Friday, March 28, 2008

Seasoned with salt: grace-filled conversations III

I introduced this series back here.

This situation is a different kind of "conversation": letters to the editor. I know that many Sydney Christians are faithful writers and some even occasionally get one published. This week, the SMH has had a few short letters on the problem of evil. The first was on Tuesday:

"Wouldn't it have been easier for God - not to mention cheaper for the health system - to have prevented Jose Ramos-Horta being shot, rather than having to save his life afterwards ("Ramos-Horta leaves hospital bed for service", March 24)? The fatuous nonsense people believe and the uncritical way newspapers report it never cease to astonish." - Richard Cobden Woolloomooloo
The next day my friend Victor Shaw had this reply published:
"Richard Cobden (Letters, March 25) questions the existence of God on the basis that He did not prevent Jose Ramos-Horta being shot. This is an example of the larger question: how can a good God allow suffering? Perhaps I can begin to answer both: God didn't shoot Ramos-Horta, a human being did." - Victor Shaw Epping
Thursday saw this response:
"I'm sure we're all grateful that Victor Shaw can so confidently clear God on the matter of the Ramos-Horta shooting (Letters, March 26). Any thoughts on the 2004 tsunami, Victor?" - David Harris Manly
How would you reply? Remember, letters to the editor have to be less than 200 words, may be edited to be even shorter, are not likely to be published unless you are very good, very lucky or very representative of many other letters (and best if you can manage all three).

I'll post Victor's (alas, unsuccessful) reply soon.


Unknown said...

I would say that the 2004 tsunami shows us our utter powerlessness within creation. And is a wakeup call that we all need to turn to a greater power than ourselves.
Perhaps God was reflecting our ways of destroying each other, through the tsunami. The result which gave us a chance to reflect his ways by banding together to help those in need.

Matthew R. Malcolm said...

Hmmm... hard to think of something short and sweet...

Jesus was once asked a very similar question (Luke 13:1-5), and he moved the discussion from the question of blame to a different question: Given that the Tsunami has happened, how is it going to cause YOU to change your life? Perhaps it's only in answering that question that God's involvement begins to become evident

dave saxey said...

When the Tsunami comes and takes my nine month old son, I don't want a metaphysical explanation for suffering; my son is worth more than that, much more. What I want is for someone to live through the suffering with me, in all its awful reality.

For Christians, the clearest picture we have of God is Jesus. We don't see a detached, omnipotent, (and largely unattractive) deity. Instead we see a person who suffers, like us; suffers with us.

Whatever the exact reason for the state of our world, the only human way we have of facing evil and suffering is to face it the way God did when he lived in our world: with friends (even if they prove unreliable), in prayer (even if it isn't answered) and with hope in the God of the hidden ending.

{letter ends here}

Ok, I'm only a wanna-be writer, and that last sentence doesn't make any sense unless you're a trinitarian (I can just imagine the SMH letters the next day). But I think there's milage in a response that points to the suffering of God in Jesus and tries to (graciously) show-up the shallowness of an I-want-an-excuse-to-mock-religion approach.

(By the way, I haven't experienced anything like the loss of a child, so that example may be inappropriate.)

Drew said...

Go Victor! Great letter. I used to do this for a while, but got depressed at the game-ness of it all.

Here's what I thought:

"David Harris Manly demands God's alibi for the 2004 tsunami. Tying down a location on an omnipresent God? A bit tough, but what was he doing there? There's the rub."

The art is to beg further questions - ie. a conversation - not necessarily answer them; you just don't have the space!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't answer as I haven't found a satisfactory answer to satisfy myself. It makes me a little uncomfortable every time I think about it and questions similar.

But then again, maybe I haven't read enough. Can you point me anywhere?

byron smith said...

As with last time, there are some fascinating ideas here.

Drew - I love the idea of inviting further conversation. Which kinds of question do you think are best? (I assume open-ended, but any further thoughts?)

Dave - yes, the priority of experience over explanation for those whose suffering is more than theoretical. Often it is the onlookers who most desire explanation. I love the christocentrism of your letter. I also like the phrase "with hope in the God of the hidden ending". I agree that your letter might generate many replies, but that's probably a good thing!

Matthew - Thanks for your comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what might well be some responses to your letter: What changes to my life does the tsunami demand? What is the meaning of a tsunami? And what divine involvement is revealed in answering these questions?

Craig - Interesting suggestions. Some questions for you too: is it really utter powerlessness? Isn't part of the shock of the tsunami that at this point our (usually very effective in certain contexts) power over creation was thwarted/surprised/engulfed? And if God is reflecting our destructiveness, why would he choose so many children as his target?

Geoff - I'd recommend my series back here on theodicy and eschatology, but also this book by Hart and this one by Wright.

Unknown said...


My use of God reflecting our destructiveness was more to do with reflecting and getting back to Davids original letter about why God allowed Jose to be shot.

I then qualified my statement by stating that Gods ways were more to do with helping those in need more so than it is to destroy.

I think the tsunami shows us our total powerlessness in the face of destruction and death. It's a wake up call that we are mortal.

Why does it disturb us so much that creation killed and destroyed so many; when many more die and are destroyed on a daily basis through famine, disease genocide etc?

I think it is illusionary for us to think that we have effective power over creation. Take the farming / water crisis at the moment in Australia due to drought. Even though we might employ the best practices we don't really have control over what we do, rather our actions are controlled by external forces.

Anonymous said...

Just to get a few more bragging rights, here's a letter of mine the SMH published after the tsunami. It was in response to a particular editorial piece:

May I suggest Edward Spence ("Waves of destruction wash away belief in God's benevolence", Herald, December 30) swaps the Judeo-Christian attribute of God's benevolence for love, which he recognises as the core message of Christmas? The Christmas story concludes with an explanation of the great mystery of love. God experienced the suffering of losing His son. Jesus experienced the suffering of a slow and painful death.

We can be confident that God is not "indifferent to both human joys and sorrows" but rather knows what many are suffering at this moment.

Joshua Kuswadi, Stanmore, December 30.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I recognise the Sydney Harbour Bridge in that picture. Taken from the eastern side looking west.

byron smith said...

Joshua - nice letter. The move from "benevolence" (which always sounds so impersonal to me) to "love" is important. Yet also important in your letter is the implication that God is here with us in our groaning, not just watching from a distance and pulling strings.

And even though I hadn't yet offered any points for the picture, have five for your correct answer. I assume it was also you who made the pre-emptive guess back here?

Drew said...

Hi Byron,

Lots of it is just trial and error, and it probably changes depending on the topic. I usually managed about a 1 in 4 success rate, and of these, maybe 1 in 4 of those might spark a 'conversation' over several days. But you never know how many conversations this might have prompted in day to day life.

I felt the best kind of responses mixed gentle humour with a self reflexivity - both for yourself and whoever you were responding to.

I thought Victor's was a great example - he made the issue explicit, moved the ground of the question slightly (a good God), and didn't oversell his response - it's only a 'beginning', which invites someone else to take up the issue.

And Geoff - I'm with you, I don't have an answer either, but that precisely gives you a reason to talk about it.