Sunday 4 September 2005

Speaking theologically in times of crisis

Jim West has offered these further reflections on the need for theologians to speak up in times of crisis.

As I said before, I think there are times for silence—times when words would only cheapen the reality of human suffering, times when any words except prayer are wasted breath. Job’s comforters, after all, acted rightly for the first seven days. But as Jim says, there are also times when we must speak—times when we must attempt somehow to say the word “God” within a concrete situation of human suffering.

And in such times—when we do speak—we had better hope that we really have something to say. God forgive us if in such times we indulge in philosophical speculation about “the problem of evil.” God forgive us if in such times we utter pious jargon about “divine sovereignty.” God forgive us if in such times we resort to cheap talk about “the consequences of Adam’s Fall.” Most of all, God forgive us if in such times we merely find an occasion for preaching about heaven, hell, and the brevity of human life—so that the suffering and death of real human beings are reduced to a trivial moralistic example for the rest of us.

In short: God forgive us if in such times we have anything at all to say except the gospel. I’m not talking about a simple repetition of the gospel, but rather a concrete translation of this message, such that Jesus Christ himself is encountered anew right here and now in the depths of crisis and desolation.


Anonymous said...

I very much respect your message of silence. I do think it is appropriate to mourn in silence. That said, I also think your other points are perhaps overstated, especially when times of silence and mourning are passing. Sometimes saying again the truths that have held the Church up for two thousand years is better than eloquence or originality. In each generation, most people have not heard even the simplest of messages and those things that you denigrate as reductionistic, trivial, or moralistic are foundational topics of Christianity and if disasters and tragedies cause a generation to renew their discussion about such things, a good thing has come about from the disasters and tragedies. Human suffering can never become so hallowed that we do not discuss it, at least at some point.

Anonymous said...

As a further thought... Should God forgive us if in such times we debate about speaking theologically in a time of crisis instead of speaking theologically to a crisis?

Ben Myers said...

"Should God forgive us if ... we debate about speaking theologically in a time of crisis instead of speaking theologically to a crisis?" Very good point, Ken. In fact I had been asking myself exactly the same question.

Anonymous said...

BTW, on another note, thanks for adding me to your blogroll. I've returned the courtesy (and had actually intended to do so anyways). You've got a very interesting and well-designed blog. Good work.

PS. I generally prefer "" or "my blog" as opposed to "Anduril" but whatever works on your blogroll. I know sometimes space and style are limitations.

Fat said...

I have been looking at the meaning of pain - and trying in my limited way to form a theology of pain - My question being "does it matter?"

I have come to the conclusion that the two most important words in the Bible are "Jesus wept" He wept over Jerusalem and it's coming doom, and He wept for Elisabeth and Mary feeling their loss and grief over the death of Lazarus.

If Jesus shows us what God is like then pain, ours and other's, matters to God - God cries over our pain.

To me this says in times of crisis this wonderful God is here with us sharing our tears - not afar off laughing at his little ants burning in focused rays through a lense but right beside crying with us.

Phillip Yansey in his book on pain 'Where is God when it hurts' said he took some time to be able to answer, after the 9/11 World Trade Centre attack, the question "Where is God in all this?" He was lost until he finally (A week or so later) saw the helpers and workers still trying to salvage lives and bits of bodies - and realised that there in that tangle were the hands of God, serving coffee, spending time to talk to families and helping others come to grips with the tragedy.

One of the most moving funeral services I ever attended was of a young father wiped out by a drunk driver - He simply began "people are asking why would God let this happen and I have to say 'I don't know'"

Sometimes we don't have the answers but we do know and can state that God shares our tears.

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