Where is God?

It is as it is.

She is one of those people who is entirely unafraid of judgment and just embraced life as it happened to her, the good and the bad. Oh, not me- I don’t know the woman- it seems like a good way to be.

I got my theodicy first from The Problem of Pain, where CS Lewis wondered why God does not save the child killed by a speeding car. God could slow the car, or pull the child out of the way, or make the child see the car and escape. We learn to avoid cars, we are not born knowing how. It is for the driver to avoid the child, and if I were unable to take a risk and take the consequences life would be less. If no harm could come to us we could never triumph- never even succeed; if we need not work together how could we come together?

In the book of Habakkuk, the rich oppress the poor, the powerful nearby empires threaten the people, and the prophet fears; yet he knows that God has a vast eternal plan for our good. It’s just taking longer than we might hope. Voltaire mocked the idea that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, but perhaps it is.

I have not wronged the trans-excluder, but she has been hurt, even wronged, and simply by existing I become the symbol of it for her, the focus of her rage. Same with “Truscum”, who have adopted the slur as a badge of honour: they know that they are really transsexual, and everyone else is just a pervert who should get some self control. Even though I had the operation that is not enough for them: I transitioned in my thirties, and am gynaephile, so they reject me. They could be accepted by Everyone- but for the perverts who spoil it for the true transsexual people.

(Or, that’s one way of seeing it. Later: Ah, there’s one.)

I cannot hate anyone. Some hate the immigrants, taking our jobs- there is no room for them! They must be prevented from claiming our state benefits, though they contribute in tax more than they take. It would be a poor trick, to pretend to be better than an immigrant. I know there is no nourishment in hate.

I have been overwhelmed by what has happened to me. Why would I want to transition? Why should I have suffered for it? I am not a bad person! I don’t come out fighting, because that is not who or what I am, and I hide away, because that is my family’s habit and my upbringing, yet the enormity of my experience has crushed me, so I do not want to go out. Caring about appearances makes life almost impossible. I resent it. Others have their burdens, I have my blessings, yet my struggle seems uniquely hard to me and counting blessings is no consolation. Or-

Elie Wiesel saw a child hanged in a death camp. Too light to pull the knot taut, he took half an hour to die. “Where is God?” “In that child”. God suffering with us, Christ crucified.

“It is as it is” is where I need to be. Nothing else is bearable.

El Greco, the feast in the house of Simon

Theodicy

If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all-powerful.
If God is not willing to prevent evil, then he is not all-good.
If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why does evil exist?

Evil is always balanced by Good. Nothing is Evil that does not contain a greater Good.

Sometimes we (human beings, humanity) work out evil to the bitter end.

The problem with Epicurus’ challenge is, what would make anyone think that God is not working actively to end evil, now? What would a God who prevented evil look like? Perhaps God would intervene in each individual circumstance, to get me that parking space I need, to stop that child being run over, to stop an earthquake.

Earthquakes are caused by continents drifting over the asthenosphere, Earth’s magnetic field is caused by movements in the liquid outer core. The magnetosphere protects the Earth from cosmic rays which would otherwise strip away the outer atmosphere, including the ozone layer which protects us from ultraviolet radiation, which damages biological systems. (I’ve been on Wikipedia.) The theological point is that you can’t have one without the other.

The sexual urge that makes the paedophile abuse the child is so strong because the sexual urge needs to be strong to continue the species. You could not have the good without the evil. Note, I do not ask you to see good in the evil, because there is none- the act is abhorrent- but to see it as a side-effect of a necessary thing.

So much evil and suffering in the world is because we are in a state of becoming, not static being.

We die in earthquakes, and we work to support the survivors. The UN takes cholera to Haiti, causing an outbreak killing 8000 and infecting hundreds of thousands, because there is not one clear way of responding to disaster, and we are learning; and because people take risks in disaster relief, as in everything else.

So much evil and suffering in the world is because we pursue the cul-de-sac to the bitter end.

The warmongering of the European powers around 1900 led to the wars of the 20th century, which had evils to make the faithful turn from God. And, after Mutually Assured Destruction- my father was an air raid warden in the 1950s, who never had to perform that task- the Russian Federation and the US reduce their nuclear stockpiles, and are not a hair’s breadth from war- because we did that until we could do it no more.

Progress: not just in technology, but in ways of living together. We live together in mega-cities. We, mostly, avoid killing each other.

Is there anything you imagine a good God should do, which would reduce evil and suffering? I bet I can find some unintended bad consequence in it.

Voltaire satirised my view in Candide: All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, said Dr Pangloss, following Leibniz. Fortunately, I have Alexander Pope on my side:

Cease then, nor ORDER Imperfection name:
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.
Know thy own point: This kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heav’n bestows on thee.
Submit — In this, or any other sphere,
Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear:
Safe in the hand of one disposing Pow’r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see;
All Discord, Harmony, not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good:
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, “Whatever IS, is RIGHT.

Noah

Dietrich BonhoefferTerry went into the chapel, and I went towards the garden; but seeing a man in a workshop layering clay onto a bust, I went to join him. It is his first. He has come to the abbey on an icon-painting retreat before, and now he works on this head. He is sculpting Dietrich Bonhöffer, and is unsure about the eyes. I understand that the normal gap between eyes is the same width as the eye itself. “Oh, that’s useful, do you mind?” He holds his knife up close to my eyes, thumb out to measure it.

So attuned to Rules am I that I feel some apprehension when he refers to “Herbert” rather than “Brother Herbert”- Oh!. Yes, I suppose one could call him that.

The reading before Compline tells us to imagine a circle of compassion, and stand at the edge of it, so that there is no edge; stand with the outcast and the poor. Indeed, that is at the heart of Christian maturity- there is no out-group, no Bad people.

After Compline and meditation, Anthony says that he had just seen an email from a doctor, a friend of his, whom three years ago he had brought into the Church, who having learned of that Chinese child who had his eyes gouged out could no longer believe in God. How could a good God allow that? My answer is that there are human characteristics, without which we would be lesser- human drive and energy- which may be perverted to that. Anthony fears he will dream of that child. Oh, No! Dream of the circle of compassion.

Sam the sculptor’s answer is that of Etty Hillesum, File:Michael Portillo by Regents College cropped.jpgwho pitied the Nazis who hated her and shouted and tried to make her ashamed and fearful; and threw a card from the train, “Tell them we went into the camps singing”. I think of a man who was walking in the station when someone jumped up on his back and slashed his forehead, just above the eyebrows, with a knife. He lost all trust in the world, and his life was ruined.

Brother Herbert says that originally monasteries sang all the psalms in a week, and now some miss parts out, such as Psalm 137. How can we sing of dashing a child against the stones? I know the strength of my own rage, though I tend to turn it inwards rather than outwards. I like to think that all of me, that rage included, is within that circle of compassion.

Sam’s friend is obsessed with Noah. He has been to Mount Ararat and measured rocks there, seeking evidence of the Ark, and believes that if such evidence could be found the Bible would thereby be proved. “We might think that ridiculous”, he says- well, of course, I would.

When we were talking of faces being asymmetrical, people being asymmetrical, I thought of Michael Portillo. Narrating a TV programme, he said he had known his face was asymmetrical as a child, and when he talked of it his voice shook. He had known this as an ugly defect, though it does not appear striking in him, particularly. What pain someone can endure from childhood!

Etty HillesumA preacher should say nothing he would be ashamed to say in the presence of burning children, said Sam. He is ordained. He left his project working with children who had been groomed and raped in Keighley, children whose lives were ruined, to write a PhD on Dietrich Bonhöffer; and now is sculpting him.

“Post-modernism started in the camps- its doubt and cynicism,” he said. Um. To me Post-modernism is liberation, leaving behind the One Interpretation of any object or work, or the intention of the artist, and indeed the One Truth- democratising it so everyone’s interpretation has value. We discussed how drawing someone, or sculpting them, helps us to see them more clearly.

Why would we tell the story of Noah to small children? Violet, an atheist, has been having fun with it: the story shows God is an idiot for creating such a wicked world, and a monster for killing everyone. Perhaps that is the point: this is a cruel world, where ghastly things happen to good people, and everyone getting wiped out is an illustration of that. Then God calls Noah, and saves him and his family: those who obey God will be saved. And there I dislike it: Etty Hillesum died in Auschwitz; though it killed only her body, and her spirit and example live on. It is one side of Christianity- sheep and goats, damned and saved, Good and Bad, in and out, rejecting that Circle of Compassion where everyone must be brought in. If we can know the cruelty of existence from early childhood, then nuns can operate Magdalen laundries happy in the knowledge that they serve God.

The image of the animals two by two is strange and lovely.

Groping towards- non-duality?

Obama is File:Gouden Hart Symboolgrijs.jpgthe Antichrist, and this is the proof: if you text his name, you use a 6 for the O, another 6 for the M, and twos for the B and the As- three twos are another 6. 666 is the number of the beast. A pity it does not work on a smartphone, but the proof was announced in 2007.

Pause, a moment, to contemplate someone who could believe that. One cannot be certain anyone ever has, but here is the account of it, by someone who does not think Obama is the antichrist but believes it is worthwhile to use scripture to predict one to come.

Going to meeting, we discussed theodicy. One suggestion for how a good God permits suffering is Karma. If someone says the suffering of an abused child is her karma, I respond with disgust- thank you for revealing to me you are a psychopath- though if you have a better explanation of karma, please leave it in the comments. I want to hear it.

My own suffering as a trans person might be easier to see as karma: it is a gift which is hard to bear, and in bearing it I am blessed; and in growing acceptance of it my society is blessed.

yoshitoshi_bodhidharmaA friend ministered, about another such conversation: a loving God and the sufferings of humanity. I don’t know what he said after that, because I was distracted by this thought: but you have just undergone X! When people talk of the “sufferings of the world” I usually think they are projecting, it is their own sufferings which concern them, rather than those of others- but I hesitate to imagine this man having so little self- knowledge- perhaps it is possible to care like that.

I talked over coffee in the crowded kitchen, and noticed how another friend was leaning backwards over the worksurface as we talked. I think of a conversation about this man- “He stands so close!” said another middle-aged woman- and wondered if there was a connection. His charm and self-centredness- I am reminded of his intense vulnerability, he talks of something he resents (at least I hear resentment in his telling) and then of spiritual progress and his effort. So I share my recent blessing, “Have mercy on yourself!” Of course we should seek spiritual progress, but also enjoy the journey, and not be so harsh on those reactions in ourselves we would have liked to progress beyond.

yoshitoshi_bodhidharma caption

So I think back to that enthusiastic student, with his proof that Obama is the great Enemy of the World. I imagine his exhilaration at discovering this, that he is called to the spiritual battle of the End Times, and-

no I am not sure of this-

I know he is wrong, and

something else. I want to be open to his experience, his perception, the possibilities that his understanding of the world open. I want to- recognise in him a fellow human; see my-oneness– with him-

something

Gnosis

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/87/Ikona_SofiyaPremBozhiyaGRM.jpgSo strange, to find a Christianity I am not programmed to believe! I am commanded to disbelieve, even execrate it. From the spiritual ferment of the early Church came a victorious tradition, which expelled this secret Knowledge.

I first read of Gnosticism in the commentaries of William Barclay, who comments that several of the New Testament texts are written to combat it. From the understanding of Barclay which I retain I could tell you of Docetism, the idea that Jesus just seemed to be human, but was pure spirit- only the fleshly shell suffered on the Cross, as Christ stood with John, watching and commenting (Acts of John, I think).

I also knew the idea that the true God, pure spirit, could not create matter, which is evil, but put forth emanations  (aeons) and eventually an emanation with no knowledge of the Father created matter. I have a violent emotional reaction against that. I hated my body, as a child. Not so much my penis, as my arm, which was so thin and weak. Then I transitioned, and found my arm and hand slim and beautiful. Flesh is good, and this I know. The early church so condemned that view that we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body”, and I understand that Protestant and Catholic theologians do not differentiate a soul which comes from the body at the resurrection, but a spiritual body (I Cor 15:42-44- note also v29, which appears to refer to the Mormon practice of baptising the living on behalf of the dead).

There is suffering in the world. Either God will not stop it, and is not all-powerful, or cannot stop it, and is not all good. This is the problem of evil, and Theodicy is the branch of theology answering it. Docetism produces a radically different theodicy. I would say that God is in the File:Wiccan Syzygy.pngwhirlwind, suffering with God’s creation, and Christ is on the Cross, transfiguring our suffering into our growth, maturity and glory- do ask, if you would like me to unpack those statements- but Docetism would say that only matter, which is evil, suffers, and the Wisdom of God rescues spirit from matter.

Mmm. That works, actually. It is not even “pie in the sky when you die”- through wisdom and understanding and maturity one comes to realise that physical suffering does not matter. My facebook feed regularly quotes Teilhard de Chardin, We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience, out of context.

Now I come across A New New Testament, where I read the Secret Revelation. I have not read the commentary, but this moves on from Barclay’s Gnosticism bad, Orthodoxy mostly good (he did not believe in the virgin birth) to-

here are contradictory texts valued by early followers of Jesus. What value can we find in them?

The Secret Revelation is another Dogma. I do not just accept it- I am attached to my physical body, and don’t call it evil- but, can we find in it anything good?