Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me? - Kurt Nelson

Kurt Nelson 
Rollins Chapel 
Psalm 22: 1-2 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

This is, I think, a different sort of question,
than the others we’ve wondered so far this term.
It's a question not so much about humanity,
or of our relationship to God.
But a question posed toward God.
It’s a question of protest,
asked by the Psalmist,
asked by Job,
asked by Jesus as he faced death,
Asked perhaps by many of us here today.
It takes various forms,
like "Why do bad things happen to good people?"
It’s asked in times of despair.
Asked, I hope, in confirmation classes and bible studies.
A question which essentially comes down to the seemingly incongruous belief
in a good and loving and powerful God,
and the fact of suffering and evil.
A question which no doubt has led some away from faith.
And the ability to ask such a question has, I hope,
drawn still others closer in.

Nearly every sermon I’ve heard or read
on this problem of evil,
turns to offer insight into the author’s own profound experience of suffering.
But I admit that I am largely unqualified to go down such a road.
I've certainly not lived a perfect or pain-free life,
but I have lived a good, and lucky, and blessed one.
I have lost only a few close friends or family,
so far.
I have been blessed by a good and loving family from the start.
and good health, so far.
And yet even I have protested and questioned.
on behalf of myself,
on behalf of suffering people with whom I’ve sat.
on behalf of countries facing war or natural disaster,
and on behalf of history-
why should such evil, such suffering exist in the world?
Such questions are, I think,
essential to the human experience,
even those of us who have lived lives far more full of grace than of trial.
And such questions are,
I think, deeply I important to the life of faith.

And I take solace, this morning, in knowing
that I have but a few minutes to address this question of suffering,
 not because I think I will be able offer a satisfactory answer
but because I’m pretty sure more time wouldn’t help.

But it’s not for lack of trying.
Indeed, so interested in the question of evil I was,
that I devoted my college honors thesis to it.
Thinking, as I was wont to do,
that intellectual solutions would offer true solace, and peace, and understanding.
I must have missed the typical college lesson,
that we ought only write essays about questions we can answer.
Or perhaps I thought I something novel to say,
about this most basic question of human existence.
But it turned out I didn’t have a magical solution to the problem at that time in my life,
and I don’t now.

I came to the conclusion through the course of that work,
that there are really only two live answers to the problem
of the all good, all loving, all powerful God,
and the existence of evil and suffering.
On the one hand,
there are those few attempts to re-imagine or re-frame
what all loving, or all good,
or all powerful might mean.
They are of the more radical strain -
an attempt to reshape our image of God,
in light of evil and suffering.
I find these writings fascinating,
and once in a while helpful,
but ultimately I think they miss the mark.

And on the other hand,
are writings that essentially boil down to the basic notion,
that true evil and true suffering do not and cannot exist.
For some, suffering is merely punishment or justice.
For others, it is simply and totally a question of human freedom,
and ability to reject the good.
And for some it is couched more metaphorically.
Evil is like a smudge of paint on an impressionist painting,
which, seen to close, seems like a mistake.
But if only we could back up and view the whole work of creation,
we would understand its purpose.
We simply do not and cannot understand the purpose and meaning
behind those moments of seeming evil.

And I will admit that I find such accounts profoundly unhelpful and unsatisfying.
I think they force us to try to make meaning out of evil and suffering,
where often it cannot be found.
I don’t mean to be closed off to the profound mystery of the divine plan.
And if you think I am,
please come tell me after the service,
or at breakfast following.
But I do think there are things in this world which are truly wrong.
And which should be named as such.
And I don’t think this Psalm,
or the crucifixion,
or even the book of Job
 tells us that it is our job to go in search of meaning,
in every death, illness, war, or disaster.
Rather, I think we are left, unknowing.
Affirming at once that suffering exists,
and that God is, and God loves us.
It is, as Richard is fond of saying,
a paradox.
One which I think helps us understand three simple ideas.
First, that it is okay to protest,
and ask and wonder,
and cry and question in the face of evil and suffering,
Why, oh God, have you forsaken me?
The Psalmist, and Job and Jesus did it,
that we might do it too.

Second, we are reminded,
that it was Christ who suffered,
not only for us, but with us.
That God is present even in suffering and questioning.
Even when prayers go seemingly unanswered.

And finally, that suffering is not and will not be the last word.
Psalm 22 starts in lament, and ends in hope.
and the crucifixion is not the end of the Christian story.
Rather, we see,
I think,
not necessarily that suffering and evil are part of the divine plan,
but that they can be overcome.
And so we wait,
and we hope and pray and sing.
And we cry out, and protest from time to time.
Always surrounded,
though we may not see or feel or know it,
in God’s love and embrace.

1 comment:

  1. Hi just wanted to respond in encouragement. An interesting post and in some ways exactly what I needed to hear. Thanks!