Frankly, My Dear, …

Yesterday I got to have a conversation with my nephew, newly returned from a semester’s study at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. I listened as he talked about his experiences in Egypt, and then we talked about why things work the way they do there as compared to here in the USA, and also compared what works best here and what works best there. Since I have lived more than 10 years each in three different countries on three different continents, this is the kind of conversation I love the best. And I was impressed with Jesse’s appreciation of the inherent logic of Egyptian culture and his ability to take a critical look at his own culture, yet being clear that he is not a relativist and there are things he can’t condone. I threw myself into comparisons of university systems, political structure, crime, the situation for women, Christianity and Islam etc.

Then it occurred to me to wonder what a homeless man or woman in Seattle or Cairo might think of these issues, and whether s/he would consider those issues important or assess them in the same way Jesse and I were. 

I could almost hear God saying, kindly and gently, “Susanne, this is a sweet and lovely conversation, and these are charming ideas. I love you dearly. But frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn what you think.” Then I remembered what the prophets say over and over again, which I forget over and over again: The true measure of the moral condition of a society is measured by examining the situation of the marginalized in that society.

For the first time in my life, probably, I saw my opinions for what they are: the opinions of a woman who is among the wealthiest 6th percent of this planet’s inhabitants by virtue of being a middle-class Norwegian living in the USA. I may be well-intentioned, but my vision is horribly distorted by the circumstances in which I live. And my concerns are correspondingly irrelevant to God’s purpose for the world and the majority of God’s sons and daughters. 

Even with this insight and my desire to take God’s view of human life, I have to wonder whether I will ever be capable of understanding God’s purpose for me and others. Can I understand God’s purpose for the church? Do I have any hope of comprehending what true community looks like, when my community consists mostly of Quakers like me, who think we are living simply and being environmentally friendly – all the while being among the top percentiles of wealth and knowledge on planet Earth?

If there is hope, it is only with God’s grace.

Lord, I humbly acknowledge that I know nothing. I pray that you would open my eyes to the things that I cannot see with my human eyes or understand with my human comprehension.

Query for prayerful imagination:

How might God’s priorities for the world look different if I were at the middle – 50% of the people in the world own more than I do and 50% own less than I do? 

– if 75% of people own more than I do? 

– if I were in the bottom percentile – if 99% of the world’s people have more than I do? 

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Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Jurgen Moltmann spoke at Seattle University a few weeks ago about his 35 year old book called “The Crucified God”. One of the most moving moments was when Jurgen was asked whether God, as the author of all things, also is the author of suffering? His heartfelt answer, after all these years of reading, writing and praying, was “I don’t know. That is a question we must live with.”

Indeed, theologians, religious, chaplains and others have wrestled for millennia with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or, “Why did the one I love have to die?” No-one has come up with an answer that musters much consensus.

Moltmann says that the “why?” questions are the wrong ones – they can’t be answered. The better question is “Where is God when people suffer?”

And we do know the answer to that one. God says, over and over again in the Bible, “I am with you.”

Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in [hell], you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Query for prayerful consideration:

In my times of trouble, where has God been?