Thursday, August 29, 2013


An Excerpt from Ch. 5 of God Of Our Silent Tears -- a chapter on several things God is not. God of Our Silent Tears is now available from the Cathedral Bookstore (Los Angeles).       

              Atheist philosopher David Hume and his successors have defined God in terms of only two characteristics – goodness and power, with “power” being understood as total dominance or control. That power is what makes him God. Well, that is a seriously flawed understanding of God and it makes “the problem of evil” intractable. Feminist theologians call that image of God “patriarchal.” They are not necessarily rejecting the image of God as “father.” “Patriarchal” here means God as dominator, God as autocrat. The patriarchal God is God because he is omnipotent. God’s literal omnipotence is the lynchpin of “the problem of evil” and the erroneous assumption in all the flawed attempts to answer the problem of evil.

            It is an oddly philosophical and peculiarly Greek notion about God, this “omnipotence” – but it is one of the most widely accepted beliefs about God, even to the extent of understanding that God is God because God is omnipotent, that  “God” means one who is omnipotent.  If you and yours are free of this patriarchal God image, “the problem of evil” is probably not troublesome for you. But because most people assume that divinity equals omnipotence, that patriarchal picture of God persists as the lynchpin of “the problem of evil.”

                        Bart Ehrman, in describing why he cannot believe in God, assumes that if God did exist, he would prove it by intervening in the world to impose his will. Even sophisticated theologians are not exempt. Their “doctrine of God” chapters generally show a much richer sense of who God is. But that is not the God who shows up in their “doctrine of evil” chapters. When it comes to this issue, even theologians who should know better lapse into patriarchal assumptions. If you do not share those assumptions at all, then feel free to skip on to the next chapter. But if your image of God is to any degree snared in the prevailing cultural definition of God as dominating power, then we need to clear up a few things.

                        First, the very concept of omnipotence is not to be found in Scripture. We have expanded the Biblical description of God as “almighty” into this notion of omnipotence. However, “almighty” in the Bible means “most powerful” – not literally omnipotent. The President of the United States is the “most powerful” political leader in the world, but that does not make him omnipotent in global politics. Omnipotence is not a Hebrew concept. It comes from the Greek philosophical preference for absolute terms. The doctrine of absolute literal omnipotence is not supported by Scripture. In the Bible, things usually do not go God’s way. If things always accorded with God’s will in the Bible, the Divine would be in a better mood and would not have come off as so irritable in the prophets.

            In addition to being without Scriptural basis, absolute omnipotence does not make sense. I was once teaching a Great Books course to college freshmen who were greatly fond of their subjectivity. They were forever insisting that each of us has our own truth, our own right, our own wrong, and that no one should impose any kind of belief on another. At last the curriculum allowed me to ambush their subjectivity with Euclid. A student went to the board and proved by indubitable logic Euclid’s theorem that parallel lines do not intersect. I questioned the class as to whether this might be true. “Yes” they said, “it is true.” On cross-examination they held that it would be true even if a majority of us should vote that parallels lines henceforth would intersect. They held that no government could change this truth by decree, and that it had always and everywhere been true and would always be so, even in Singapore and Sweden. But when I asked them, “And what if God should decide that parallel lines intersect?” fully half the class insisted that then parallel lines would intersect despite the logical impossibility. Omnipotence leads people to say and think the strangest things!

            Analytical philosophers point out that the notion of literal omnipotence is simply nonsense – “internally incoherent” is their term for it.[i] They demonstrate the senselessness of the word by asking questions such as, “Can God build a rock so big God cannot pick it up?”

            Orthodox doctrines of the Church have never made such silly claims about God. The leading authorities in theology, the people who have defined the boundaries of the Church’s faith, have always acknowledged that God’s “omnipotence” does not mean God can do anything which is either logically inconsistent or foreign to God’s nature. Medieval theologians such as Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus, along with modern writers such as C. S. Lewis and D. Z. Phillips, all agree that “omnipotence” is subject to those two fundamental limitations.[ii]

            So Scripture, Tradition, and Reason all oppose the view of God as literally omnipotent. Some theologians emphasize that God’s power is limited by God’s own nature.[iii] For example, God cannot will evil.[iv] Others say the nature of reality constrains God’s power.[v] God cannot make the world flat and round at the same time. Others argue that God has deliberately limited God’s own jurisdiction, withdrawn divine power, in order to let the cosmos be free and personal with a meaningful history instead of just playing out a script or dancing like a puppet.[vi] These are variations on a single theme. God is not literally omnipotent.

            Aside from being unbiblical and logically incoherent, equating God with absolute power is corrupting. It deifies power, not love or relationship. It is obeisance to the celestial dominator, the big guy in the sky, the patriarchal, monarchical God. This is not the God of love represented by the Trinity. It is not the Christian God revealed by Christ on the Cross. That God can also be manifest in weakness, defeat, and suffering.[vii]

            Rather than a cosmic patriarch, the God on the cross renounces dominating or controlling power. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams places this decision to renounce power at the center of Christian theology. He writes, “The absence of God’s manifest power is bound up with . . . a decision for powerlessness, against the domination of the world by manipulation . . . a decision to live with and within the potentially hurtful and destructive bounds of the world, a decision not to escape.” He calls it a “decision for reality,” coming to terms with things as they are – not passively or disengaged – but without trying to overcome the world with power.[viii]

                        The most influential Protestant theologian of the 20th Century, Karl Barth rejected “a priori notions of omnipotence” – that is the idea that God’s omnipotence means whatever happens is the will of God. He maintained that the world is always threatened and often undone by the mysterious power of Nothingness (das Nachtige) which God did not create.

            We do not worship domination or worship because we are dominated. Once we have clarified that point, “the problem of evil” does not appear so daunting. The first premise simply does not hold water.[ix] More importantly, once we get past the fixed assumption that divinity consists of dominating power, we can think anew about who God is. We can think far more creatively about how God responds to suffering and evil in the world. The point of denying God’s literal and absolute omnipotence is not to get God completely off the hook for the bad things that happen. It is to open a door to a better understanding of how God is involved with our life of mixed joy and sorrow.

[i] D. Z. Phillips, The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God, pp. 3-21.
[ii] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001) pp. 281-282. Phillips demonstrates that “There are countless activities it does not make sense to attribute to God” because what God can do depends on who or  what you believe God is. D. Z. Phillips, The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God, pp. 3-22..
[iii] Alister McGrath, Christain Theology, p. 295. D. Z. Philips develops this point at some length in The Problem Of God And The Problem Of Evil.
[iv] David Bentley Hart, The Doors Of The Sea, p. 70.
[v] Philosophers call the restraints imposed by logic “eternal compossibilities.” The world can be round or flat, but not both.

[vi]Alister McGrath, Christian Theology, pp. 281-284. We will look more closely at self-limitation in the next chapter in the context of creation. This is the most helpful understanding of the limits of divine power for purposes of explaining suffering. See also D. Z. Phillips, The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God, p. 181.

[vii] Shirley Guthrie, Christian Theology, at 112.
[viii] Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology. (Oxford: Blackwell Press, 2000) p. 122. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is about this kind of religion. In Lord of the Rings, there are good guys and bad guys. The bad guys are threatening the good guys – but the good guys have a magical ring which gives them vast power. The problem is that using the power will turn them into bad guys. The power of the ring corrupts. So their goal is to destroy the ring, and their constant moral challenge is to refrain from using it.  Lord of the Rings was written during World War II, and it has the marks of World War II all over it. So, as we might expect, it reflects the theology of one of the greatest theologians from that time, Reinhold Niebuhr. Notwithstanding Tolkien’s Catholicism and Niebuhr’s Protestantism, they shared some theological perspectives evoked by that time of crisis. Niebuhr said our greatest danger lay not in the evil in the world but in the power used to restrain that evil. Our own power was more dangerous than Hitler.

[ix] Alvin Plantinga observes that the argument against faith actually depends on additional premises about what an omnipotent God can do and on what a good God will do. Plantinga’s argument is too intricate to recount here. But suffice it to say that :
1.     Omnipotence does not entail being able to do logically inconsistent things (draw a square circle, etc.). There at least may be good things that, as a matter of logic, cannot be preserved without also preserving a corresponding evil (parable of the wheat and the tares situation). The freedom to choose between good and evil is such a good thing. That freedom depends on evil being an available option.
2.     Goodness does not require God to eradicate every evil, especially if such an evil cannot be eradicated without also destroying something good.
Alvin C. Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1974) pp. 10, 12-34; Peterson, pp. 17-18.

Monday, August 26, 2013


One of the great classics of American Buddhism is Philip Kapleau’s Three Pillars of Zen. His pillar metaphor might be borrowed from Islam, which has four or five pillars depending on who you are reading. What sticks in my mind is the pillar image and for Christianity three is decidedly the right number. I am convinced that there are three pillars of Christian living, three pillars of the way to godly joy and the peace that passes all human understanding. But pillars must rest on a foundation – so let me start briefly with the foundation.

The Foundation

     The foundation of Christian living is our relationship with Jesus – but not just the Jesus in our heads, not just the Jesus we imagine, not just the Jesus we read about in the Bible. The Biblical teachings of Jesus are very clear, and the Epistles are very clear, that we encounter Jesus in each other. The Kingdom is found in the relational space among us. That is why we need the Church. Just as a Buddhist cannot practice without a sangha, a Christian needs the Church. Christ is present sometimes through others who support, encourage, and inspire us – other times through people who are hurt, angry, and confused needing our ministry – sometimes through those who try our patience. But always Christ meets us, challenges us, inspires and grounds us through our communion, community, and communication.

      That foundation requires constant shoring up. I see encouraging signs of healing and reconciliation in our Church relationships these days in many parts of the diocese. Other broken relationships are still painfully obvious. Other broken relationships are so broken there is a taboo on even speaking of them, so I can only recognize their presence through vague references and by watching behavior patterns, like an astronomer recognizing a black hole by the motion of nearby planets.

     Continued attention to our relationships, finding opportunities for people who are not speaking to actually talk with one another, must remain our first priority. If you missed my article on this last July, you might want to check it out on my blog. See “Are They Still Fighting?” June 30,2013.

     The Three Pillars of Christian living are Mission, Stewardship, and Evangelism. There is a chicken and egg relationship between the Three Pillars and the Foundation. Obviously, we cannot accomplish our part of God’s Mission without solid relationships among the people doing the mission. We cannot practice Stewardship in a broken community because Stewardship depends on trusting the group. It is the same with Evangelism. We cannot invite people into a broken family. Most of them already have one. But, here’s the kicker. We cannot form a healthy community except in the context of mission stewardship, and evangelism. To put a point on it:

      We cannot form a healthy community except in the context
      of mission, stewardship, and evangelism!!!

Without those pillars, our relationships will be torn by individual agendas. Just as community is essential to the Three Pillars, the Three Pillars are essential to community. They all go together.

Mission: The First Pillar

     Our raison d’etre, our reason to exist, is as essential to life as air. (Victor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning). Individuals can only find that meaning in our relationships with each other. We find our purpose not as solitary hermits but in community. (Bishop Tutu, We cannot be human without each other.) The Church is the Christian Community and its purpose for existing is to continue Jesus’ mission. He states that mission at Luke 4:18ff. But to put it simply, we see Jesus’/our mission in three parts: healing, feeding, and liberating.

      Cumulatively, Jesus changed lives and gave us the job of changing lives. We change lives in three ways. The first is healing. That can be physical, spiritual, emotional, or relational. Forgiveness and reconciliation are part and parcel of healing. “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” Ps. 147. Isaiah 61 (the model of Jesus mission) “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bind up the broken hearted.”

     Feeding today is often quite literal. We have the hungry around the world and in our own neighborhoods. Our best-established ministries are literal food ministries. But feeding is more than nutrition. It includes teaching, spiritual support, providing people with the strength and courage for life. Feeding can be pastoral care. It can be partnering with a neighborhood school. It can be supporting character building scouting or providing a place for safe, wholesome fun for young people. It can be providing young parents a night out. There are many forms of feeding.

     Liberating is setting people free from social structures that hold them back from becoming who God created them to become. Our fight against human trafficking is the clearest example. Working with prison inmates and helping the recently released inmates reintegrate into the community is another clear example. The fear that constrains the lives of immigrants is another shackle that we could break.

     Our Mission is to the world. That includes each other. When we invite people into our community. It is not to reinforce ourselves. It is so we can be better healers for them. But most of our healing mission is to the world. Dietrich Bonheoffer called Jesus “the man for others” and said that the church is special because we “exist to serve those who are not our members.” We are not all agreed on this. I know some of us explicitly want the church to be a “club” for each other and no one else. I understand the need. I understand the fear. But Jesus calls us beyond that need and fear to a larger life. It is fine to form such inward looking clubs, but not to pretend they are the Church. To do so would be a hypocritical claiming of the name of Jesus while rejecting his message and it would be a corruption of the sacraments. We are the Church if and only if “the Spirit of the Lord is upon us” to do all Jesus did – to heal, feed, and liberate a broken, hungry, enslaved world.

Stewardship: The Second Pillar

     The peace and joy of Christian life come from the triumph of faith over fear. Stewardship is purely and simply the spirituality of faith overcoming fear – not as an abstraction but in actual practice. We put our toe in the baptismal water of Christian living when we devote our resources to the Kingdom Mission through our Church.

     For our Church to bless us with Christian peace and joy, it has to do two things: 1. Teach us the spirituality of faith over fear; and 2. Engage us in a part of God’s mission that we can recognize as more important, richer in meaning, more worthy of our life and its resources than our individual projects. One year at my last parish it came time for the Fall Pledge Drive. We really hadn’t done much mission that year. So I told the Chair of the Stewardship Committee that I knew he had to go through the motions, but that I was not expecting much and didn’t think he should either. You can’t harvest where you haven’t planted. But over time we did engage in mission and we tripled the amount our people chose to give to support that mission.

     Stewardship is how we bless two people: the giver and the receiver. The Church is the connection between the two. The Mission is how we make that connection. When we make it, the world lights up. I commend for your reading Fearless Church Fundraising by Charles LeFond. He means the title to say a lot more than is immediately obvious. He means our fundraising is how our Church can become fearless, which is another way of saying faithful – full of faith.

Evangelism: The Third Pillar

      One could rightly call Evangelism part of Mission. But I name it separately because it really does something distinctive from the rest of Mission and too often I see Churches that do not want to do Evangelism just folding it into other parts of Mission to as to muffle the fact that they have passed on The Great Commission. (Matthew 28: 16-20)

      Evangelism is not selling a product. It is sharing hope. When I discover a good nutritional supplement or workout plan, I tell my friends. If I see a good movie or read a good book, I tell my friends. If I find something that gives me life, and if I care about other people, I want to share it with them. If our spiritual life is flourishing in a Church that is: 1. A healthy, dynamic community; 2. Working together in a genuine mission of healing, feeding, and liberating; 3. Where we discover peace and joy coming from the triumph of faith over fear – then we will want to share that with others.

     There are a lot of books that make the case for why we should do authentic evangelism. My favorites are Transforming Evangelism by Gortner and Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism by Brueggemann. But if you don’t need to be sold on the why and are ready to go straight to the how, the best book I’ve found yet for evangelism in our time is Speaking Faithfully by Naughton and Wilson.
     But here’s another kicker: When we share with people outside the walls what a great thing is happening in our community, we experience our community in a different way ourselves. We value each other more when we have told others out the community. We are more willing to support our community with our resources if we know we are going to be giving it to other people we care for.


     I hope nothing I have said here is new to you. You know the importance of each the Foundation and you know the importance of the Three Pillars. What I hope to elucidate is the interconnectedness. I have heard churches divide up and squabble over inreach vs. outreach, etc. But the truth is that they are all of one piece. Almost all of the petty church fights that cripple us spiritually arise because we haven’t bound ourselves together in the Mission, Stewardship, and Evangelism that lift our hearts and minds above the need to get our way. Yes, we need a lot of healing in our relationships in order to engage effectively in Mission, Stewardship, and Evangelism. But it is only through engaging in Mission, Stewardship, and Evangelism – as best we can right now – that we can heal and build our relationships – the relationships in which we will experience the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


An excerpt from Chapter 4 of God Of Our Silent Tears, now available from Cathedral Bookstore on line.

Any attempt to look upon suffering as caused directly or indirectly by God
            stands in danger of regarding him as sadistic.[i]
                                                                        Dorothee Soelle, Suffering

            Every human creature born
            Is born into the bright delusion
            Beauty and loving-kindness care for him.
            Suffering teaches! Suffering is good for us!
            Imagine men and women dying
            Still believing that the cuddling arms
            Enclosed them! . . .
            We learn to wish we’d never lived.[ii]
Archibald MacLeish, J. B. [Nickles speaking]

            “Affliction as punishment” does not carry much weight among today’s theologians. Saddling contemporary Christianity with that notion is truly not fair. But some of our best minds are inclined to interpret hardship as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Suffering can be understood as a test or an exercise. This approach is better because it attributes tough love, instead of vengeance, to God. But it is still problematic.            
            Let’s begin with the “test of faith” view before dealing with the closely related “spiritual exercise” theory. “Test of faith” regards affliction as a kind of trial or temptation to measure the degree of faith the sufferer has developed. The story of Job can be read this way, and I Peter 1:6–9 supports that view.[iii] The problem with “test of faith” is that it posits a seriously flawed view of God. Just ask: How do we feel about the cosmic proctor administering a moral midterm? Louise Glück protests against that kind of God in her poem “Matins (3)”:
                                    What is my heart to you
                                    that you must break it over and over
                                    like a plantsman testing
                                    his new species? [iv]                         
It is hard to worship and adore someone who would give us cancer to see how we handle it. Besides, this theory just doesn’t fit with the rest of what we believe about God. Does God test our characters with broken relationships, diseases, and social injustice? The notion is patently absurd. Scripture is quite clear that God knows us quite well already:
                        Lord you have searched me out and known me;
                                    you know my sitting down and my rising up;
                                    you discern my thoughts from afar.
                        You trace my journeys and my resting places
                                    and are acquainted with all my ways.
                        Indeed there is not a word on my lips
                                    but you O Lord know it altogether.
                                                                        – Psalm 139:1–4
One of the Church’s prayers begins, “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, from whom no secrets are hid.” God doesn’t need to administer tests. The tragedies that we are calling “tests” are the sorts of tests that might be dreamed up by Joseph Mengele. The God of Christianity does not afflict us out of curiosity to see how we’ll respond. Louise Glück protested against the God of the inhuman experiment, the God who “tests our faith.” Then she quickly saw that the God against whom she rebelled was a straw man, not the true God. In “Matins (4),” she writes:
                                    I am ashamed
                        at what I thought you were,
                                    distant from us, regarding us
                                    as an experiment: it is
                                    a bitter thing to be
                                    the disposable animal,
                                    a bitter thing. Dear friend,
                                    dear trembling partner, what
                                    surprises you most in what you feel,
                                    earth’s radiance or your own delight?[v]
            The only way to read the “test of faith” idea as saying something worthy of consideration is to interpret the “test” not as an examination, but as an exercise in faith. That idea has been embraced by notable theologians such as Simone Weil, Diogenes Allen, D. Z. Phillips, and John Hick. They have offered truly compelling arguments that God has designed the world as a spiritual boot camp to whip us into shape.
         The Christian tradition is not alone in its claim that suffering can humanize us and make us wise.
Aeschylus and Sophocles rarely wrote a play that did not include the line “I have suffered into truth.” 

Undoubtedly, the idea of suffering as a way to grow spiritually has deep roots in the Christian tradition, 

too. St. Paul said, “I want to share in the sufferings of Christ . . . if I may somehow attain the 

resurrection from the dead.” St. Ireneaus, in the third century, taught that evil was in the world in order 

to help us to grow toward holiness.[vi] Hebrews opines that “God disciplines those he loves” and that

“all discipline is painful” (but not that all pain is discipline). In the fourteenth century, Lady Julian of

Norwich prayed for the wounds of true contrition, true longing for God, and a serious illness to purify

her soul. In her classic Shewings, she said the wounds of life lead to greater honor and joy than we

could experience without them.[vii]

We must acknowledge that suffering and spiritual growth are sometimes, at least potentially, connected. 

In the Christian tradition, there are two versions of the idea that suffering is good for us. A view that D. 

Z. Phillips calls the “Outward Bound” school of theology holds that our own suffering poses challenges 

that enable us to develop heroic virtues, and the suffering of others gives us opportunities to practice 


         I call the other theory the Casablanca school of theology (“the problems of three little people 

don’t  amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”).[ix] The Casablanca school does not see God as

sending specific sufferings, but as leaving the universe to function unrestrained and therefore with

amoral  indifference to our well being. From the resulting hardships, we should learn that we are

insignificant.  This insight liberates us from our egos.
            Both views have some merit, but I cannot unqualifiedly accept either of them. As with the “divine retribution theory,” this “spiritual growth” theodicy is undercut by the facts we experience. So much suffering is grinding, dehumanizing, and embittering. Suffering is as likely to disintegrate us as it is to ennoble us. In Imagining Redemption, theologian David Kelsey shares such a case study. Sam was a little boy who contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome. It left him disabled and behaviorally unmanageable. The strain drove his mother to suicide. His father was then worn down by trying to care for Sam alone, leaving Kelsey to ask the hard question, “What earthly good does Jesus do in this situation?”[x]
            Does this theology offer a God we can worship and adore? No. It reduces God to a cosmic drill sergeant. That God-image may be more benign than the cosmic executioner, who punishes us for our moral lapses, but it is still a small-hearted God, using carrots and sticks to enforce his will. It is hard, and perhaps not healthy, to love such a God. His character still smacks of sadism.
            So how shall we sort out the truth from the falsehood in this approach to suffering? It is crucial here to distinguish a cause from a purpose, and a purpose from a justification.[xi] Spiritual growth will not do as a cause of suffering. God doesn’t send affliction like a thunderbolt to humble us. But our choice to use our suffering as an occasion for growth is another matter. Purpose and meaning are not just lying there before the event in an objective way for us to discover. Purpose and meaning are fashioned by our own interpretation and actions. Suffering and grief are sometimes somewhat redeemed from utter meaninglessness by spiritual transformation. Suffering isn’t caused by our need to grow, but we can grow through suffering and so give it a purpose or meaning.
            The possibility of making productive spiritual use of our suffering still doesn’t justify what happened to us. That would be a false defense of evil and injustice. Simone Weil, of all people, a brave fighter against fascism, certainly never intended that. Rabbi Harold Kushner described what he had gained spiritually from the death of his son Aaron, but acknowledged the gains did not justify the loss:
                        I am a more sensitive person, a more effective pastor, a more
                        sympathetic counselor because of Aaron’s life and death than I
                        would ever have been without it. And I would give up all those
                        gains in a second if I could have my son back. If I could choose,
                        I would forego all the spiritual growth and depth . . . and become
                        what I was fifteen years ago, an indifferent counselor, . . .
                        and the father of a bright, happy boy. But I cannot choose.[xii]
 Spiritual growth does not justify our suffering. But it can often paint the silver lining. If Kushner had shriveled into bitterness when his son died, he would have suffered just as much, perhaps more, but without finding any meaning or value in it. In fact, it would have made the meaning of his son’s death even worse. Kushner says:
                        We, by our responses, give suffering either a positive or a negative
                        meaning. Illnesses, accidents, human tragedies kill people. But
                        they do not necessarily kill life or faith. If the death and suffering
                        of someone we love makes us bitter, jealous, against all religion,
                        and incapable of happiness, we turn the person who died into
                        one of the “devil’s martyrs.” If suffering and death in someone
                        close to us bring us to explore the limits of our capacity for strength
                        and love and cheerfulness, if it leads us to discover sources of
                        consolation we never knew before, then we make the person
                        into a witness for the affirmation of life rather than its rejection.[xiii]
It is not always possible to turn pain into wisdom and compassion, but when it is possible, it is a 

profound way to live through affliction. Making meaning is a spiritual challenge life sets for us. We 

grow stronger in the process of trying to meet it. The irony in Archibald MacLeish’s J. B. is this: The 

“God” character is an immoral tyrant who subjects J. B. to unendurable suffering just to win a bet. But 

J. B. makes meaning of his suffering in the end, by resolving to love in spite of it all, knowing that love 

entails suffering, but that same love makes life worthwhile anyway.

[i] Dorothee Soelle, Suffering, trans. Everett Kalin (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 25.
[ii] MacLeish, J.B., 49.
[iii] “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” The treatment of suffering in I Peter is, however, much richer and more complex than this snippet would suggest. See Patricia M. McDonald, “The View of Suffering Held by the Author of I Peter,” in Tambasco, The Bible on Suffering, 165–87. I would call it the weak point of the epistle.
[iv] Louise Glück, “Matins (3),” in The Wild Iris (New York: Ecco Press, 1996), 12.
[v] Louise Glück, “Matins (4),” ibid., 13.
[vi] Alistair McGrath, Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 292.
[vii] The idea that our suffering and struggle with evil is an essential part of our spiritual growth goes back to St. Ireneaus and persists today in the theology of John Hick (ibid., 292–93).
[viii] D. Z. Phillips, The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 166, 179–80. Ireneaus, Hick, and Swinburne are leading proponents of this approach.
[ix] Simone Weil, Diogenes Allen, and D. Z. Phillips are proponents of this view. Allen insists that God’s reality makes everything meaningful, even catastrophes: “[We] can trust that what we are doing and what is happening to us from the operations of the natural world and the social order make a contribution, even when we are not able to see that they do. All moments of dismay and dryness, as well as times of elation, make a contribution to that life which is being formed but which is not visible to us, especially when we are in states of distress” (Christian Belief in a Postmodern World [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989], 117). Later, in commenting on Adams’s Horrendous Evils, Allen implicitly acknowledges that horrendous evils may serve no good purpose, but can only be redeemed by some counter-good that only God can offer. Simone Weil is the greatest exponent of the view that affliction ennobles, but it should be noted that Weil’s life makes her subject to Soelle’s accusation of masochism.

[x] Kelsey, Imagining Redemption, 51-54.
[xi] Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas were careful to distinguish between what we would call “causes” from what we would call “purposes.”
[xii] Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Schockten Books, 1981), 133–34.
[xiii] Ibid., 138.