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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Distance

I know I have been away for a while. Actually, I had started another post at the beginning of the week, a humorous diatribe about my attempt to color my hair, resulting in more dye in the bathroom sink and on the bathroom floor than ever made it to my hair. I liken the experience to a 3 Stooges clip, with me playing the role of Moe, Larry and Curly all wrapped up together. I am presently trying to rock my orange hair.

I have not been able to finish the post.

The week has been heavy, and I am roaming in a mire of futility. Life, of late, feels barren and hollow. While the landscape in front of me continues to be tilled, the humus that arises gets burned in the sun... and nothing can survive.

The denial of human dignity I have witnessed this week is both staggering and profound. I am with the poorest of the poor, and their essence, their sacredness as human beings, is somehow deemed  irrelevant. Those living on the streets, patients with HIV, adults and children who have been beaten or burned—all victims of the endless cycle of oppression—are considered "insignificant," or a "bother," or "a drain on the system,"—the list of terms humanity uses to justify the denigration of another soul are endless.

I am writing a presentation on the theology of suffering. It is challenging me to the core. How does one reconcile the presence of a God who is considered  "all loving, all powerful and merciful," in the construct of human suffering? Sure, I could borrow from the messages of rote platitudes, or bumper stickers slogans like, "Everything is part of God's plan," or "God never gives you more than you can endure." Those tie up the concept of God inside suffering with a neat bow.

I believe platitudes become necessary because few of us are comfortable staring in to the face of an unimaginable atrocity, or the suffering of a friend or loved one, without saying something. I know I have struggled with finding just the right words to offer comfort to another. The search can be agonizing, and the silence deafening.

Yet, I cannot imagine borrowing from any such banality as I look in to the eyes of a child mangled from unfathomable abuse; or the mother holding her infant as he dies from malnutrition; or the man abandoned by his family and friends because he has HIV and is dying alone. I believe we need to stop acting like we have the answers. Let's be honest, can anyone truly and with authority, reconcile theodicy, or why God permits evil? Is it time to courageously admit that this notion is unreconilable, and we should hold it as one of the many mysteries of life—like the Universe or miracles—phenomenona our limited capacity as humans will never understand?

The following account, written by Shoah survivor and author Elie Wiesel, is the only theology of suffering that makes any sense to me. How else could I possibly fathom God in the narrative of human suffering, and continue to believe in a God of Love? The scene takes place in the concentration camp, where 2 men and a young boy had been arrested. All of the concentration camp prisoners, which included Elie Wiesel, were forced to stand and watch the hanging of the 3 males:


Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing …
And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
"For God’s sake, where is God?"
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
"Where He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows …"
  ( Night by Elie Wiesel)



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