Suffering and Promises, Pt. 1

I few months ago I was in one of the big box bookstores, and I saw a book on display. It was about suffering, and what the bible had to say about it. Because I wasn’t in the Christian trinket store, I picked it up, assuming that it had some compelling scholarship and intellect behind it. I perused the inside cover to see who the author was, and the read how he used to be a Baptist minister, but as he “investigated God” more and more, he came to reject the whole enterprise, and declared himself, somehow an atheist who is now writing books about God and the bible. The intention of this book, explicitly stated, was to show how there is no cohesive statement on suffering in the bible. Therefore, God is either nonexistent, or remarkably cruel, capricious, and utterly indifferent about human suffering.

I don’t know whether it’s the thought that a minister has “switched sides” or that his publisher couched his scholarship in such a package, featured prominently in a popular bookstore. Either way, something has really bothered me and stuck with me about this. Here are my thoughts.

In a sense, he’s right: I would say that there is not a cohesive statement on suffering in the bible:

• God wipes out the whole human race (Genesis) but saves Noah and vows to never do it again

• God prohibits Moses, his chosen leader, from entering the promise land (Deuteronomy) for (let’s be honest) a simple and understandable mistake

• God allows the Accuser to strip Job of nearly everything (Job)

• God uses Babylon and Assyria to punish Israel, his chosen people (Isaiah, Jeremiah)

• God says that he knows the very number of hairs on our heads (Psalms), and that he cares for us much more than he cares for the birds of the air (Matthew)

I mean, he’s all over the place!

I’m know biblical scholar; I have no letters after my surname, but I read, and I think, and I pray. What I believe is that this author has missed the point, applying the same errant paradigm as many simple-minded, bad fundamentalists might.

The assume that God has to fit inside a box. A system.

The God that I read about in the bible is wild, personable, and infused with a powerful personality. Do we always agree with him? Probably not. Do we always like him? I daresay, sometimes it would be difficult to say yes.

Put my life into a thousand plus pages, and try to fit me into a consistent paradigm or system. Good luck. We are given freedom to act, to exist, to be angry, to be inconsistent. We are made in our Father’s image. He is not a marble statue. He is Yahweh, the living, jealous, angry, compassionate, God.

Is Yahweh capricious? I’d say no. But is He free?

Oh yes.

I’d say that this author lost his faith a long time before his intellect “caused” him to have a crisis. Most likely his doubt crept in because of a misunderstanding of what God actually promises us. More on that later, but I’d say that this man could have kept his faith if he could have just remembered a few simple things:

a. We live east of Eden; the world is broken, and we are trying to remake it, but the going is often slow and difficult
b. God does what he wants; he is bigger and more dominant than our theology
c. We are called to never stop hoping.

That’s what faith is about.

Sorry you lost your faith, buddy. But it was gone a long time ago if you – even with your PhD – expected him to confirm to your modern, linear, mirror-glass smooth concept of “biblical suffering” (as if there’s such a thing… isn’t all suffering just “suffering”? How is the bible separated from our own life?).

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At 7:47 AM , Blogger beth said...

Great, great post. Excellent.


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