Wednesday, January 30, 2013

More than being right

Pick one: 

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.


  1. It's funny that you should mention Ann Voskamp, because to me, nothing demonstrates the conflict-inducing nature of internet discourse more than when somebody actually attacks Ann Voskamp online! I read a post criticizing her book and it was almost comical how shocked I was - not because I thought her book was perfect by any means, but rather because her gentleness is so evident that it seems as if it ought to disarm anything in the nature of a personal attack. (And to be fair, the person who attacked her was not resistant to the all-conquering power of Ann's gentleness, and he ended up issuing one of the most genuine apologies I've ever seen on the internet.)

  2. Angela Roskop ErismanJanuary 30, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    And that may just be all there is to say.

    You get an "AMEN, sister" from this corner.

  3. I am reallysuper glad you've started blogging again :)

  4. I appreciate your thoughts so very much. I regularly read from different theological camps, and the interminable sniping does nothing but take away from their own credibility.

  5. Beautifully said. I fully agree. I am reformed, too, and I do enjoy intelligent conversation and interesting sermons, but... it's a tar baby. I had to go cold turkey awhile back, lol. The sad thing is, these are pastors, and their energies are being directed at places that have no real relation to where most of us truly live. They get so busy defending their territory that I doubt they have time left to be good shepherds. I have felt very "disenfranchised" at times (tongue in cheek)... I just really do not NEED a lecture on worship style or the problem of evil in the world. What I do need is more simple: some good news, a benediction, some comfort, enough grace to get me through the hard week ahead.

    Yes, yes... I need to be in the presence of God, with the family of God. I love your observation about how the answer was the presence of God... and we can give that goodness. I need to go read that again...

    I have so many thoughts on this subject, I feel like my comment is rambling, my apologies!
    Anyway --
    You make a very important point that seems to get left behind these days, and it reminds me of Jesus' word to Mary: "only one thing is needed." First things first, shall we?

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