Friday, February 19, 2010
'When God is Silent'
I didn't mean -- and "God is still speaking" does not mean -- that God is running God's mouth constantly, blabbing away.
God is in Haiti, no doubt. And God may very well be silent there.
He shook his head for twenty minutes, most of it we spent in silence. We agreed there was no comprehending.
No comprehending. Sometimes we are left only with the cross and emptiness and no comprehending. No words and no comforting silence either.
eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani
a void is truth, sometimes
These being the friends who counseled Job NOT to question God since God is always right.
Job is justified because he was angry at God's whimsical disregard for righteousness/ unrighteousness. Job defends his righteousness and calls God out ("does he not see my ways, and number all my steps"), ultimately succeeding in winning an audience.
Job's friends are not justified because they slavishly follow the expectations and mantras of a bourgeois faith: God must be right, do not challenge him.
Job is the one acting humanly. The friends are acting with cliche and quotes.
God, being God, confronts Job with the truth that God cannot be balanced according to truth because God is outside balances, outside truth as an absolute range of reason.
Job is wisdom literature because it states clearly that reason fails, ultimately, faith, too, because reason and faith, trust and love, progress and hope, they all fail because they are human paradigms. And when they fail there should be anger and demand for God's presence.
But further, Job is wisdom literature because even as it details the limits of human expression and comprehension, even as it participates in those limits, those failures itself, being a product of human reflection and art, still it does not then argue for a jaded cutting off of human expression (ala GKS) simply because human expression will not satisfy. There is no post-modern irony in wisdom literature. Post-modernism does not have the maturity that wisdom literature has, or Elie Wiesel has. Wisdom literature is a cri de coeur to live life to the fullest, knowing that one's imagination wants to reach still further than life will allow. But still: live as we have to live: with reason and guts, faith and despair, hope and anger, love and hate, frustration, sorrow, loneliness, crowdedness - there is no other way to be genuinely human - as far as being human goes.
Being intensely angry at God and demanding that God show Godself is justified and human. Ironic refusal to feel the natural, the expected, the unwilled (the arrogance is thinking we can will all things - Job's friends represent "knowing" irony) is unjustified.
Pablum or irony or even faithfulness in the face of immense human suffering and tragedy is a premature death. God is implicated. There is simply no other way around it. It is the truth.
Makes me not give a rat's ass about anything else you have to say.
Stop. Being. A. Jerk.
This is where I contend that we have to do what the ages tell us: where we meet our human limitations we are the same in all ages. I am limited by human reason, by human emotions, by human bodies - mine and others. This is where, in fact, you and I share a great deal which protestantism cut off.
I am clay, along with all humanity. Therefore I take myself to worship where ashes remind me of my beginning and my end.
I am aging toward, just like everybody. Therefore I take myself to worship where I have to kneel and get up and kneel and get up, repeatedly, while praying for eternal life.
I am full of smells, like any body. Therefore I take myself to worship where smell is used to distinguish the holy from the profane.
I am in need of food and drink to sustain what life I have. Therefore I take myself to a worship where I feed on the bread and wine and call it the body and blood of a god in hopes that I can sustain myself forever.
Sometimes, I cry out at God and worry that God is not there. So I take myself to worship where the routine is a discipline that expects no rhetorical revolution every Sunday; where the motions this Sunday are the same as every other Sunday, for that is what life is like, and when I am lost for words, the words of the Christian millennia are there to at least get me through the hour without making God up again, or at least the physicality of makes me get through the motions.
Of course, this is only the negative side of things. But God wants the negative. Just like from Job.
A theology of Pure Grace.
Feodor, worship where you need to, worship where you can, kill if you must, die if you have to, save those when you can, but in the end Feodor, where were you and I when God created the Cosmos.
Looking for answers for my angst, anger, anomie in Wisdom has brought me to God's rebuke of Job and He answers me with a question.
I find irony in that this answer is from a literature far older than the Bible and far older than the Elihu (YHVH) added to the narrative by the Hebrews. We been searching for answer for a very long time.
Some days the question as the answer to the question is enough.
But often at three a.m. in the night it seems as meaningless as the answer of 42. Where is the Grace in that?
At those times I just hold on till morning.
Funny thing is, I agree with both him and drlbojo. We MUST question God, we MUST demand an answer.
Except, as drlobojo points out, God's answer, while it seems to dodge the issue, actually forces our anger to consider the question from a completely different angle.
God's silence is rage-producing. Silence is not the same as absence, however.
Wiesel was eloquent on God's silence in the midst of the horror of the death camps. Is Corrie Ten-Boom less eloquent and less human because he glimpsed God in the midst of her own suffering and that of those around her?
A survey of Israeli nationals who had survived the Holocaust produced the interesting but, it seems to me unsurprising, result that the religious effect of living through it was pretty evenly split. Roughly equal percentages came out with a loss of faith, no effect on their faith, and an increased faith.
My response to Feodor's demand for an answer is this - which group of these Holocaust survivors is the only authentic one?
At some point, we have to allow reality to impinge our sense of privilege - including the privilege to rage at God on behalf of the suffering of others.
Camus would rather deny a God who would allow an innocent child to die than believe that death had some grand meaning or purpose. OK, fine. Is that your choice, Feodor? Or is this grandstanding just that?
To paraphrase and elevate your glib words for Wiesel (which you've cleaned up here) - "for all his profundity, does not satisfy" - ten Boom is heroic and satisfies but is not profound. I can see the reason for your preference.
All of a sudden, GKS, you want to poll the actual victim? What happened to letting the Methodist Church, the Wisconsin shopkeeper, The Dutch Doctor, and the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration answer for those who survived the Holocaust?
Or was that just grand stooping against the Haitians?
Thank God the Jews aren't too dark for you. Otherwise they wouldn't even get polled. Still, it would be nice to pay attention to what they say with their own voice.
My problem was not with various kinds of theological response by sufferers of catastrophe. My problem, GKS, was your going to non-victims for a theological answer to the catastrophe. My further problem, reaffirmed here, is a suspicion that the darker the victim, the more we enjoy pictures of white people helping out.
Something of the same goes for this second example of yours. Here we are faced with an historic program to eradicate a race. And for "satisfying" testimony you prefer one not of that race. This is not to disparage ten Boom. This is a critical question about your humility in the face of the suffering of others.
Given that your response to a quarter of a million Haitians dead and a nation now effectively destroyed with a story of the fatal accident of your niece, I think the question is valid.
But, then, you're not black like me. Plus I speak for God.
My point is this:
1) I do not now, nor would ever, say that anger at God is unjustified. Raging at God's silence is part and parcel of faithfulness. Can't imagine how anyone would ever think I would think otherwise.
2) For myself - the only one for whom I ever speak - a constant rage at evil and injustice does, indeed, sound like petulance, whether it comes from Wiesel or anyone else. In the midst of all the raging, you might actually miss an answer, even an answer you don't like.
3) Taking a swipe at my intellect is cheap and irrelevant. I asked an honest question and you dodged it for an ad hominem at me. Sorry, I think both Wiesel and Ten-Boom are correct. Profundity has nothing to do with it, and your guess at my preference misses the mark, like most of your guesses at what I think
4) "Polling the victims" - I note it because reading about that particular poll changed forever my view that there is or should be only one proper response to any particular event, even one as massively horrific as the Holocaust. Far too often, in our zeal to side with the victims, we rob them of their humanity, their ability to speak for themselves on their own behalf. By claiming some abstract principle - be it justice, or fellow-feeling, or even love - and insisting that the only true response to any particular event comes from our amazing intellects and sense of empathy is not only ludicrous. It steals from those who live through such events their humanity, their freedom to respond differently.
5) All of this is to say that I privilege no discourse. I do not judge. I listen to others, and consider perspectives vastly different from my own, and consider them as legitimate as my own, even if I profoundly disagree with them. Standing here, in the midst of the safety and security of the many privileges I have as a white American middle-class male, shouting out a rage because an earthquake hit an impoverished country might make me look moral to some. It might even make me feel good about myself. Since this isn't about me or my feelings, though, I try to figure out the best way, through my own limited means and through whatever sources and resources I have, to help alleviate the suffering.
Finally, all this is premised on the idea that the only thing I can do anything about, the only person whose actions I have any control over, are my own. I cannot change the world. I cannot make the US or France or anyone else treat Haiti with more dignity or respect. I cannot make pharmaceutical companies provide the medical tools necessary to sub-Saharan Africa to battle their various pandemics. Standing around in a holy rage at God's silence, in the end, for me, saves not a single life. It puts no bread in the mouths of the hungry.
In fact, rejecting God completely in the face of our seeming desire to prey upon ourselves without end or satiation, as long as it is accompanied by action, is fine with me, because I really don't care what a person thinks or believes.
That is why, in the end, it is, as I said, petulance. The child who whines because she doesn't get her own way.
And that, too, is a fully human response.
"1) I do not now, nor would ever, say that anger at God is unjustified. Raging at God's silence is part and parcel of faithfulness. Can't imagine how anyone would ever think I would think otherwise."
GKS: "First, as a general rule, rage at God is neither new nor interesting, at least to me."
"2) For myself - the only one for whom I ever speak - a constant rage at evil and injustice does, indeed, sound like petulance, whether it comes from Wiesel or anyone else. In the midst of all the raging, you might actually miss an answer, even an answer you don't like."
Who said "constant"? And how do you know the extent of Wiesel's daily life? Your hyperbole is not an argument.
"3) Taking a swipe at my intellect is cheap and irrelevant. I asked an honest question and you dodged it for an ad hominem at me."
Feo: "To paraphrase and elevate your glib words for Wiesel (which you've cleaned up here) - "for all his profundity, does not satisfy" - ten Boom is heroic and satisfies but is not profound." [I'm pretty certain that's an answer.]
4. What the hell are you talking about? I was not siding with Haitians. My rage is my own.
"5. All of this is to say that I privilege no discourse...in the midst of the safety and security of the many privileges I have as a white American middle-class male, shouting out a rage... might make me look moral to some. It might even make me feel good about myself."
Well I do privilege the conversations I've had in Teacher's Lounges with four Haitian-Americans and on my stoop with Jean, a UPS driver. But none of those conversations made me feel better or moral. Just lost and powerless.
That and a new report on illiteracy among NYC students.
I'm glad you don't get angry about such things. You'll probably live longer. Enjoy.
The rest is Rorty to a T. Cavalier with moral concepts; elevating the cavalier to the noble and denigrating the earnest. Pomo altogether. Irony as ethics. Give me that old time modernist religion.
All the rest is an attempt to set oneself up as arbitrator of what is best for humanity.
Too big for my shoes.
God's silence can speak volumes, too.
No irony there. Just the way things are. I didn't make the world, or the rules, or God's way of comporting and relating to the world, so I take things as they are, and try to tidy my little corner of it the best I can.
The simple difference here is this - I would never pretend that my cares, my concerns, my desire for a better world, a better, more human and humane existence has anything to do with God. That God doesn't do what I want would be a source of frustration if I were a child. I'm not, so I don't sweat it all that much. I hope that, on occasion, the stuff I care about is the stuff God cares about. If things turn out differently, well, the world still turns so the end hasn't arrived yet.
So, carry on. It ain't me, or GKS, or DrLobo, or Luke, or Craig that really has you aching.
Good luck, a prayer and my sincerest hopeful thoughts for you to find peace -- they're aloft.
In the meantime, take all the time and space here you need.
What have you been drinking? I think you lost count.
As far as I know, I've just been enjoying tilting at the windmills of your blog community.
So Feodor all those statements of empathy and angst for the Haitians that seem to come from internal
pain are just thrown out here to set up windmills for tilting?
I don' think so. But then I am a romantic at my core.