Where Is God in a World of Suffering?

As some of you may know, in addition to teaching Bible, I also provide spiritual care as a spiritual director. One of the handouts I wrote addresses the struggle many of us have wondering where God is amid suffering. With all the turmoil these days, I hope this post will provide some helpful reflection.

If God loves us and has a purpose for our lives, why is there so much suffering? What does it mean that God doesn’t stop tragedy from happening? Is God truly good?

Trying to make sense of suffering is as old as Job. One common tendency is to suggest a person did something wrong to incur God’s disfavor or “discipline.” However, the author of Job rejects claims that bad things only happen because God is angry. Innocent people do, in fact, suffer. When asked why a man was born blind, Jesus denied the cause was sin (John 9:1-3). Instead he says God is actively working to bring good into painful situations. Similarly, the author of Acts describes God directly opposing the forces that cause suffering (10:38).

Anglican pastor and theologian, Rowan Williams, says when it comes to trusting God sometimes the first baby step is to look to people who “take responsibility for God”: Continue reading

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Book Reviews: Violence, the Old Testament, and Ethics

Numerous books have been published in recent years addressing challenging passages in the Old Testament. Many of them have focused on the Israelite conquest of Canaan, while others discuss a palette of “problems.” In this post I review three books that engage these challenges. I especially consider how they handle violence in the Old Testament.  Continue reading

Review: Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So

How do we make sense of difficult passages in the Bible? What about the violence or apparent contradictions? Peter Enns addresses these concerns in his new book The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It. Enns is concerned that instead of honest engagement with Scripture some segments of the Church have made untenable attempts to cover up or explain away the challenges. He specifically sees this occurring among Christians who treat the Bible like a rulebook of fixed, timeless truths. Instead of a rulebook, Enns suggests we read Scripture in the genre of storytelling with inspired examples of how God-fearers of the past have wrestled with their faith. To be clear, Enns affirms the value of Scripture—we know God better by reading it—but he believes we have erroneous expectations of it. He wants to help his readers understand the nature of Scripture and, therefore, how to correctly read and apply it. Instead of diminishing reverence for the Bible, Enns seeks to affirm it by accepting it for what it really is: an inspired but messy text.
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Noah, Russell Crowe, and Midrash

Have you seen the new movie Noah starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly? Given my interest in Old Testament reception history, I could not pass it up. How would two modern Jewish men interpret this flood story? The Genesis account itself is a product of unique Israelite interpretation of a common ancient Near Eastern narrative. The story appeared in ancient texts long before Genesis was written. But, the biblical authors offer their own theological perspective on the event. Similarly, the flood has been the subject of midrash (Jewish interpretation of the biblical text) throughout history. Ancient Jewish writers sought to fill in narrative gaps in Genesis with commentaries like I Enoch and Jubilees. In fact, from these pseudepigraphal works the movie draws content about the Watchers and Noah’s visit to Methuselah—narrative details not found in the biblical text. Those Transformer-looking rock creatures in the film might seem like fantasy fiction made up on the fly, but their role did not come out of thin air! They are the fallen angels of lore–albeit their appearance a bit embellished.

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Re-Thinking Old Testament Violence: Abraham’s Example

The problem of violence in the Old Testament is something the Church has wrestled with for hundreds of years. Most people intuit that such violence—especially against children—is wrong. Various solutions have been proposed, including allegorical interpretation. The popular medieval study Bible, Glossa ordinaria, insisted that the laudation of dashing infants’ heads against a rock in Psalm 137 must be taken figuratively; God would never sanction the killing of innocents. Instead, the verse was understood to refer to sins that, if not eradicated in their incipient stage, would grow up to be “Babylonian-size” sins, dominating and wreaking havoc in one’s life. In biblical studies today, scholars are giving much attention to depictions of massacre during Israelite conquest of Canaan. These violent events, also known as war-erem, included the killing of women and children and are mentioned primarily in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua.

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