Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Advent 11, 2016

This posting is going to seem more random and nonapplicable to Advent, but in the end it will be.

I read a number of sources about theology and Christian living.  They are from evangelicalism, mainstream denominations, Catholicism, and even Judaism. Recently sources have spoken more about suffering: the reality of it, the necessity of it for the Christian growth, the lack of it in the Western church, and how we should expect it. 

It would take a long theological argument to address this.  While suffering at the hands of governmental or other powers has been a part of much of Christian history and something that should not surprise us, I don't think we can argue that suffering of that kind is redemptive or even necessary for spiritual growth.  Suffering of the physical kind is part of being in bodies affected by the Fall.  Suffering in the sense of rejection from social groups or loved ones is another type, but every case of that type of suffering is different.  Some rejection is warranted and not due to faith. 

Does suffering make us more holy?  Is it a "necessary but insufficient" condition of it?  Could it not make us more angry and bitter?  Does lack of suffering impede full understanding of the cross?  Does our human suffering ever approximate that of the cross?  Is not our suffering "this light affliction?" 

I contemplate this for a number of reasons.  One, I am anticipating seeing Scorcese's version of Silence, a fascinating book about the failed attempts of Jesuits to bring Catholicism to Japan in the 1500s.   (Although I have read that secret pockets stayed faithful for centuries.)  Second, I am so deeply disturbed by the refugee crisis and was trying to understand this morning what has gone on in Syria in recent history to create this tragedy.  Third, the incarnation in Advent can't be separated from the cross, and since I'm off work for two weeks I have time to contemplate these things.

Yesterday I went to lunch with a friend who told me the tale of a college friend who has gone off the deep end, divorced her husband and separated from children, and moved to England to live as a poet in squalor and alcoholism with her lover, after over 35 years of marriage, leisure, and affluence.  "She had too much time and money on her hands," was my take on it.  A little cold, but I have little patience for these tales.  Happiness comes from meaningfulness, not the other way around.  Unless we find meaning in our place in community and service to others, we will follow the call of something darker.

For Western Christians, I suggest this:  Pray about the suffering of others.  Get a clue.  Help where you can.  But don't invite it for yourselves, don't idolize suffering.   Instead of getting stuck on suffering, get stuck on service.  Not giving money just to give money, but finding where resources are being used best and give time as well, or even better, full attention.

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