Category : Theodicy

Billy Graham’s Address at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance in 2001

President and Mrs. Bush, I want to say a personal word on behalf of many people. Thank you, Mr. President, for calling this day of prayer and remembrance. We needed it at this time.

We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious, or political background may be. The Bible says that He’s the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles. No matter how hard we try, words simply cannot express the horror, the shock, and the revulsion we all feel over what took place in this nation on Tuesday morning. September eleven will go down in our history as a day to remember.

Today we say to those who masterminded this cruel plot, and to those who carried it out, that the spirit of this nation will not be defeated by their twisted and diabolical schemes. Someday, those responsible will be brought to justice, as President Bush and our Congress have so forcefully stated. But today we especially come together in this service to confess our need of God. Today we say to those who masterminded this cruel plot, and to those who carried it out, that the spirit of this nation will not be defeated by their twisted and diabolical schemes. Someday, those responsible will be brought to justice, as President Bush and our Congress have so forcefully stated. But today we especially come together in this service to confess our need of God.

We’ve always needed God from the very beginning of this nation, but today we need Him especially. We’re facing a new kind of enemy. We’re involved in a new kind of warfare. And we need the help of the Spirit of God. The Bible words are our hope: God is our refuge and strength; an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.

But how do we understand something like this? Why does God allow evil like this to take place? Perhaps that is what you are asking now. You may even be angry at God. I want to assure you that God understands these feelings that you may have. We’ve seen so much on our television, on our ”” heard on our radio, stories that bring tears to our eyes and make us all feel a sense of anger. But God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest.

But what are some of the lessons we can learn? First, we are reminded of the mystery and reality of evil. I’ve been asked hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer totally, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept by faith that God is sovereign, and He’s a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering. The Bible says that God is not the author of evil. It speaks of evil as a mystery. In 1st Thessalonians 2:7 it talks about the mystery of iniquity. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Who can understand it?” He asked that question, ”˜Who can understand it?’ And that’s one reason we each need God in our lives.

The lesson of this event is not only about the mystery of iniquity and evil, but secondly it’s a lesson about our need for each other. What an example New York and Washington have been to the world these past few days. None of us will ever forget the pictures of our courageous firefighters and police, many of whom have lost friends and colleagues; or the hundreds of people attending or standing patiently in line to donate blood. A tragedy like this could have torn our country apart. But instead it has united us, and we’ve become a family. So those perpetrators who took this on to tear us apart, it has worked the other way ”” it’s back lashed. It’s backfired. We are more united than ever before. I think this was exemplified in a very moving way when the members of our Congress stood shoulder to shoulder the other day and sang “God Bless America.”

Finally, difficult as it may be for us to see right now, this event can give a message of hope ”” hope for the present, and hope for the future. Yes, there is hope. There’s hope for the present, because I believe the stage has already been set for a new spirit in our nation. One of the things we desperately need is a spiritual renewal in this country. We need a spiritual revival in America. And God has told us in His word, time after time, that we are to repent of our sins and return to Him, and He will bless us in a new way. But there’s also hope for the future because of God’s promises. As a Christian, I hope not for just this life, but for heaven and the life to come. And many of those people who died this past week are in heaven right now. And they wouldn’t want to come back. It’s so glorious and so wonderful. And that’s the hope for all of us who put our faith in God. I pray that you will have this hope in your heart.

This event reminds us of the brevity and the uncertainty of life. We never know when we too will be called into eternity. I doubt if even one those people who got on those planes, or walked into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon last Tuesday morning thought it would be the last day of their lives. It didn’t occur to them. And that’s why each of us needs to face our own spiritual need and commit ourselves to God and His will now.

Here in this majestic National Cathedral we see all around us symbols of the cross. For the Christian ”” I’m speaking for the Christian now ”” the cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering. For He took upon himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, our sins and our suffering. And from the cross, God declares “I love you. I know the heart aches, and the sorrows, and the pains that you feel, but I love you.” The story does not end with the cross, for Easter points us beyond the tragedy of the cross to the empty tomb. It tells us that there is hope for eternal life, for Christ has conquered evil, and death, and hell. Yes, there’s hope.

I’ve become an old man now. And I’ve preached all over the world. And the older I get, the more I cling to that hope that I started with many years ago, and proclaimed it in many languages to many parts of the world. Several years ago at the National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, Ambassador Andrew Young, who had just gone through the tragic death of his wife, closed his talk with a quote from the old hymn, “How Firm A Foundation.” We all watched in horror as planes crashed into the steel and glass of the World Trade Center. Those majestic towers, built on solid foundations, were examples of the prosperity and creativity of America. When damaged, those buildings eventually plummeted to the ground, imploding in upon themselves. Yet underneath the debris is a foundation that was not destroyed. Therein lies the truth of that old hymn that Andrew Young quoted: “How firm a foundation.”

Yes, our nation has been attacked. Buildings destroyed. Lives lost. But now we have a choice: Whether to implode and disintegrate emotionally and spiritually as a people, and a nation, or, whether we choose to become stronger through all of the struggle to rebuild on a solid foundation. And I believe that we’re in the process of starting to rebuild on that foundation. That foundation is our trust in God. That’s what this service is all about. And in that faith we have the strength to endure something as difficult and horrendous as what we’ve experienced this week.

This has been a terrible week with many tears. But also it’s been a week of great faith. Churches all across the country have called prayer meetings. And today is a day that they’re celebrating not only in this country, but in many parts of the world. And the words of that familiar hymn that Andrew Young quoted, it says, “Fear not, I am with thee. Oh be not dismayed for I am thy God and will give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand upon “thy righteous, omnipotent hand.”

My prayer today is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us and will know in our hearts that He will never forsake us as we trust in Him. We also know that God is going to give wisdom, and courage, and strength to the President, and those around him. And this is going to be a day that we will remember as a day of victory. May God bless you all.

Posted in Christology, Terrorism, Theodicy, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Martin Davie–Waiting by the Sea

Where this all leaves us as Christians is waiting like the people of Israel beside the Red Sea, knowing that God has delivered us once and looking for him to deliver us again.

We know from both natural reason and biblical revelation that the devil exists.

We know that the devil has been defeated by Jesus Christ and so no longer has the power to keep us cut off from God.

We know that nonetheless he is still at work in the world. He is the force behind the rejection of God’s truth and the attacks on God’s people that are taking place in societies around the world and the increasing rejection of the Christian faith in the Western democracies.

Finally, we know that the devil will not win in the end. Just as the armies of Pharaoh were swallowed up by the waters of the Red Sea so the devil will be destroyed once and for all by the judgement of God and will trouble God’s good creation no more.

The only thing that can stop us from participating in this victory is if we cease to believe in it and turn away from obedience to God in consequence. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer ‘believe in the victory and it is yours.’

Read it all.

Posted in Theodicy, Theology

Kendall Harmon’s 2018 Maundy Thursday Sermon

You can listen directly here and download the mp3 there.

Posted in * By Kendall, * South Carolina, Atonement, Christology, Holy Week, Ministry of the Ordained, Sermons & Teachings, Soteriology, Theodicy, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Fleming Rutledge’s Talk at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama on the problem of Evil

You may find the mp3 there–take the time to listen and ponder it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Soteriology, Theodicy, Theology: Scripture

Robert Ellis’ OCMS lecture–Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy: The Pastor and the Suffering God

War broke out in August and in September 1914 Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy wrote these words in his parish magazine:

“I cannot say too strongly that I believe every able-bodied man ought to volunteer for service anywhere. Here ought to be no shirking of that duty.”

This from the man who would, before long be writing this, “Waste”:

“Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of glory, Waste of God–War!”

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Religion & Culture, Theodicy, Theology, Violence

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews Kate Bowler’s new book ‘Is there a Cure for Tragedy?’

[Kate] Bowler tells how while she was still in hospital a neighbour came the door and told her husband ‘Everything happens for a reason’. ‘I’d love to hear it,’ the husband replied. ‘Pardon?’ said the woman. ‘The reason my wife is dying,’ was the response. The neighbour said nothing but handed over a casserole.

Bowler lists three life lessons that people try to teach her. The first is that death is just the gateway to heaven. The second is that suffering is ‘an education in mind, body and spirit’. And the third is that attitude determines destiny; just have faith and you will survive. Even atheists find a lesson in suffering. It can show us that we live in an uncaring world and should give up any search for meaning.

Bowler finds no explanation for her suffering but this does not destroy her faith in God. She tells of a ‘free-floating feeling’ that stayed with her for months and conveyed God’s presence to her.

“At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus.”

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in Books, Health & Medicine, Theodicy, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) Kate Bowler–What to Say When You Meet the Angel of Death at a Party

A tragedy is like a fault line. A life is split into a before and an after, and most of the time, the before was better. Few people will let you admit that out loud. Sometimes those who love you best will skip that first horrible step of saying: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this is happening to you.” Hope may prevent them from acknowledging how much has already been lost. But acknowledgment is also a mercy. It can be a smile or a simple “Oh, hon, what a year you’ve had.” It does not ask anything from me but makes a little space for me to stand there in that moment. Without it, I often feel like I am starring in a reality program about a woman who gets cancer and is very cheerful about it.

After acknowledgment must come love. This part is tricky because when friends and acquaintances begin pouring out praise, it can sound a little too much like a eulogy. I’ve had more than one kindly letter written about me in the past tense, when I need to be told who I might yet become.

But the impulse to offer encouragement is a perfect one. There is tremendous power in touch, in gifts and in affirmations when everything you knew about yourself might not be true anymore. I am a professor, but will I ever teach again? I’m a mom, but for how long? A friend knits me socks and another drops off cookies, and still another writes a funny email or takes me to a concert. These seemingly small efforts are anchors that hold me to the present, that keep me from floating away on thoughts of an unknown future. They say to me, like my sister Maria did on one very bad day: “Yes, the world is changed, dear heart, but do not be afraid. You are loved, you are loved. You will not disappear. I am here.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Care, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theodicy, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Professor of Christian History at Duke University Kate Bowler talks to Time Magazine About Her Cancer Diagnosis and Her Faith

You are an expert in the history of health, wealth and happiness in American religion. Why do Americans see tragedies as tests of character?

It is one of the oldest stories Americans tell themselves about determination and some supernatural bootstraps. The double edge to the American Dream is that those who can’t make it have lost the test or have failed. The prosperity gospel is just a Christian version of that.

Did Christianity fail you?

Sometimes it felt like that, in part because of the stuff people said using the Christian faith to be incredibly trite. Christianity also saved the day. You really want a brave faith, one that says, in the midst of the crushing brokenness, there is the something else there, the undeniable, overwhelming love of God.

You’ve said one of the hardest things about being sick is other people trying to explain your suffering. What would you prefer?

People who hug you and give you impressive compliments that don’t feel like a eulogy. People who give you non-cancer-thematic gifts. People who just want to delight you, not try to fix you, and make you realize that it is just another beautiful day and there is usually something fun to do.

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Seminary / Theological Education, Theodicy, Theology

Simon Critchley–The Freedom of Faith: A Christmas Sermon

In an essay in The Times’ Sunday Book Review this week the writer Paul Elie asks the intriguing question: Has fiction lost its faith? As we are gathered here today, let us consider one of the most oddly faithful of all fiction writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky. More specifically, I’d like focus pretty intensely on what some consider to be the key moment in his greatest novel — arguably one of the greatest of all time — “The Brothers Karamazov.” (Elie himself notes the 1880 masterpiece as an example of the truly faith-engaged fiction of yore.) I speak in particular of the “Grand Inquisitor” scene, a sort of fiction within a fiction that draws on something powerful from the New Testament — Jesus’s refusal of Satan’s three temptations — and in doing so digs at the meaning of faith, freedom, happiness and the diabolic satisfaction of our desires.

Read it all. Be warned–this is not short and it is not light bed-time reading; it is, however, well worth the time–KSH.

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature, Theodicy

(CC) Philip Jenkins–What’s dangerous about exorcism?

Any dispute over the propriety of exorcism is particularly sensitive in the British context, because it recalls a dreadful religious and racial confrontation at the start of this century. In 2001, a sensational child murder case indicated the practice of witchcraft on British soil involving ritualistic killing and a trade in human body parts.

Obviously, such extreme criminal behavior demanded a strong and effective official response. But the media soon attributed such horrors to Pentecostal and charismatic churches themselves. In the sensational coverage that followed, the press launched shrieking exposés of immigrant churches that believed in spiritual warfare or practiced exorcisms. These came to be known as Witch Churches.

A potent racial theme pervaded this coverage, with a classic Heart of Dark­ness scenario portraying African primitivism and violence. Media ac­counts segued from reporting on exorcisms undertaken to fight diabolic forces to depicting the rituals themselves as a form of primitive jungle savagery dressed in Christian guise. Rituals designed to combat witchcraft were presented as a singularly dangerous manifestation of witchcraft and ritualistic child abuse. The regular conduct of immigrant churches involving exorcism and healing—without any abusive or violent element—was seen as deeply problematic and demanding police intervention.

The government responded by en­forcing far stricter rules for African clergy and ministers seeking to enter the United Kingdom, a draconian sanction introduced well before any like restrictions were imposed on extremist Muslims who flagrantly preached hatred and violence. In retrospect, the Witch Church affair was a grim example of religious intolerance— and in this instance, one directed against Christians.

Read it all.

Posted in Law & Legal Issues, Police/Fire, Religion & Culture, Theodicy, Theology: Scripture

(Washington Post) Peter Candler–How an ancient African saint named Augustine helped me make sense of 9/11

I had nothing grand for them. I just told them about Augustine. I told them that “City of God” was written in response to a trauma: the collapse of the Roman Empire. Granted eternal dominion by the gods themselves, Rome was supposed to be the Empire without End. So, naturally, it came as a bit of a shock when it fell to pieces overnight, when, not with a bang but a whimper, Rome became just one more empire of dust. Some at the time were blaming Christians for the catastrophe, because Christians worshiped a dying God, seemed to celebrate weakness and claimed as their highest virtue not duty to the nation or force, but love of one’s enemies.

So Augustine set out to write a defense of the “city of God” against these accusations, but it soon swelled into a “giant of a book,” as he called it. “City of God” is a study in opposites: the city of God in contrast to the human, terrestrial city. Augustine’s argument throughout the early books is that, contrary to the high praise Rome lavished upon itself for its commitment to the virtue of clemency, Rome had spectacularly failed, and its temples were not the sanctuaries of humility and mercy Romans wished them to be. In the Roman temples of Juno, he writes, “men were forced into slavery as the property of the enemies who had overcome them”; but in the shrines of the martyrs and churches, “they were conducted to freedom by the merciful…”

This was what the students came to hear from Augustine. They came to hear him argue that when the common interest of a public is not grounded in love for its own sake, and when human rights are not grounded in a universal human calling to love God and one another, then we inevitably serve some other god than the God of Love. We worship at some other altar than that of true mercy and freedom, and above all we end up worshiping an idol whose shifting forms disguise his one name: domination. In our desire for mastery over others, we will merely become slaves to the lust for domination that we mistakenly call freedom.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Terrorism, Theodicy, Theology: Scripture

(LARB) George Prochnik–What Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt Can Teach Us About Evil Today

The more complete portrait of Eichmann that has emerged in recent years validates Scholem’s impression. From the descriptions and interviews of Nazi functionaries he himself has read, Scholem reports, it appears, “The gentlemen enjoyed their evil, so long as there was something to enjoy. One behaves differently after the party’s over, of course.”

The enjoyment Scholem refers to is not simple sadism, but the thrill of experiencing a wild inflation of personal power — power over others, power to do as one privately wishes quite apart from any larger, theoretical ideology. What Scholem identifies in Eichmann is the excitement of feeling oneself to be a god.

There are plenty of directions we can turn our eyes today to test the respective theses of Arendt and Scholem about the mentality of the characters crafting policies that cause suffering to the innocent and harm to the planet. Are we seeing conformist functionaries mindlessly carrying out their nefarious duties? Or are we watching numbers of highly self-motivated individuals eagerly, sometimes even gleefully indulging an unconscionable greed for power in all its earthly forms? In Arendt’s schema, given enough basic intelligence, the person who doesn’t know how to think can be taught to do so. But the problem presented by someone in a self-centered passion is different. The person who thinks himself a God has to be removed from power before the contradiction of their fantasy becomes a capital offense.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Germany, History, Theodicy

(NYTimes Op-ed) Peter Wehner: After Great Pain, Where Is God?

During 1940 C. S. Lewis wrote “The Problem of Pain.” Lewis’s answer to why an all-good and all-powerful God would allow his creatures to suffer pain was a bit too neat and tidy. Among other things, he wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Now flash forward two decades to the publication of “A Grief Observed,” which Lewis wrote after his wife’s death. God’s megaphone didn’t just rouse Lewis, it nearly shattered him. In writing about his bereavement, Lewis described what it was like to go to God “when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” He added: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ ”

Years ago I had lunch with a pastor and asked him about his impressions of “A Grief Observed.” His attitude bordered on disdain. He felt that Lewis allowed doubt to creep in when his faith should have sustained him.

My response was the opposite.

Read it all.

Posted in Theodicy

Archbp Justin Welby–Reflections from Auschwitz

Here are three things that will stay with me:

First is the way that the perpetrators at Auschwitz tried to dehumanise their victims ”“ in a way that actually cost the humanity of both. It worked to some extent. Prisoners killed others in order to live ”“ and were then killed themselves. Others gave their lives, like St Maximilian Kolbe and St Edith Stein.

Second, these atrocities were committed by ordinary people. When one of the priests leading our retreat was asked who was to blame, he said: “People did it to people.”

Third, it was idolatrous and demonic.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Death / Burial / Funerals, Europe, Germany, History, Parish Ministry, Poland, Religion & Culture, Theodicy, Theology

Tom Wright on the Meanings of Christmas: In the new world there will be no more sea

When the early Christians wrote about Jesus, this was the story they believed themselves to be telling. They didn’t see him as simply a teacher, a moral example, or even as one who saved people from a doomed world. They told his story as the point where the dark forces of chaos converged, in the cynical politics of Herod and Pilate, the bitter fanaticism of the Pharisees, the wild shrieks of diseased souls, the sudden storms on the lake. They invite us to see his death on the analogy of Jonah’s being thrown into the sea, there to be swallowed by the monster called Death. They insist that in this death God has taken upon Himself the full force of the world’s evil. As a sign of that, the final book of the Bible declares that in the new world, now already begun with his resurrection, there will be no more sea.

Saying this precisely does not give Christian theology an easy explanation (“Oh, that’s all right then”) for the continuing presence of evil in the world. On the contrary, it tells a story about Jesus’s own sense of abandonment, and thereby encourages us to embrace the same sense of helpless involvement in the sorrow of the world, as the means by which the world is to be healed. Those who work for justice, reconciliation and peace will know that sense, and perhaps, occasionally, that healing.

This isn’t the kind of answer that the Enlightenment wanted. But maybe, as we launch into the deep waters of another new year, it is the kind of vocation we ought to embrace in place of shallow analysis and shrill reaction.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Provinces, Christmas, Christology, Church of England (CoE), Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, CoE Bishops, Theodicy, Theology