Responding to Suffering

child holding a crossThe photograph is of Lance Corporal Pierre Mugabo, carrying a cross at the head of a funeral procession for his father, who died of malnutrition while in a prison camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This image represents much of the suffering that we find in our world today – hunger, war, violence, death, and a childhood robbed of its innocence. It is a haunting image, made more so by the knowledge that we are staring into the face of a child soldier who is carrying a cross. I may stare into his eyes, but I am the one who is confronted.

What should one do in the face of such overwhelming suffering?

One response is found in one a central work on the problem of suffering, the chapter titled “Rebellion” in Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov. In it, one of the characters, Ivan, argues that moral decency and the love of humanity demand that we should refuse to live in what he thought to be a clearly unjust world. The only decent thing to do would be to, in his words, “return one’s ticket.”

Ivan makes two related mistakes here. First, he believes that he can judge the world from an objective position. This, though, ignores the fact that we are embedded and entangled, part of the world that we presume to judge. Our very act of judgment is instantly turned back on ourselves, forcing us to recall Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” 

The second mistake is to assume that the world that we now experience is morally static. We do so when we assume that the suffering of the innocent has always, and will always, occur; and if God created this world, he created it to be an unjust world.

As I said, these mistakes are related. I am not an innocent, objective judge. The level of justice or injustice in the world is, in an important way, partly a function of my action or inaction. The world that we experience, then, is one of our own creation; not one that we have created ex nihilo, but rather through our perversion of God’s good creation. God, though, can redeem even that which we have corrupted. So, instead of maintaining, like Ivan, that we cannot accept this world of God’s, we should instead strive, by God’s grace, to make his world into that which he always planned for it to be. We do this, not by loving humanity, but by loving our neighbors, wherever and whoever they may be.

May God grant us the faith to be his redeemed people, who announce to the world, by word and deed, the miracle of his reconciling love.

Photograph: Lance Cpl. Pierre Mugabo carries a cross at the head of his father’s funeral procession, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55450 [retrieved January 25, 2018]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USMC–12469.jpg.

Equal Calling

As I studied last week, my attention was drawn to the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians, verses 2-16.  As a female in ministry I am intrigued by scripture that, when taken at face value, might appear to suggest inadequacy of women in the preaching of God’s word.

“I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just a I passed them on to you.  But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (vs. 2-3).

One could stop right there and declare that women are to be under the direction of men, as the man will receive his direction from God.  But hold on just a minute, and forward to “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.  But everything comes from God.” (vs. 11-12).  So it is just that, man created from dust, woman created from man, both created by God.  Two beings that exist in community with the other, equality created.

This passage reflects on the customs of covering one’s head during worship, relevant at the time of writing.  A bit of a play on words, this is a shift referring to an individual’s physical head, rather than an order of importance.

“For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.  For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man;” (vs. 6-8)  “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” (vs. 13-15)

Hair is the first issue of covering oneself and it is not about value or order, but instead about the social rules of the time.  Women were expected to wear their hair long, men to wear their hair short, nothing more or less.  Other times in history spoke to the length of hair as well…those crazy Beetles in the 60s with their radical long hair, Dorothy Hamill with her risky short hair in the 80s.  As we transition to the covering of one’s head with a piece of material.  This was nothing more than an identifying factor.  With a covered head, one would be identified as a woman.  She would also be identified as a married woman, acknowledging her love and commitment to her husband and her respect for him.

In the midst of right or wrong attire, one thing is clear in this passage, both men and women are leaders in God’s church.

“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is the same as having her head shaved.” (vs. 4-5).

This isn’t about what gender stands in front of a church it is about having respect for that position.