Our North Sound ministers' cluster met today in Port Townsend for a few hours. Three of us went across on the passenger ferry that is substituting for the car ferry until it can be repaired or replaced. Instead of the huge Klickitat lumbering across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we zipped across in the sleek, fast Snohomish, in a third of the time the trip normally takes.
We always do a brief check-in, about five minutes per person of "how's it going" kind of stuff, both professionally and personally, and once we finished that, one colleague introduced the program he had planned.
At the top of a piece of paper, he had written: THEODICY: a vindication of God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil...The goal of theodicy is to show that there are convincing reasons why a just, compassionate and omnipotent being would permit pointless and debilitating suffering to flourish.
And then he set up a scenario, after reading us a story to illustrate the terrible paradox that theodicy represents. What if, he asked, you were charged with telling a group of homeless people what the meaning of Christmas is? They know you're a minister and they expect a ministerial point of view. What would you say to them, considering their circumstances and the contrast between their circumstances and yours?
These are the kinds of challenges we regularly discuss at cluster meetings and this particular colleague revels in them. He is a scientist first, a minister second, and a musician always, and he loves to hand us heavy questions to tussle with. We had a good time with this one.
Here are the notes I wrote for myself:
All human actions or events have both good and bad outcomes. We can't know what these outcomes will be. We don't know that suffering is pointless and debilitating because we don't know or can't know ultimate outcomes. I have faith in "growing wisdom" rather than in my limited concept of God's justice or goodness.
"God" is not a just, compassionate and omnipotent being. God is a process. Creation and destruction are two sides of the same coin. Things must often fall apart in order to come together in a better way.
Life is a cycle of ups and downs which often feel random. At Christmas, the visibility of these cycles becomes vivid. We see the downward moments in sharp detail and we strive to accentuate, provide, and attempt to maximize the upward moments.
We have varying degrees of success at this and we feel angry and frustrated if we can't produce an upward movement for ourselves or others who particularly need it (like a homeless person). We feel jubilant if we are experiencing an upward moment or if we are able to produce an upward movement for others, particularly those who need it badly.
I don't know for sure what this all means. I do know that I have a paradoxical concept of God, whom I see as both process and personal confidant. I know God can't be both. But to me God is both the creative energy in the universe and the one I go to with my concerns. Maybe someday I'll understand intellectually what my intuition tells me is so.