we do not really have to make choices. Having only one limited life to live means our choices count. Only if choices count, only if they really are choices from among a limited number of opportunities, do we have real freedom. Mortality is the tragic but essential context for authentic human life.

Not only does mortality make life choices meaningful, it makes life precious.  In Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead, when old pastor Ames is approaching death, he says,

I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes
on the world once and sees amazing things  it will never know
any names for  and then has to close its eyes again. I know all this is all a mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty to it. And I can’t believe that when we have been changed  and put on incorruptibility that we will forget our fantastic condition  of mortality and impermanence,  the great bright dream of procreating and perishing  that meant the whole world to us. In eternity, this world  will be Troy . . .  and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe,  the song they sing in the streets. 
Our mortal, vulnerable condition makes life precious and beautiful. It makes our choices meaningful. Some forms of suffering (loneliness, limitation, temptation, and anxiety) “belong to the human condition.” They  are necessary to all that we value and love in life. They are inherent in being human and essential to our fulfilling our spiritual potential. Theologian Douglas John Hall calls these hardships “integrative suffering.”

Frailty, faults, and death make compassion possible. They are the context of personal relationships that could not exist among more angelic beings. Czeslaw Miloz wrote in his poem “In A Parish,”

Had I not been frail and half broken inside
I would not think of them, who are like myself half broken inside.
I would not climb the cemetery hill by the church
To get rid of my self-pity.
Crazy Sophies.
Michaels who lost every battle,
Self-destructive Agathas
Lie under crosses with their dates of birth and death, And who
Is going to express them? Their mumblings, weepings, hopes, tears
of humiliation ? . . .
There is some truth in the idea that mortality gives makes life precious, poignant, and meaningful. It is also true that vulnerability is essential to truly human relationship. Spiritual teachers from several traditions have prescribed practicing awareness of our impending death as a way to sharpen our appreciation of life. “Keep death at your left shoulder,” some say. “Memento mori”—“remember death,” we used to inscribe on tombstones.

But that argument only defends the fact that life is subject to some limits. It does not justify the extent of human suffering or the randomness with which people die. It does not justify life ending prematurely or slowly with frailty and senility. It does not justify pain and disability. Much of our vulnerability is quite unnecessary to make life meaningful and beautiful. The Christian tradition does not posit, in the Hall’s words, “a God who actually wills the massive, unbearable, or seemingly absurd suffering of the creature – any creature! A deity personally and directly responsible for all the agony of earth would be unrecognizable as God from the perspective of biblical faith. "

GOD OF OUR SILENT TEARS is now available from Cathedral Bookstore on line.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I don't know if this helps but I think of the physical world as God's great illusion of sorts and that the true reality exists in the spiritual world. With that in mind it puts what happens in the physical world into a different perspective. Surely, the physical world is all we know and as such it makes what happens here all that much more important. In my mind, it all boils down to good old fashioned faith, faith that there is a better life after this one and that what happens here prepares us for that better life. This happens by exercising our emotional and intellectual beings to the full extent, which is I think what you were saying...