A. God is good.
B. Look at those people over there who don't believe that God is good. We must resist them before they ruin everything.
I spent some time reading arguments in the blogosphere this week. This is the junk food of Christian theology. Chest-thumping, testosterone-fueled debates in which clever people try to convince you that those people over there are threatening everything. They will be the downfall of the church! I almost stopped being a Christian because of them! Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party!
I used to think that this style of faith-as-conflict was strictly a male phenomenon. God, in his mercy, used the internet to correct my sexism. That tricksy God. Won't even let me keep my smug little prejudices.
There is a particular bent to these arguments, reflected in the choice above. You can say a true thing, or you can portray a war in which you, brave warrior, are marshaling the forces of good against the forces of evil. The particular occasion of the conflict almost doesn't matter. What matters is that people observe you leaping into the fray, being right.
There are people who love the truth, and there are people who love being right. While anyone who has ever been married knows that sometimes we can belong to either group, the nature of internet arguments often encourages one over the other. One makes better theater than the other.
One of the reasons I love Ann Voskamp's blog is how thoroughly she refuses to engage in option B. Her faith is expressed in the small particularities of an incarnate life, not in trouncing designated enemies. It is lovely, and ultimately does more to create a solid sense of the good than the endless wrangling of the arguers ever accomplished. It has been an example to me more than once.
The argument I read this week was over the Problem of Evil, an irresolvable debate if ever there was one. How can a good God allow evil to happen? Why do good people suffer unjustly? The attempts to resolve this are no more successful than they've ever been. One group redefines evil to mean good, apparently believing that will let God off the hook. The other redefines God to be something smaller and less responsible, an affable spirit buddy who means well, but can only do so much. Nobody solves the problem in the terms given, because no one can.
But there is no passion like the passion of someone convinced that their inadequate solution is better than your inadequate solution. Grab the popcorn, watch the fireworks. Call him a sociopath and call her a sinner in rebellion. Bronze your humilities and mount them on the wall; point at them to show you're better than your opponent. Someone must surely win (won't they?) and it's important it be you. Everything depends on it.
Job lost everything, and he cried out to God. His friends argued for days, certain that the rightness of the world was threatened by Job's questions. But their arguments blew away on the wind, and the answer to Job's cries - the only satisfaction - was the presence of God.
I don't have an answer to the problem of evil. But if Job was answered by the presence of God, then the only thing we can offer is to be the presence of God in someone's life. The quiet, loving friend, the tender mother, the faithful wife. It doesn't solve the insoluble, and it won't make anyone applaud you for being right or winning a war. Nobody becomes president of a seminary or makes the best-seller list by holding the hand of someone in pain.
But it says that God is good. Here, here is goodness: baked and covered in this casserole dish, shining in this stack of clean laundry, ringing in that phone when you're lonely. God is good, my letter says, even if the words aren't printed on it. God is good, I hear in that familiar joke from a much-missed friend, who suddenly stopped by. Not watch me win, but God is good.
That's all I want to say.