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theodicy, pop religion and the suffering servant

I’ve been seeing the picture to the left bouncing around FB all day. Friday as well, I think. And the fact that I haven’t responded yet is really weighing on my conscience to the point that I can’t sleep. So:

(1) God has not been kicked out of the schools. Religious students can pray. They can read their Bibles on their own. We studied religious history and Bible-as-literature in my high school. The Protestant, Christian God has lost his privileged and (IMO) unconstitutional *monopoly* in school.

(2) Given how concerned many people are about giving the government too much power these days, why the HECK would you want a public, government-run school teaching your kid about your religion? That’s the parent’s job, aided by whatever church they choose (if they choose).

None of that means the schools do a perfect job of balancing freedom to practice a religion and freedom from being compelled to practice a religion, of course. But God has not been kicked out of the schools. Really.

But most importantly be far:

(3) I do not and cannot worship a God who would allow kindergartners to be slaughtered because some atheist group or whatever won their lawsuit and so we can’t say “under God” in the pledge anymore. The God I believe in is nowhere near that petty. Nowhere near.

I could rage about this for quite some time. I did, actually, and then I deleted it because the rage seemed insufficient to how wrong this idea seems to me. I have heard it in my own church, directed at my own losses which at the time seemed world-shattering. (Whether they are on par with those experienced in Newtown, objectively, really isn’t relevant.) I can imagine a taste of what it must be like for those who have actually lost children or parents to be told God would have loved to save their family members but he couldn’t, because we’re not allowed to say “under God” in our pledge these days.

It’s such a tempting move to make, isn’t it? To think if only, if only we did ________, then things like this would never happen again. I have made that bargain with myself and with any God who might be listening more times than I can say. But just because it is tempting, that doesn’t make it true, let alone good.

Any God worthy of my worship, any God that could hope to be the one described in my religion’s Bible, could not be held at bay so simply. I’m not saying He would rush in to save the day. I don’t know why He lets this happen; that’s one of the reasons I’ve been crying so much. But I’m not going to offer an answer like this. Even if you think we need more religion in the schools, now is not the time to push for it and this is definitely not the way. It’s bad theology (God says He’ll wipe away every tear, not that we’ll never cry), and it’s also bad religion. Aside from hurting people, it takes away one of the main values I see in faith in my life: helping me live with the fact that there are some things I simply cannot understand or explain. Faith, as St. Paul put it so well, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

I’m not going to go into the philosophical issues of theodicy, whether I am justified in believing in something without visible evidence. This is not the time for intellectual exercises but for grieving. But as an alternative to this drive to explain God’s absence in tragedies like Friday’s, I would like to offer a passage from Elie Wiesel’s novel Night. If you believe in God, I hope it gives you some peace.

One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all around us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains— and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel.

The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him.

This time the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS replaced him.

The three victims mounted together onto the chairs.

The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses.

“Long live liberty!” cried the two adults.

But the child was silent.

“Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked.

At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over.

Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.

“Bare your heads!” yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping.

“Cover your heads!”

Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive…

For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was red, his eyes were not yet glazed.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

“Where is God now?”

And I heard a voice within me answer him:

“Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows…”

****************************

Credit where credit’s due: I took the above quote from http://www.wordsntone.com/index.php/site/comments/seeing_god_hanging_on_the_gallows/ , since I can’t find my own copy of that novel. But the quote is originally Mr. Wiesel’s.

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