April 5, 2020
The word that comes to me often in these trying times is theodicy. It is a word that most people don’t know, but all of you have surely dealt with. It literally means “the Justice of God,” and it usually encompasses all that we have thought and written over the ages about “Why do bad things happen?”
I’d like you to think of a time when you have been asked, perhaps especially because of your priesthood calling, to minister to a friend or family member undergoing a personal crisis event, and struggling with these “meaning of life” questions that come to the fore when these events hit us. How did that experience change you and your personal theology?
The event most stuck in my memory is when my pastor, for whom I was counselor, lost her 33-year-old son, first to a devastating “locked-in syndrome” stroke, and then to death. She asked me to deliver the funeral message. I don’t know that my words were any comfort at all, but I remember I focused on two words, Peace and Hope, both of which are in short supply these days.
When people pressed Jesus for answers to struggles like these, he usually told stories instead. Like how God counts the sparrows and how you are worth more than any number of sparrows. Or like how God clothes the lilies of the fields and he will clothe you even better if you will trust in him.
Theologian Adolf Harnack wrote that “it was to disabuse his disciples of the fear of evil and the terrors of death that Jesus gave them the sayings about the sparrows and the flowers of the field; they are to learn how to see the hand of the living God everywhere in life, and in death too…The assurance that God rules is to go as far as our fears go, nay, as far as life itself.” As far as your fears go. For me, that is a mighty far distance.
Because of that experience and the subsequent events of September 11, 2001, I wrote a song on that theme that Sherry and I recorded 16 years ago.
As Far as Your Fears Go
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“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” 1 John 4:18 (NRSV)
April 5, 2020