Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wolterstorff on the meaning of suffering

The Christian gospel tells us more of the meaning of sin than suffering. ... To the 'why' of suffering we get no firm answer. Of course, some suffering is easily seen to be the result of our sin: war, assault, poverty amidst plenty, the hurtful word. And maybe some is chastisement. But not all. The meaning of the remainder is not told us. It eludes us. Our net of meaning is too small. There's more to our suffering than our guilt.

- Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, 74.*

I think this is such an important point to remember both pastorally and apologetically. Our job is not to explain all suffering. We can protest, groan, learn to endure - without explaining.

*Wolterstorff, a well known American theologian, offers a moving personal reflection upon the tragic death of his 25 year old son in a climbing accident.

14 comments:

michael jensen said...

Ah yes: it is a theologian's temptation, isn't it? Explanation can be a death by a thousand cuts...

cyberpastor said...

And yet, we still need to give an account for the hope that we have. If this is to be more than "blind trust" it must necessitate some reflection or meditation which is hard to keep away from explanation.

Ched said...

Our job is not to explain all suffering.

This is a good insight.

Benjamin Ady said...

Stephen King's Cort expressed much the same thing when he told Roland and friends "Why is a crooked letter which can't be made straight"

Aric Clark said...

Wolterstorff's little book is an absolute gem. I gave it as gifts to several friends this past christmas, because I think he hit the nail on the head.

John H said...

Cyberpastor: you are right that we need to be able to give a reason for the hope we have, but that's not the same as being able to "explain suffering". Rather, it is to explain how we can retain hope in the face of unexplainable suffering.

Drew said...

Yes, and further to this, giv[ing] an account for the hope that we have is perhaps not explaining suffering at all, but rather explaining why we, together, protest, groan, learn to endure?

cyberpastor said...

If I may have another go...

Certainly we do not have to bear the burden of the inexplicable but what is hope beyond a "grin and bear it stoicism' if we do not articulate the triumph of God's Messiah in suffering?

Once we have arrived at the cross we are given an account of hope that explains suffering at least in essence.

Mikhaela said...

Wow B - 8 comments already... It seems you're back on everyone's safe terrain.

byron said...

Mik - yeah, you're convincing me. We'll see whether the next post has a similar response (although since it is expressing a similar point to this one, people might get bored).

Cyberpastor:
Certainly we do not have to bear the burden of the inexplicable but what is hope beyond a "grin and bear it stoicism' if we do not articulate the triumph of God's Messiah in suffering?
I agree.

Once we have arrived at the cross we are given an account of hope that explains suffering at least in essence.
I disagree. I think the key term here is 'explain'. Suffering is not explained by the cross, but it is given an answer in the light of which it makes sense to hope (at least, when the cross is combined with the resurrection and Pentecost).

How do you see the hope that arises from the cross as explaining suffering?

Aric - I must confess I haven't actually read Wolterstorff's book, just come across quotations in Hauerwas's Naming the Silences. I'd like to read it.

Benjamin - nice quote.

cyberpastor said...

Well in line with the next post, to speak of explanation is not to sing a vacuous "all's well that ends well" or even that the ends justifies the means.

By explain I mean grounding the phenomenon of evil which is inextricably bound to suffering in the darkness of Good Friday. The blackened sky, the battered and bloodied Messiah, the mocking calls, the gawking crowds, the weeping women (and probably men too) the ruthless occupiers, the absent and faithless friends are a picture of the concert of demonic forces and human capitulation against the one in whom. though whom and for whom are all things. That is why there is suffering and where it comes from.

byron said...

Yes - and nicely put. However, is opposition to God's Messiah the explanation for all suffering and evil? Do you take Augustine's line and explain 'natural' evils as the result of demonic forces?

cyberpastor said...

Well if the Messiah is the one through whom the world was created then I think that ultimately all evil is a reaction to him. Those who rebel against him may not even know that they are doing so. However, if his is the death for sin then all evil is directed towards him.

I don't know what Augustine's line is and having waxed lyrical as I have I am also conscious of having a different view to him in regards to the original state of the creation. I am more inclined to follow Irenaeus and allow that the world was created with a certain level of chaos that the man and the woman were meant to subdue but failed. Quotations from Isaiah aside, I would be willing to admit an amount of death (for instance) as a natural aspect of the non-personal world. Is this where you would have reservations about "natural evil?"

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