Sunday, May 25, 2014

Is God relevant in the midst of suffering? Wrestling with pain and the human experience.

The following is a review of a presentation given by Bruxy Cavey at McMaster University for the Veritas Forum:

I learned a new word listening to this lecture – prolegomena, which means – a preliminary discussion or introductory essay, especially to a book or treatise.

Bruxy’s prolegomena begins with the story of Steven which left his family with profound disruption and emptiness.  I will leave you to listen to the lecture for the story.  It is one which my family has experienced with my son sharing the existential reality with Bruxy.

He continues the prolegomena describing how suffering is woven into the human experience.  Sometimes it’s a philosophical puzzle, sometimes a deep spiritual quest, sometimes it’s just gut wrenching and emotional.

In the west we live lives of great insulation from suffering. We have mechanisms to live life as though suffering doesn’t exist.  We can lull ourselves into the idea that a normal life is a pain free life.  Yet around the world, suffering is far more normal.  When suffering strikes, we in the west act as if it is surprising.  We do not live in tune with the suffering of the rest of the world.  We are troubled by a school shooting that kills 20 children and teachers, but we were not troubled the day before when more than 20 children died.  Everyday 30,000 children die from poverty related causes.  Do you ever wish you could go back in time and prevent a horrible tragedy, like a school shooting?  But here’s the thing, we are already there and can help prevent 30,000 children from dying tomorrow.   We need to move beyond thinking and talking about the problem and take action to help deal with the problem.

End prolegomena.  The question, is God relevant?  The answer, yes.  How?  God relates, reveals, rallies and renews.

God renews all things in the end.  We all have a sense that something is wrong.  Without God, there is no ought-ness in the world, there is only is-ness.  With God, we all know and feel the sense of something out there, the way things ought to be.  So the question arises, is this the best of all possible worlds?  Possibly.  The Bible gives us bookends, Eden and the New Jerusalem.  We live somewhere in between these 2 worlds.  If God is love and we are made in His image to have loving relationship with Him, then love is the core DNA of the divine.  But true love necessitates choice.  To choose yes to something is to choose no to a myriad of other options.  Love could not exist in the Garden of Eden without a choice for another option.  Forced perfection is not a loving existence.  Where we are headed is a place where our choices matter and will become inviolate.  This is different from Eden because our choices help us to get there.  Is it possible to have your choices narrowed as a function of love?  Yes, it happens in every marriage.  Those who are married choose to give up other choices.

God rallies people as partners.  We have a sense of responsibility for what’s gone wrong and have the creative ability to help make things right.  We are created to be rulers, creators, servants and keepers of creation.  Rulership means that I’m in charge so I better take care of that for which I am in charge of.  It’s interesting that the first thing God says to Adam and Eve are “Be fruitful and multiply” and the second thing is He tells them what they can eat.  So essentially, the first two things God says to Adam and Eve are “go have sex and have something to eat.”  It is through the sexual union between a man and a woman that we can become co-creators with God with the ability, in partnership with someone else, to create life in His image.  We can reach into the realm of nonexistence and bring a new living soul into existence.  But the power to create can also become the power to destroy.  We can also note that Adam was placed in a garden, not a jungle or forest or a city, but a garden – that which is an intentional meeting place between human and divine creativity where we work together with God.  Adam was put there to work and take care of the garden.  The Hebrew words for work and take care of are the same used to describe what God does for us.  To serve and to keep.  How I serve the Lord is how I take care of others.  We were made to love like God, not judge like God.  That’s what the tree of knowledge had done to us.  Knowing good and evil, we have become the judges.

How could God create a world like this, a world full of rape, abuse, murder, slavery, loneliness, poverty, starvation and country music.  Ok, let’s take God out of the equation.  All the evil and suffering are still there.  Therefore, we cannot blame God as being the source.  We are.  The human heart is the source of all that is evil. 

Next, God reveals His heart of unconditional love.  The New Testament uses the word agape.  This is the love that is initiated by God, unconditional toward you, not because of something you do that earns it but simply because God chooses to love you.  You are agaped by God, you can’t help it and there’s nothing you can do to get God to love you more or love you less.  You mess up, He loves you.  You perform really well, He loves you.  This saves you from two extremes: God doesn’t care about me and if I just do better.  God is revealed as father.  In middle eastern culture, the father was the stern authority figure.  Yet in His parables, Jesus recasts the father figure into one of the delighted lover of his kids.  God also nurtures and cares for us as a mother.  God wants to embrace us in an intimate covenant as lover.  He is also our advocate, to know that we have one who is on our team, cheering for us, working to bring good out of the suffering.

Finally, God relates to our greatest suffering.  Jon Stott said, “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross.  In the real world of pain how could one worship a God who was immune to it.”  God knows what it’s like to hurt, to be victimized, abandoned, betrayed, to suffer great loss.  Michael Green stated, “In Jesus, God has come to share our pain.  God is no absent academic who writes a book on the problem of pain, He has gotten involved.  He has allowed pain at its most severe to strike Him. We worship a suffering God. That is the best answer to the problem of undeserved suffering.”  The cross – when God comes down among us, we do to Him what we’ve been doing to one another.  Then He rises from the dead and does not exact His vengeance like some angry pagan god but says, “I forgive you, let’s start again, be reborn, live a new life.”

John chapter 9, Jesus heals a man born blind.  The disciples ask a theological and philosophical question – who sinned that this man must be born blind?  Jesus says neither.  He rejects Karma, we will not re-victimize the victim.  He rebukes the question.  This is an opportunity for God’s glory to be revealed and He heals him.  What does He mean?  Stop asking questions and talking about it, but step in and do something.  Jesus makes mud, puts it on his eyes and sends him to the pool of Siloam to wash, at which time he is healed.  The religious leaders launch an investigation because it was unlawful to make mud on the Sabbath.  Jesus is saying, “Religious people, here’s mud in your eye.”  It is time to break down the traditions and walls we have built to keep us feeling safe and go out make a difference.  It’s time we love radically and care for those suffering around us.

Watch the video of the lecture here.

To learn more about Bruxy Cavey you can visit his website or check out his church - The Meeting House, "a church for people who aren't into church", at this site.

Have a little hope on me,

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