The Problem of Suffering   1 comment

Beheading of St. Paul

Above:  The Beheading of St. Paul, by Enrique Simonet

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God of creation, eternal majesty,

you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm.

By your strength pilot us,

by your power preserve us,

by your wisdom instruct us,

and by your hand protect us,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 29:1-20 (Thursday)

Job 29:21-30:15 (Friday)

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 (Both Days)

Acts 20:1-16 (Thursday)

Acts 21:1-16 (Friday)

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Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

and his mercy endures for ever.

Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim

that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

–Psalm 107:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Placing that Psalm in the lectionary for these two days seems ironic, especially when considering the other two pericopes.

The titular character of the Book of Job suffered, but not because of any sin he committed.  Compounding his plight was the fact that he had to endure alleged friends, who blamed him for his plight.  They insisted that, since God does not punish the innocent, Job must have sinned, thus prompting his extreme suffering.  They advised him to repent of his sins, therefore.  Actually, the text tells us, God permitted the suffering as a test of loyalty.  Job protested his innocence and lamented his fate.  Anyone who speaks of the “patience of Job,” as if he had any, ought to pay better attention to the story.

Meanwhile, in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul the Apostle was traveling to Jerusalem.  He hoped to arrive in time for the first day of Pentecost.  At Caesarea the Apostle learned that his journey would take him to a bad fate.  He accepted the prophecy calmly, saying,

…I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

–Acts 21:13c, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

He went on to die for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ at Rome “off-camera,” so to speak, after the end of the Acts of the Apostles.

The alleged friends of Job thought that suffering resulted necessarily from sins.  Yet St. Paul the Apostle suffered for the sake for the sake of righteousness.

Nevertheless, the assumption that we suffer solely or primarily because of our wrongdoing persists.  Also commonplace is a related assumption which says that, if we live righteously, we will prosper and be safe and well.  This is the heresy of Prosperity Theology.

Tell that heresy to Jesus and to the Christian martyrs, if you dare,

I say.  I conclude that false ideas live on because too many people pay little or no attention to the evidence around them.  Perhaps these individuals are merely incurious.  (Many people are not very inquisitive, intellectually or otherwise.)  Or maybe they are distracted among the other details of life.  Regardless of the reason(s), they need to pay better attention and respond to the situation that is, not the situation they imagine exists.

To claim that God never punishes the innocent or permits them to suffer is to make a pious comment–one which is false.  What is the functional difference between permitting innocent people to suffer and punishing them?  I recognize none.  One is passive and the other is active, but the results are the same.  The problem of suffering is complicated for we monotheists, for we lack the luxury of blaming an evil deity for misfortune while letting a good deity off the hook.  Yes, how we live on this plane of reality affects the afterlife, but the rain still falls on the just and on the unjust in this life.  Wicked people still prosper and righteous people still suffer on this side of Heaven.  All of this can be difficult to reconcile with the idea of a loving and just God, hence bad theology in defense of God.  I prefer an honest question to a false certainty, however.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 24, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS ATTWOOD, “FATHER OF MODERN CHURCH MUSIC”

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIDACUS JOSEPH OF CADIZ, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF OSCAR ROMERO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF SAN SALVADOR; AND THE MARTYRS OF EL SALVADOR

THE FEAST OF PAUL COUTURIER, ECUMENTIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-7-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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One response to “The Problem of Suffering

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  1. Pingback: Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 7, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary) | ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS

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