March 25, 2005

Which Way the Finger Points

Like Crystal, this story speaks to me.

The disciples ask : Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?. What is taken for granted by these disciples with such a question?

Rabbi -- teacher. Not Lord. Teacher. They aren't quite there yet despite the earlier before Abraham was, I am which should have knocked their socks off.

And the providence of God. Clearly the man could have been born with sight if God had so allowed. His blindness is an evil. And it must be understood as God's punishment for sin -- a greater evil. Yet who sinned. He was born with this condition.

Jesus deconstructs their question. Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. Jesus does not give into their assumptions about punishment in this life for sin. Nor does he make the move we might expect from modern day liberal Christians that what we call evil is relative. Or the move by modern day mystics, that all that happens is a gift from God and therefore good.

No. This man was born blind into a world without social welfare programs and into a land occupied by a foreign military. He was doubly oppressed. First by his disability and secondly by a world that left him only two options, beg by the side of the road or do not eat.

And so Jesus' answer is that the evils that happen in this life are not God's punishment upon us either for sins of ourselves or of our fathers. They are opportunities for the goodness and power of God to become manifest in this world. And again, he adds to this wisdom, an injunction, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day. We not. Not You. We. Together we respond to evil by bringing forth goodness.

AIDS was not and is not a punishment for the sin of homosexuality. The Tsunami is not God's judgment upon this world. My disability is not God's punishment upon me or upon my parents for anything we did or deserved. Each is an opportunity for good -- for God's good to shine like a beacon through our responses to the suffering the pain the sorrow.

To say otherwise is to set our faces like flint against the Christ and the spirit of Christ working in us. It is to define ourselves outside of the Christian faith no matter what other doctrines we are willing to affirm in the abstract.

Now it is easy for me to point a finger at the churches. The churches have a lousy track record. Slow to respond to the AIDS crisis. Using it as an excuse to condemn the sexual lives of others. Refusing to make worship spaces handicapped accessible. Continuing to use disabilities as metaphors for sin and moral lack in sermons and liturgies.

And yet the finger points towards me as well. How much of my spirituality is about earning heaven? These last two years have been difficult ones for me. Unhappy work situations sandwiched extended periods of layoff. My response -- though natural -- has been to resent my situation, feel sorry for myself. And this has impaired my efforts to bring forth good in the situation. I still have moments when my anger at my former employer wells up within me.

I am not called to a natural response. I am called to a supernatural response. I face the evil in my life. And I recast it as an opportunity for God's redemptive love to become manifest. And to work towards that aim.

Easier said than done.

4 Comments:

At 9:00 a.m., Blogger Joe G. said...

Jesus does not give into their assumptions about punishment in this life for sin. Nor does he make the move we might expect from modern day liberal Christians that what we call evil is relative. Or the move by modern day mystics, that all that happens is a gift from God and therefore good.

Wow, what great thoughts. I was particularly struck by this paragraph. I am certainly guilty of being a bit "mushy" on the definition of evil. And I agree that Jesus did not accept the modern mystical idea that everything that happens is good.

I also appreciate your thoughts that sin is an opportunity for God's goodness to shine. It reminds me of the ideas I'm reading of in On the Moral Nature of the Universe by George Ellis and Nancy Murphy. They propose that the universe was created by a loving God because love requires something or someone to give to. Hence, the very nature of the Divine is self-renunciatory. Thus, even evil and sin afford the opportunity for God to give in love and compassion despite the consequences secondary to evil and sin.

I think I got their ideas right...:)

 
At 9:52 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, this is magnificent. The only sermons and/or blogs worth reading are confessional ones. To be personal is the only way to love; that's what Christianity/Quakerism/ any legitimate religion is all about.

God will turn your luck in his good time; meanwhile you are growing rapidly. PTL.

Larry

 
At 1:05 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

Great post, David.

They (instances of evil) are opportunities for the goodness and power of God to become manifest in this world ... we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day.

This is one of the things I like so much about Jesus. His love is active, it's shown in deeds. When he sees suffering, he doesn't advise the victim to suck it up, he restores what's lost, mends what's broken. If he and the Father are one, as he says in John, then God doesn't want us to suffer, not even to "build character" ... he wants us to live life to the fullest.

 
At 11:13 a.m., Blogger Meredith said...

David,
This was a beautiful, heartfelt post. Thank you.

Of evils, you write, "They are opportunities for the goodness and power of God to become manifest in this world." I love that you recognize that you are this manifestation when you recast evil as an opportunity for God's redemptive love. It is through loving compassion, for ourselves and others, that we are this manifestation of Christ. I agree, it is easier said than done. But one foot in front of the other, recasting negativity and suffering responses into compassionate responses and we do it. Maybe slowly, but we do it. We are on the path each time we manifest loving compassion.

 

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