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The central problem of ‘rampant evil’ and a ‘loving God’?

How do we pray to God – who seems not to be God, merciful, loving and delivering – for countless women and men in deepest need? How do we move from thanksgiving for our own lives to intercession for those who innocently suffer destitution or even mass atrocity? As if we would stand with Aaron as he ‘stands between the living and the dead’ to halt the plague (Numbers 16:48), while knowing that at countless times the plague, the tragic agonies, do not stop for so many women, men and children…continuing ‘holocausts’…

Although we may not be sure of ‘solving’ such questions, nor wish to add to a failed and complicit theory of good and evil (c.f. P. Admirand Amidst Mass Atrocity & the Rubble of Theology, 2012), we can say:

a) Despite the vast suffering of many victims (of war, ‘plague’, atrocity, genocide or whatever, through the centuries), for some ‘the plague does stop’, and for countless others it does not even come anywhere near! There are then, limits to evil; in the chronicles of all human history it is far outweighed by concrete experiences of good. Then too, even in, before, and after, Auschwitz good was done*: and despite all, prayers were offered by those grossly abused and tortured at Auschwitz and similar prisons.

b) Is this the ‘Good’, or ‘God’’ restraining atrocity, which would otherwise continue unrestrained? And could our ‘praying’ – daring to live and commune as if for a ‘Loving God’ – not strengthen such restraint upon fellow humans? OR could we not, through such lived prayer – the praxis of solidarity and protest – at least help succour, even rescue, many others from their present agonies?

c) Yet to be honest with ‘God’, for humanity’s sake, and for ‘God’s’ sake (!), we must la-ment, but also question, argue, protest (see e.g. D. Migliore Faith Seeking Understanding, 1998) outrage at the continuing atrocities being perpetuated! This is a strong Judaic tradition, in the face of ‘God’s’ apparent failure to rescue ‘God’s’ people, from pogrom, massacre and genocide. This is the plea that ‘God’ should in reality be ‘God’ . . .[even if being a wounded, seemingly powerless, ‘bystander God’ – a less-than-perfect-‘God’?]

d) Even if the promises and hopes are not finally to be fulfilled – worst case scenario – it is clear that life can be sustained, even transformed, by hoping, faithing, loving…And does this not betray a fundamental truth as to ‘the nature of being’?

Then too the promises are so wonderful, so anchored in the deepest human experiences. The glimpses we have of fulfilment, the foretastes we have in lives that embody great hope, are so engaging…enthralling. Surely all these do demonstrate, even constitute ‘the Good’, that does after all, endure despite all seeming destruction, beckon and sustain in all truth, hope, love?

e) It is this paradigm we see in the lives-with-others of such classic figures as the Buddhas ( Sakyamuni and Amida,), Socrates, Zoroaster, and supremely, in Jesus of Nazareth. It is possible therefore to wager (Pascal Pensées 233 343) that in known and unknown ways, the innocent victims without number, and also the known and unknown ‘God’ her/him-self (!), will be finally vindicated? Woman and man would then become reconciled to having a ‘fractured faith’ in a ‘fractured God’ – self-limited, allowing evil, yet unwavering in love’s intention – and go on to live as if ‘God’ will still gather, deliver and transfigure all we know and hope for.

f) Many thinkers in our past century, searching for understanding of ‘God’ in such a universe as this, have come to affirm that along with a ‘self-limited God’, or ‘Ultimate Spirit’, there is the ‘ultimate force’ of ‘Creativity’ at work in our changing universe (see e.g. E.F. Kelly & E.W. Kelly Irreducible Mind, 2007). This means for us that we can recognise and accept both the changeableness, and therefore often deeply tragic dimensions of human life, and also the creative spirit of compassion and beauty which is at work within all. We can accept too that for us to have full freedom of choice and identity there must also be limitations upon ‘God’s possible ‘deliverance’ or restoration, in this earthly life.

But can there be life-giving hope in the depths of human suffering? Does such a God engender our full trust? Can our own living – united to the Life-of-Jesus-with-others — explore, or even signpost answers in the life of our communities??

Then is the time to recall and re-live the deep knowledge that it is only because of the reality of hope that we recognize hopelessness; only because of the image of a whole humanity that we clearly recognize inhumanity; only because of our vision of love at its fullest do we recognize the many betrayals of that vision. In actual history and experience, and for uncounted millions, hope has broken into their despair, and does break into despair; human empathy in action has relieved and does relieve the desolation of those broken by brutality; and heights and depths of altruistic love do transform individuals and communities – ‘love is here to stay, and that’s enough’.

Sometimes all we can do then may be to recognize that anew, as well as to recall (and repeat) Biblical words of hope, or Jesus’ words of great love and assurance (spoken of course in communities of a brutally occupied and poverty-struck land!). And there are many other affirmations we can collect, such as Judson’s (when his wife was dying and he was in a Burmese prison, 1824): “the future is as bright as the promises of God”! Or the teen-age Judith Schneiderman in Auschwitz who “sang to survive” believing “there is goodness in the world”. Compared to these, perhaps our concerns are much lighter?

Petitions for peace at night or morning, or acts of commendation in our ‘little deaths’ of sleep, or as we take up another task, may have their place, but they must join with pleas for ‘God”s compassion and people-justice to be known, in a measure that begins, at least, to salve the countless tragedies; acts of commendation for colleagues on those frontiers, for new signs of hope and love; and acts of commitment, to offer all that can be done, hoped, shared, interceded for now, by us…

— John C. England (Dr) 2013

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