Spending Words

Column by Rev. Gretta Vosper on 28 March 2024 0 Comments

I doubt anyone who reads Progressing Spirit believes there is a supernatural god called God who hands out parcels of land to this people or that. Yet many continue to use the word “god” to name something they believe in, which is not a supernatural being who hands out parcels of land to this people or that.

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I often worry about how honest my faith in God/Jesus is. I pray, I thank them, I ask them for help. In short, I ‘believe’ in their power to affect me, I ‘believe’ in their goodness. And yet, if something awful were to happen to someone I love, I know my faith would turn to betrayal. I would blame God/Jesus for not intervening. What kind of faith is this? Can I really call myself a Christian or Jesus/God ‘believer’?


Dear Susan,

Your question is important, personal, and also universal. You are not alone in questioning the strength and consistency of your faith in the face of undeserved suffering in the world, others having agonized as well. The first person who comes to mind is Mother Teresa, whom we all believe to be a paragon of faith, but who, in reality, struggled with her acceptance of God. From Wikipedia: “ Where is my faith? Even deep down…there is nothing but emptiness and darkness…if there be  God- please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my soul.” And Bart Ehrmann, a most accomplished scholar of Christian Writings, left his faith and became agnostic, unable to believe in a God who allows evil in the world.

And then there is Job. We need here to strip away the prologue and the epilogue- the wager between God and the devil- because they were not part of the original poem. The story is about Job, mythical representative of all humanity, who agonizes as he suffers undeservedly. He was not the patient person we have made him out to be. He was angry with God, shaking his fist and demanding that God come down so that he could bring God to court and have a judge decide the case. But there was no solution to the problem. The question of suffering remained unanswered. The story has God speak out of a whirlwind, a literary device used by the author, but the answer to the question “why is there suffering in the world?” is a simple: “I don’t know. I just don’t know”.

My own mother was a Job in her own right. I remember her once clenching her fist and shaking it at the heavens, saying “I can’t wait to see God and give him a piece of my mind.” And Robert Duval, playing the role of a cowboy trail boss whose friend had been killed by cattle rustlers was asked at the burial whether he wanted to say a prayer to God. His response was a simple:“I don’t want anything to do with that son of a bitch.”

We humans agonize over the unjust suffering that we see all about us, and we try to reconcile that suffering with our faith in what we believe to be an all-powerful God. And therein lies the problem. We need to forego our image of an omnipotent God who can do anything anytime, and instead recognize God as the power of love that upholds us at all times, including those that are painful. There is a continual divine Presence, manifest in the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, in sickness and in health, a Presence that comforts and supports us. The power of this Presence is a mystery, beyond our rational explanation, but also beyond our anger. For my own self, in the face of untold suffering across the globe, I cannot believe that that evil is the final word, but rather that somehow and someway God ultimately makes it all right, that the universe is not amoral, but moral, grounded as it is in the power of love. The alternative is the sharp convicting knives of Mother Teresa. But even as she asked "Where is my faith?" she continued in her devotion to helping and loving the sick. Faith, hope, love, these three, Paul wrote. But the greatest of these is love.

~ Carl Krieg, Ph.D.




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