Humankind has an unrealistic tendency to avoid the troublesome and irresistible reality of root-issues such as: suffering, sickness, man’s inhumanity to man, war, violence. Our North American culture focuses on a wholesome economy, entertainment, sports, … and all of those more pleasant dimensions of our contemporary life.

That is so unreal!

Here we are in a world with over seventy million homeless refugees, whose lives were disrupted, not by any fault of their own, but by forces over which they had no control. It is a world where life is fragile, where there come periodic epidemics, where starvation is a daily reality, where ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ takes on nightmarish dimensions—and we seem surprised as though this were something abnormal.

And then comes the corona virus, and we freak-out, freak-out because we have never come to grips with the metaphysical issue of the origins of evil and suffering. Such difficult realities have no place in our understanding of reality. Oh, to be sure, we can routinely confess our sins in church gatherings (or in the Lord’s Prayer), but without much thought of the cultural and societal implications of such. But now, … it stares us in the face with the total disruption of our world.

Reading history, we come across the atavistic cruelty that was (and is) so common in human relations. We read, with some detachment, about the black plague in the middle ages, and about the many evidences if social injustice what with the coming of the industrial revolution. We are outraged now by the holocaust that murdered so many million Jews in Germany—but we were, ourselves, a bit more indifferent when it was happening. More recently there was the ebola epidemic in Africa … and on and on.

And now we can’t escape the metaphysical question: Where does suffering come from? What are its roots? … And what is our role in the realities of this moment when our lives are disrupted? We’re reminded of the question from the suffering saints under the altar, in the Book of Revelation: “How long, O Lord?” (Rev. 6:9).

One thing we know is that God’s new humanity, his truly human sons and daughters, are to be ‘salt and light’, agents of his love in the midst of this moment that is ours.

Stand by …

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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  1. Sarah Estes says:

    Excellent! I have heard no one else addressing these questions. Thank you so much.

  2. Jermaine says:

    Historical and contextually truthful and accurate!

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