31 May 2007

Ecclesiodicy, The Justification of Church

[Mood: contemplative and a little crusty]

I've been thinking about theodicy lately. If that term is new to you, don't worry: it's a fancy term meaning "the justification of God," but it's used in philosophical and theological writings to describe an entire discussion which boils down to this: If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, then why is there evil and suffering in the world? Is it because God cannot stop it, or is it because he will not stop it? A theodicy, therefore, argues how God can be what Christians say he is and yet allow evil and suffering. I will not go into all that now; if you are interested, I would refer you here.

Philip Yancey, in his excellent book Where is God When it Hurts?, was asked to boil down the meaning of that book to one sentence. His answer: "Where is the Church when it hurts?" This is a brilliant point; if the church is the body of Christ, the primary agency through which God interacts with the world, and evil exists, then perhaps the question could be altered a bit: If the church is empowered by God (as defined above - all powerful etc.), then why is there superfluous evil and suffering in the world? Is it because the church can not stop it or because it will not stop it? Maybe we should back the question up more: does the church even want to stop it?

You are probably crying out, "False choice!" And I would agree with you; the church does want to stop the evil and suffering in this world. The problem is that, unlike God, the church cannot be everywhere at once in the same way. And, unlike God, the church does not have unlimited physical and financial resources.

But still, why aren't churches always the first responders to disaster? Why doesn't the church do more to help in places like Darfur? Or is the church really helping and also going unnoticed by the media? How much does the church have to do before skeptics will say, "Ahh, now the church cares"? It seems that no matter what the church does, it will never be enough.

Let's bring it home: when someone in your church or surrounding community suffers or experiences evil, where is your church? Do they help? Take up offerings and donations? Turn the other way? Add them to the prayer list?

Where is the church when it hurts?

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