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Theodicy and 1 Peter

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

May 17, 2020

Easter 6, Year A

1 Peter

Well, I think we need to address what on earth Peter is going on about, don’t you?  

There’s a line in the Princess Bride where Wesley says “Life is pain, princess.  Anyone who says any different is selling something.”  Peter seems to be very much of this school of thought here.  And if you aren’t paying careful attention, it’s possible to hear what Peter’s saying here as “suffering is good!  Do it more!”  

So let’s talk about suffering for a bit.  Since, you know, we are in a vast global pandemic, the likes of which none of us have lived through before, which is causing quite a lot of suffering.  

A few things to recall here about Peter’s context:

Firstly, he’s not writing to safe and comfortable folks.  He’s writing to people being hunted, jailed, and killed by their government.  So for them, suffering wasn’t a maybe—it was a given.  The question then was how would they respond to it—and how would they explain their circumstances to others?  Given that the powers of the earth were allied against them, the question for Peter’s community is not “How to avoid persecution”, it was “Since we’re being persecuted, how then should we act?”  

Peter points out that it was better to stick with being ethical and moral when the government is coming after you.  While it’s tempting to give up, declare that nothing matters, and just throw morality to the wind, Peter argues that this is now what Christians are called to do.  Rather, if you hold on to your ethical standards under great duress, you have the chance to shame your persecutors.  (This is, by the way, the same argument that undergirds passive resistance.  It’s the exact same approach Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr took.  Morality in the face of persistent powerful immorality can throw a bright light on the immorality that is hurting you.)  

Anyway.  

That is to say that for the folks Peter was writing to, it wasn’t a question of if they would suffer—it was a question of when.  So Peter isn’t telling them to seek out suffering; he’s advising them on how to live when suffering is a constant.

God doesn’t want us to seek out suffering.  (I’m going to say that again, because this is one of those things that occasionally we “know” but we don’t KNOW on a deep level).  God doesn’t want us to seek out suffering.  Jesus came that we might have life and life abundant.

 And at the same time—we live in a broken world, we are broken people, surrounded by broken people, and the result that inevitably is suffering.   Sometimes more, sometimes less. 

Jesus, in the gospel for today, is comforting his disciples, and telling them that even as he’s about to leave them, he won’t leave them without comfort.  He will send them the Holy Spirit, and he will reassure them, and he will still be with them in this powerful tangible way.  Because, again, Jesus seeing this inevitable suffering, wants to comfort and reassure his friends.  

In a very real way, Christianity never tries answers the question of Why Suffering Exists—or, really, never puts a lot of effort into it.  That’s not the question we set out to answer.  The question Christianity sets out to answer is “Since there is suffering, what then should we do?”

And the answer is:  love. 

While we don’t seek out suffering, I do know that God can transform our unwanted suffering into something that brings forth life.  I know that when we allow God to do that, our suffering becomes, not something wanted, or wished for perhaps, but something constructive.  Something that can lead to newness of life.

God takes the broken pieces of our lives, of our world, and wants to rebuild them, wants to redeem them.  God asks us, even as we find ourselves mired in what feels like unending pain and misery, to help God make these broken shards into something new, something that can be life-giving.  That ongoing work of redemption, of resurrection is what God does.  

God transforms our suffering world by loving it.  God transforms our suffering by accompanying us through it in love.  And when we, in our times of loss, and despair, try intentionally to love ourselves, and love others the way Christ taught us, then God can work to transform our brokenness too.  We work to love others through their broken places and their pain, when we learn to love others so well that we seek to prevent their suffering at all.  When we do all that, then God takes what we endure in this messy world, and works through us to draw us all closer to the kingdom founded and built on Love.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

May 17, 2020

Easter 6, Year A

1 Peter

Well, I think we need to address what on earth Peter is going on about, don’t you?  

There’s a line in the Princess Bride where Wesley says “Life is pain, princess.  Anyone who says any different is selling something.”  Peter seems to be very much of this school of thought here.  And if you aren’t paying careful attention, it’s possible to hear what Peter’s saying here as “suffering is good!  Do it more!”  

So let’s talk about suffering for a bit.  Since, you know, we are in a vast global pandemic, the likes of which none of us have lived through before, which is causing quite a lot of suffering.  

A few things to recall here about Peter’s context:

Firstly, he’s not writing to safe and comfortable folks.  He’s writing to people being hunted, jailed, and killed by their government.  So for them, suffering wasn’t a maybe—it was a given.  The question then was how would they respond to it—and how would they explain their circumstances to others?  Given that the powers of the earth were allied against them, the question for Peter’s community is not “How to avoid persecution”, it was “Since we’re being persecuted, how then should we act?”  

Peter points out that it was better to stick with being ethical and moral when the government is coming after you.  While it’s tempting to give up, declare that nothing matters, and just throw morality to the wind, Peter argues that this is now what Christians are called to do.  Rather, if you hold on to your ethical standards under great duress, you have the chance to shame your persecutors.  (This is, by the way, the same argument that undergirds passive resistance.  It’s the exact same approach Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr took.  Morality in the face of persistent powerful immorality can throw a bright light on the immorality that is hurting you.)  

Anyway.  

That is to say that for the folks Peter was writing to, it wasn’t a question of if they would suffer—it was a question of when.  So Peter isn’t telling them to seek out suffering; he’s advising them on how to live when suffering is a constant.

God doesn’t want us to seek out suffering.  (I’m going to say that again, because this is one of those things that occasionally we “know” but we don’t KNOW on a deep level).  God doesn’t want us to seek out suffering.  Jesus came that we might have life and life abundant.

 And at the same time—we live in a broken world, we are broken people, surrounded by broken people, and the result that inevitably is suffering.   Sometimes more, sometimes less. 

Jesus, in the gospel for today, is comforting his disciples, and telling them that even as he’s about to leave them, he won’t leave them without comfort.  He will send them the Holy Spirit, and he will reassure them, and he will still be with them in this powerful tangible way.  Because, again, Jesus seeing this inevitable suffering, wants to comfort and reassure his friends.  

In a very real way, Christianity never tries answers the question of Why Suffering Exists—or, really, never puts a lot of effort into it.  That’s not the question we set out to answer.  The question Christianity sets out to answer is “Since there is suffering, what then should we do?”

And the answer is:  love. 

While we don’t seek out suffering, I do know that God can transform our unwanted suffering into something that brings forth life.  I know that when we allow God to do that, our suffering becomes, not something wanted, or wished for perhaps, but something constructive.  Something that can lead to newness of life.

God takes the broken pieces of our lives, of our world, and wants to rebuild them, wants to redeem them.  God asks us, even as we find ourselves mired in what feels like unending pain and misery, to help God make these broken shards into something new, something that can be life-giving.  That ongoing work of redemption, of resurrection is what God does.  

God transforms our suffering world by loving it.  God transforms our suffering by accompanying us through it in love.  And when we, in our times of loss, and despair, try intentionally to love ourselves, and love others the way Christ taught us, then God can work to transform our brokenness too.  We work to love others through their broken places and their pain, when we learn to love others so well that we seek to prevent their suffering at all.  When we do all that, then God takes what we endure in this messy world, and works through us to draw us all closer to the kingdom founded and built on Love.

The promise Christ gives isn’t that suffering will disappear; and it isn’t that following the rules will let you avoid the bad stuff, and it isn’t even that if you seek out enough pain, that God will give you an extra big reward.  It’s that when we inevitably go through awful times, God is with us.  God doesn’t leave us comfortless.  And when we stay faithful to the way of Love that Jesus showed us, God holds our trials and transforms them into something lifegiving.  

About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

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