Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When we ask, "Is it fair?"...

A friend recently wrote about his encounter with the demand of a theodicy (emphasis added):
Just this morning, I met a friend in court and we chat up. She told me about a case she is handling. It's a fatal accident case. The victim was a 19 year old lady. She was, needlessly to say, at the prime of her youth. She was a smart girl and the only child of a family who loved her dearly. She was a pillion rider in a motor car accident.

The facts seemed sketchy but what is clear is that the motorcar, which collided into the bike she was on, was driven by a drunk driver.  And this is the truly sad part. Embrace yourself.

The young lady had in her bag a little dog. Upon collision, the helmet, the lady and the dog were flung off at all directions. As the lady was lying motionless on the road, the dog struggled back to her to be by her side. I guess her dog was the last living thing she saw before she departed. She left behind her inconsolable parents and a loyal dog.

My friend told me she went to the victim's house (her parents just bought her a house) and cried when her parents told her that they had to give away the dog because they couldn't take it.  And this is the part of my letter that is relevant. Before we departed, my friend turned to me and asked pointblank, "Is it fair?" Before I could answer her, she'd left.
Reading through this reminds me of what Theng Huat Leow wrote about theodicy, that whenever we encounter such disheartening situation, we shall turn our sight to the cross. For it is through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that God himself asked the question, "Is it fair?"

Whatever we may make of our response to this question, we should not forget that God himself is confronted by this question when his son was dying on the cross. 

Yet it was also from the cross that God answered that question. For the cross is "God’s own engagement in theodicy." (Theng Huat Leow, The Theodicy of Peter Taylor Forsyth: A "Crucial" Justification of the Ways of God to Man [USA: Pickwick, 2011], p.35. Emphasis added.)

The cross shows us that "God leads from the front, bearing the brunt of the fight against sin and undergoing the greatest of all suffering for the sake of the cause." (p.154, ibid) It assures us that "God identifies with our suffering, in terms of both solidarity and empathy..." (p.167, ibid)

This means that God is confronted by the question "Is it fair?" not as a bystander, like the lady that my friend talked to. God is not someone who observes the suffering of others and then asked for a theodicy. The cross shows us that God asked that question precisely because he himself was the victim of evil and suffering. 

To be sure, the cross is also the victory of God over evil and suffering. The event is the answer to the question posed by itself. In the words of N. T. Wright:
The Gospels thus tell the story, unique in the world’s great literature, religious theories, and philosophies: the story of the creator God taking responsibility for what’s happened to creation, bearing the weight of its problems on his own shoulders. [The] nations of the world got together to pronounce sentence on God for all the evils in the world, only to realize with a shock that God had already served his sentence. The tidal wave of evil crashed over the head of God himself. The spear went into his side like a plane crashing into a great building. God has been there. He has taken the weight of the world’s evil on his own shoulders. This is not an explanation. It is not a philosophical conclusion. It is an event in which, as we gaze on in horror, we may perhaps glimpse God’s presence in the deepest darkness of our world, God’s strange unlooked-for victory over the evil of our world; and then, and only then, may glimpse also God’s vocation to us to work with him on the new solution to the new problem of evil.
(N. T. Wright, 'God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil,' in Response vol. 28, no. 2, 2005. Emphasis added.)


the fuss of us said...

Hi Sze Zeng, thanks for taking the time. I am honored that you agreed with the essence of my diatribe because I am beginning to wonder, am I alone on this "resigned" posture? The theology of the cross is indeed a splendid and inspiring foray into the dense thicket of doubt. God crucifying God. Father sacrificing his son. The creator giving himself to His creation.. What can be more uplifting? But
here's my qualms...pls bear with me, I'll make it
short. Do you think the cross is emotionally
empowering but maybe rationally circumscribed?
That is, the cross and the Selfless sufferings therein
hold great hope and promise for the fighting
Christian waiting for an answer to his own cross of
suffering and he may be emotionally charged by that
great thought of sacrificial love. But if there's no
answer, and the point is that the answer is that there
is no answer( and I have seen many who died
without getting an answer), don't you think that the
personal intimacy of the cross becomes less
rationally defensible? This is I guess what some
theologian would call "the night of our travails". CS
Lewis calls it "a Cosmic Sadist", I think. I ineluctably
draw strength from the cross and the victory from it
but the cross also cast a thinly veiled shadow where
the light shines and in that sliver of a shadow, I
begged God for an answer. But silence is his reply.
Still, the faithful fights on and see the ultimate
victory when all will be made whole. Cheers out!

the fuss of us said...

Thanks for taking the time. I wrote a comment earlier but it got swallowed up by the "are you a robot?" screening. But anyhow, thanks for your above Reply. The cross is a formidable inspiration for those who are struggling in their own trials. Imagine God crucifying God. The father sacrificing His son. The creator giving himself to His Creation. The thought is overwhelming in itself! Cheers out!

the fuss of us said...

Thanks for your comments. I am honored that you agreed with me. Indeed the cross is Jesus met suffering in the latter's own terms and emerged victorious. Imagine God crucifying God. The Father sacrificing His son. The creator giving Himself up to His creation. Thanks again. Cheers!

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Michael,

Thank you for writing a thoughtful comment.

I'm much more hesitant to say that "God crucifying God." Sacrifice yes, but God actively nailing his own son on the cross is not something I can swallow with ease. :)

I think this account of theodicy is rationally circumscribed only in the sense that it cannot captures entirely our wandering mind. As long as our mind keeps on wandering from what happened through the cross, hardly the mind want to settle down to listen. A good example of this is an inquisitive kid that keeps asking "Why?" to whatever the parent say. It does go into infinite regression. So the "no answer" is itself circumscribed by the wandering of the questioner.

For Christianity, all understandings of God and how he relates to the world has to be seen through Jesus Christ. To me, often it is not that God is silent when I inquire of him. Rather, God has spoken through the cross, and it is me who is reluctant to take a second look at the bloody and smelly cross to see what does God's answer looks like. With my eyes covered by my own hands, I wandered away from Golgotha into Athens and other places demanding answer to a question that is only found at the gruesome sight of the cross.