Posts Tagged ‘theodicy’

JOHN 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Here we confront again the questions of theodicy. The term comes from two Greek words, theos (god) and diké (justice), and names the moral struggle in religiously thoughtful human beings over the relationship between the goodness of God and the injustice of human suffering and evil.

Where’s the benevolence of God, we must ask, in bringing Judas into being as a condemned man from the very beginning? As “the one destined to be lost,” was Judas without freedom to choose otherwise? Did God circumvent the betrayer’s free-will in something of a manual override, canceling out the very capacity that made him most human? If so, then how could Judas be held accountable for his actions? Is it just for God to damn a person who had no real choice in what he did? Finally, is such a God worthy of our worship?

No doubt, we are interrogating early Christian theology with questions that were not as critical and pressing then as they have become for us now. The old answer to Job’s protest against the suffering of human innocence – “Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? (Job 40:9) – amounted to a suppression of the human cry for justice. In the ancient world it was not below God to do whatever he wished, however diabolical and inhumane it may be. Once the world discovered that “God is love,” the questions of theodicy have exercised the faithful.

One wonders if our condemnation of Judas has amounted to a betrayal of our own humanity.

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PSALM 1

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

If the destiny of Judas had been predetermined, which would argue that ours must be as well, then what has become of that unique power we once thought the special mark of God’s image in the human – our freedom to choose, to love, resist, to rebel? Is it all a delusion, this capacity for liberty and self-direction that we fight for, defend, and protect with a swelling litany of Rights? Again, was Judas merely a pawn in God’s game of salvation (for some) and damnation (for the rest)?

As we wrestle with this question, it is important to remember that such things as individual dignity, human rights, and personal freedom were then only beginning to break upon the world of the Bible. In the dominant view, the individual in our sense today didn’t yet exist. In a real sense, then, Judas wasn’t free and his pre-programmed damnation is no problem. The essential thing was that Jesus got betrayed and died for our salvation; Judas was just a “mechanism” for getting it done.

But we struggle with the justice of it all, and we can do so precisely because we are free.

ISAIAH 49:8-16a

Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
    on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
    as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
    to apportion the desolate heritages;
saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
    to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
They shall feed along the ways,
    on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
    neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
    and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
    and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Lo, these shall come from far away,
    and lo, these from the north and from the west,
    and these from the land of Syene.

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
    and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
    my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.

The writer known as Second (Deutero-) Isaiah flourished in ministry during the Babylonian exile (587-538 BCE) and lived among the community of those who had been taken from their homes in Jerusalem. Defeat by the Babylonian army and deportation to a foreign land induced an identity crisis of the first order. When your monotheistic beliefs trace the causality of what befalls you to the will of God, every upset and loss begs the question: Why?

Especially when a respectable reputation and your honest efforts at living right still land you in a dark and painful place, this question of the relation of your suffering to God’s will can cut deep into your faith. There were many contemporaries left behind in Jerusalem (Zion, the mount on which the temple was built had become a synonym for Jerusalem itself) who felt compelled to conclude that God had simply forgotten his covenant with Israel. Divine amnesia was at least more theologically sustainable than the idea that God had deliberately abandoned them.

Away in Babylon, Isaiah was hearing similar cries among the exiles. God had promised a long and prosperous future to his people. What happened? Were they being punished for some unbeknownst sin – perhaps for the sins of their ancestors? This was one answer. But Second Isaiah (along with a fellow exile who adapted the story of Job) insisted on the innocence of his generation, and outright rejected the popular idea that God punishes children for the sins of their parents.

Following an insight that would later have revolutionary implications in the Christian era, Isaiah turned the crisis of exile into redemptive suffering on behalf of the entire nation. His generation, a collective taken as an individual, had served as the ratifying sacrifice of God’s renewed covenant of blessing. Their affliction and loss had opened a new future of hope and salvation for everyone.