October 7, 2008

Why Doesn't God Intervene?

In the weekday cycle of readings for today's Mass we hear the story of Jesus receiving the hospitality of the sisters Martha and Mary:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42

This is one of those passages from Sacred Scripture that has such an intense exegetical history that it can be hard to see it in another way; we are trained to concentrate on the distinction between the sisters and to decide what it means for us. So this morning I've been reflecting not on Martha and Mary, but on the image of our Lord in the story.

Jesus refuses to intervene; he will not get involved in the personal drama of the two sisters. Where Martha sees an injustice outside of herself--and who is to say that Mary should have perhaps been helping--Jesus responds by pointing out that Martha's problem is inside herself.

It makes me think of the question that alleged atheists always ask: if there is a God, why does he allow people to suffer so horribly? Why doesn't God just destroy or otherwise rid the world of evil and suffering? It seems to me that such thinking imagines the power or almightiness of God in a human way. It's the same thing as when people joke that someone will be struck by lightning for doing something bad. The power and Lordship of God are just not expressed by control and coercion of the creation or the human heart. Rather, the Incarnation of the Word reveals the God who "takes the form of a slave," placing himself below us as servant.

Forcible intervention, coercion, and disregard for each other's freedom to flourish are at the root of our own suffering in the first place; thus, to imagine that God would act that way is only to create a god in our own image. Instead, just like Jesus does with Martha, God's response to suffering takes the form of invitation rather than intervention. And the invitation is to look at ourselves; to examine the many ways we cause our own suffering and pass that suffering on to others. To refuse to pass our suffering on to another is to embrace the saving power of the Cross. To return to others a blessing instead is to accept the gift of the Resurrection.


Anonymous said...

The problem of evil is one of the things that actually brought me to the faith from atheism.

Implicit in the critique of religion from the perspective that God should do something about all of this suffering is a judgement that suffering is evil.

But evil, of itself is nothing, it is the lack of good. The judgement of something as an evil presupposes the real existence of the good, which has its source in God. The atheist who is logicaly consistent, really should not be able to make an argument agaist God from the existence of evil because he ought to have no foundation from which to call suffering an evil. Suffering, from the perspective of the atheist can not be other than a different mode of existing that is not essentially different from other modes.

This was my road to Damascus. I quite simply could not accept that my own suffering had no ultimate meaning. My own suffering, I thought, necessarily resulted from a privation of my being (it was after all rooted in personal sin). However, my atheism would not allow me to believe that suffering could be a fundamental issue, it was merely a mode of experience. This was unacceptable, evil really does destroy, it does not merely change. The effort to make up for this lack of being in my person would eventually lead me to He who Is.

What is ironic however, is that as a Christian, suffering is totaly transformed. If suffering is endured with Jesus, it is not fundamentally a lack of being, but a source of being, because it draws you even closer to Jesus, whose sufferring, death and resurrection ultimately divest evil of is fundamental meaning, which is the separation from God.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks Ben, for sharing some of your own "road to Damascus." Amen.

Anonymous said...

beautiful post and comments..I'll be sending others here.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks, Pia for your encouragement. May you be at peace today.

A Bit of the Blarney said...

I visit via Beyond Horizons3 and Pia. It's amazing that twice in three days I am instructed in the lesson of Martha and Mary. Father Dennis Robinson from St. Meinrad Archabbey here in Indiana gave a wonderful thought provoking lesson as well at our parish mission. His was regarding intervention as well...Hmmm! A lot for me to ponder now! Thank you!! Cathy