Criticizing Justice Seekers

When I look at the landscape of the United States right now, the number of times I see patterns of well-intentioned people criticizing others seeking recognition and justice can, at times, overwhelm me. Often within church circles I’m around, you hear an emphasis put on personal sin, with the belief that repenting from it will transform our lives and thus the systems around us (if they even include systems in their discussion). In schools, we are often taught that those that fight for recognition and justice (of minorities) are threats, deviants, mentally ill, etc. In the public sphere, the growing tension between Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter creates a telling dialogue around what we value and why we value it. Central to each of these issues and many more is power: who has power, doesn’t have power, and who deserves power.

Let us consider the various social circles I’ve been exposed to within religious organizations. There is a tremendous emphasis put on personal sin and the power of God to transform lives if we repent. This belief is well-intentioned and not even something I disagree with, but it is incomplete; there must also be an acknowledgement of sin against others, of a disparity in very real resources, of discrimination in the distribution of goods and services or even the long-term effects of the systemic ways we degrade people of certain races or genders. As one person explained, “Look, if you’re white, heroin addiction is a disease that people want to treat, to HEAL. But if you’re black? Drug addiction is justification for incarceration or an excuse for why you can get shot by the police.” People in these circles often criticize those who speak out and fight for change within our systems, explaining that “all” people must take responsibility for their personal sin, that it was their choice to break the law. Again, none of this is untrue, it’s just incomplete. We cannot stop there, insisting that they must face judgment for their sin while we accept cheap grace. We have a responsibility to ask how we, as a society, have sinned against them and take responsibility for reconciliation.

Within schools, we can also see patterns where people seeking recognition and justice are not only criticized, but misrepresented. Consider, for instance, Andrew Jackson. In high school history books, accolades are spoken of him and the work he did in building the nation into what it is today. Unless you do your own research, you are unlikely to be taught that Jackson’s success was built on the systemic dehumanization, oppression and slaughter of native people across the country. Yet when we study the Turner Rebellion, it is often mentioned that Turner was potentially schizophrenic, mentally ill, etc. He is rarely shown as a man of faith who lived as a slave and possessed a righteous anger at the suffering and bondage pressed upon slaves from every side. Emphasis is put on the fact that Nat and his rebellion killed men, women and children but often neglect to mention that the state militia executed those involved as well as people with slight connections, reimbursing their masters afterwards for the loss of their property. The white response across the South of murdering black people without cause (to such an extent that numbers aren’t known) is also usually absent from the teaching. This is just one example of how we disparage one who fights for justice while lifting-up someone driven by power and wealth.

The last example I’ll discuss is that of the evolution of the “Lives Matter” movements. “Black Lives Matter,” came first and at its root, was a cry of a people who feel that they exist in a society that tells them through words, treatment, and resourcing that their lives don’t matter. Thus, the statement “Black Lives Matter,” was a means of affirming that a black life has value, that it does indeed matter. This is also a way of building power through solidarity with one another; alone it is easy to be cut down. Together, but asserting that one another’s life matters, there is a collective building of worth and power. A response by predominantly white people came through the phrases “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” This response is, I believe, an example of people who are most often well-intention but also deeply biased. I believe that, for the most part, they recognize that they do not value the black life the same as the lives of white people or police and furthermore, believe that if they MUST value those lives, it comes at a cost to blue lives or white lives. Herein lies the fundamental flaw of those who believe value is a finite resource: valuing the lives of other people does not change the worth of your own life. It’s saying, “As I possess human dignity and worth, so should others who currently do not.” When we consider the power that lies in the police, the statement that black lives matter doesn’t negate the life of police, it cries out for the black life to be valued by the blue. In other words, “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” view the lifting up of black lives as a zero-sum game: where each race or demographic’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of another race or demographic. “Black Lives Matter” views the value of humanity as many people view love: just as our capacity to love others grows and expands without loss of love in one’s self, we can value more and more people as we value ourselves without loss. This sentiment is echoed in the words of Jesus himself, when he says in Mark 12:31, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The three examples I’ve provided are just a few places where I see the manifestation of the patterns of criticism towards people seeking recognition and justice. While not all-inclusive, I believe these examples highlight how deeply rooted and systemic the issue is: life and liberty are valued far less in this country than maintaining power, and this truth is found within the heart of what we say and implement in our political, economic and social structures. Just as in the time of slavery, while the elite are a small number, they are mighty, and they are also effective in sculpting the culture and beliefs of larger white America so they feel that they have more in common with the elite than they do those that have been silently and systemically disenfranchised. Thus, the non-elite, white majority continue to voluntarily give over more of their freedoms and wealth to those in power while believing it is those with the least amount of power who are stripping them of it, all with the best of intentions.

Music and Social Justice

I’ve been a big fan of System of a Down since Toxicity was released in 2001, and “Prison Song” was one of the songs on that album. Their lead vocalist, Serj Tankian, formed the band in the 90’s with several other Armenian-Americans. Passionate for social justice and having experienced discrimination personally, the band was very vocal regarding political and social justice issues. I was awakening to the fact that deep and systemic injustice was not part of our past but alive and thriving in the present. I was also starting to see that America was on a path of escalating tension, easily manipulated by fear, but I didn’t have the language or context to fully connect all of the dots. In 1999, the Columbine Massacres had occurred, changing the way we interacted with schools, our administration, the growing police presence, as well as how students even viewed each other. There had been a substantial number of bomb threats within my school and then this album, with this song, was released a week before the September 11th attack. The timing of these events and their effect on me personally forced me to really question what I knew about my country and the people in it, both with and without power. I started asking myself what I didn’t know.

When I listened to the Prison Song, the statements that they were making sounded so extreme and outlandish that, at first, I thought they were using hyperbole to get their point across. But as I started to do the research and pay attention to the headlines and stories I was hearing on the news, I began to see that System of a Down was actually trying warn people, to let them know what was really happening in our country. Much of what they sung about I’ve read about in books, articles or witnessed through my community. For example, they state in the song that, “They’re trying to build a prison, Following the rights movement, You clamped on with your iron fists, Drugs became conveniently, Available for all the kids.” Consider the graphic below from prisonpolicy.org. You can see, based on the years, the relationship between the civil rights movement and the response of an uptick in the prison population. Our readings clarify the how: “Convictions for drug offenses are the single most important cause of the incarceration rates in the United States. Drug offenses alone account for two-thirds of the rise in federal inmate population and more than half of the rise in state prisoners between 1985 and 2000.”[1]
fff

[2]

 

Later in the song they proclaim that, “Minor drug offenders fill your prisons, You don’t even flinch, All our taxes paying for your wars, Against the new non-rich…” From The New Jim Crow, we can understand what the statistic for minor drug offenders looks like a few years after the release of this song: “…four out of five drug arrests were for possession, and only one out of five was for sales. Moreover, most people in the state prison for drug offenses have no history of violence or significant selling activity.” (Alexander, 60) Rather than be concerned with the increasing percentage of our population sitting behind bars and asking what we can do differently, our nation responded with fear and the mission to use our taxes to continue to build more prisons. It certainly was a war, but the language around new non-rich is important. I cannot be sure of the bands intention, but there was a rebranding of black and minority America occurring during this time that made a war against them acceptable as long as leaders and people didn’t refer to race. We’d refer to locations (where these demographics were generally the majority), a specific socio-economic status or even a symptom of the deeper disease in our nation (i.e. crack addicts). Rebranding race as the “new” non-rich changed how people could be targeted.

There is so much more that was said in this song that transformed the way I saw my country, the people in it, and understood my responsibility to participate in social justice. Once your eyes are opened you have to make a choice on how you’re going to respond to it. I have to choose whether I will be a mechanism of oppression and injustice or part of the voice and movement against those who would systemically disenfranchise large swaths of people permanently. I am thankful for all of the artists, actors, and creatives who use media like System of a Down did in order to awaken people to the social issues of our generation.

Prison Song (Lyrics)

By: System of a Down

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison

Following the rights movements You clamped on with your iron fists Drugs became conveniently Available for all the kids Following the rights movements You clamped on with your iron fists Drugs became conveniently Available for all the kids

I buy my crack, I smack my bitch Right here in Hollywood

Nearly two million Americans are incarcerated In the prison system, prison system Prison system of the U.S.

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison (For you and me to live in) Another prison system Another prison system Another prison system (For you and me)

Minor drug offenders fill your prisons You don’t even flinch All our taxes paying for your wars Against the new non-rich Minor drug offenders fill your prisons You don’t even flinch All our taxes paying for your wars Against the new non-rich

I buy my crack, I smack my bitch Right here in Hollywood

The percentage of Americans in the prison system Prison system, has doubled since 1985

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison (For you and me to live in) Another prison system Another prison system Another prison system (For you and me)

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison For you and me Oh baby, you and me

All research and successful drug policies show That treatment should be increased And law enforcement decreased While abolishing Mandatory minimum sentences All research and successful drug policies show That treatment should be increased And law enforcement decreased While abolishing Mandatory minimum sentences

Utilizing drugs to pay for Secret wars around the world Drugs are now your global policy Now you police the globe

I buy my crack, I smack my bitch Right here in Hollywood

Drug money is used to rig elections And train brutal corporate sponsored Dictators around the world

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison (For you and me to live in) Another prison system Another prison system Another prison system (For you and me)

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison For you and me Oh baby, you and me

[1] Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow, pg. 60. It goes on to say that from 1980 to the present, there has been a 1,100% increase in drug-related imprisonment.

[2] Wagner, Peter. “Tracking Prison Growth in 50 States,” https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/overtime.html Written: May 28, 2014

Christian Life and Politics

I hear the laments of people who feel like their faith has been hijacked; who look at the face of Christian’s in the media and even in the people around them and feel anger and sickness.  They want to disassociate themselves with their faith and God because of what they see playing out locally, nationally and globally in his name. But friends, we must remember that this darkness is not evidence of God’s absence but rather a choice in the disobedience of his people. Therefore we must seek the light and shine it into those places which reject it.

We must remember and be encouraged that even Jesus saw this, that he knew that there would be people proclaiming deeds and works in his name who knew him not. Your spiritual family is not with those who claim a title but do not know what it means. In Matthew 12:48-50 it says: “But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus recognizes those who abide in the Word of God as his family, not the workers of lawlessness. And this is a lawlessness from God, not this world. It says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’” In really simple terms, what is that law that Jesus speaks to?

There’s several places where Jesus makes this really simple for everyone. One instance is right before he illustrates his point in the story of the Good Samaritan (keeping in mind that Samaritans were a shunned people by the religious, and Jesus later sent his disciples SPECIFICALLY to Samaria, wanting them to continue the work he had started with the Samaritans):

“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” -Luke 10:25-28

It’s also expressed again in Matthew where he reminds us that ALL the law and the prophets hang on the fact that we love God with our entire selves (heart, soul and mind) and that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:36-40

This might seem fairly obvious and simple but consider that God doesn’t want part of you; he wants all of you. Politics, employment, friendships, policy, institutions, family, finances… these all belong to God and the choices we make matter deeply. It says in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” We cannot trust in our God, love him with all our being and love our neighbor as ourselves if the space we are operating out of is fear. Fear of Others, fear of terrorism, fear of economic downturns, fear of scarcity, fear of man, fear of loss. This is not what God’s people were made for!

In 1 Peter 2:9 we are reminded, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We bear light into the darkness! We are not a nation formed from blood or heritage but rather from a King who came to earth and spilled his blood not out of obligation but out of love.  Love.  Love for a God that is good. Love for a people that persecuted Him. Love for a world that yearned for salvation even when it turned away. We cannot find anything to boast in unless it is the profound way God redeems every part of our lives. We are told in Luke 3:8, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” We must remember to not become prideful but be a people of repentance and humility, for who are we apart from God?

But, you say, this is real-life 2000+ years down the road, right? Life feels pretty hard. People we love are dying and suffering, anger and violence appearing to push in from all corners, and things are just so different from that time…how could we possibly know what we are meant to do? Yet, the world has been a messed up place for a super long time, and this isn’t a new story for anyone. It was dark in the time of Jesus and his answer wasn’t to build walls, reject the refugee, and blame the oppressed for their oppression. It wasn’t to deny the existence of privilege. Jesus tells you what will happen to you and it isn’t based on your feelings or the amount of money you gave or the roles you held in your church. You will be sorted based on how you cared for others.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ -Matthew 25:31-36 

And then you consider the ‘blow away moment’ that comes next when we discover that even the righteous didn’t recognize God as they were meeting the real needs of others rather than protecting what was theirs.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:37-40

Consider how truly profound this statement is. How could Jesus be present in the strangers we welcome, or in the naked we clothed or the sick we care for? What relationship could Jesus possibly have to us visiting those in prison?

Love. Our God is love. Agape. God doesn’t just feel love; God IS love. It says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Because if you know Him, you know love, and where there is love God is present. When one of us goes to the prisoner to show solidarity, God is there. When you go to give warmth through clothing, God is there. When you welcome the foreigner, the refugee, the stranger, God is there.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:41-46

Our fate is clear; it is a choice. Will we be a people who chooses to care for the sick? Who gives asylum to the stranger? Who quenches thirst and satisfies hunger? Or will we choose to be a people lost to our basest fears?

 

 

Book Review – Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference

“We focus on disability and our Christian tradition because we have learned that disability is an enduring, fundamental aspect of humanity that has been manipulated and wronged by society… We searched our faith tradition for signs of disability and, indeed, we found the divine Trinity.” (Tataryn, 7) This statement is the crux of this book, helping readers move from a space where disability is at best, just a burden the person is meant to bear or at worst, a result of sinfulness or God’s wrath to a space where they recognize the Trinity in the embodiment of each person and our call as a community to be inclusive.

They start by examining what disables those in our community: our marginalization of people different from socially acceptable “norms” and the point of view that they are, “objects of pity and recipients of charity.” (Tataryn, 15).  What disables people is less often their different embodiments but rather the exclusion of them from the rest of society; of being viewed as not entirely whole, of having something missing, of being lesser. “By perceiving and treating disabled people as Other, we accept societal taxonomies of gradated human value, thereby rejecting the fullness of humankind and limiting our spiritual growth, both personal and collective.” (Tataryn, 15) It is necessary that we work to shift from the medical model of disability that views various embodiments as a tragedy that we strive to fix to the social model which instead says that disability is rooted not in the person but in the society that disables them.

Next they begin explaining what this inclusive community looks like. While the social model uncovers the root of disability, the Trinitarian Paradigm, as a supplement, “emphasizes the vital, universal need for human relationship.” (Tataryn, 22) They walk us through this by examining the conflicting perspectives throughout Christian history which skew us toward a viewpoint that frames an individual’s value in predominantly economic terms. Starting with the Hebrew Scripture, we start to understand the difference between seeing a person’s body as possessing divinity or demonic traits based on their embodiment.  When we examine Genesis, we see it points to a God who is a Creator and fond of diversity; to the fact that community is not built on similarity but on difference. “By ordering, that which has been created ‘man’ has created hierarchy, which produces in ‘man’ a further need: a relationship of equality, a ‘partner.’ …Human community is based in the difference between ‘man’ and woman.’” (Tataryn, 29) It is sin that divides us, not our differences. It is sin that creates the antagonistic, hierarchal attitudes of one group towards another. Ultimately, we reach Leviticus, whose purpose was to address sin. “Leviticus’s purpose is order, ritual, and the authority of the priestly caste, not complicated by human diversity.” (Tataryn, 32) They also walk us through some of the reasons why it is supposed that disability and ritual impurity are linked to one another, ultimately leading to the conclusion that if read through the social model we can see that the liminality is most often an outcome of life processes more than sin or God’s wrath. “But the prophets distinguish between those who are vulnerable or weak and those who are faithless and suffer as a result.” (Tataryn, 38)

Next examined is how Jesus disables the idea of institutionalized disability within society. “Jesus’ action is one of nullifying the established norms that have disrupted community. By approaching and engaging with individuals who have been rejected by the cultural and ritual codes of community, Jesus subverts the taboos of exclusion and practices radical inclusion.” (Tataryn, 43) It walks through various examples of this, noting how Jesus highlights human dignity, personhood and faith as well as the repentance from sin. It even notes the writings of Paul and Luke that strive to counteract the trend of physiognomy in their time (the belief that one’s physical traits reflected the character of a person). There’s considerable coverage of Paul and his encouragement of others to rejoice in their weakness because that is where God shows up. “In context with the day-to-day living of Jesus of Nazareth, the Resurrection instead signals a celebration of divine love known through the fullness of being human, without margins.” (Tataryn, 50)

Next we examine the role of community, or koinonia, in being a space where love and relationship for all people is lived out side-by-side. Examples from the prophets as well as Abraham and Sarah emphasize the importance of an inclusive community. “The Suffering Servant embodies the stigma linked to disability: causing disgust, shame, and sorrow. Yet the Suffering Servant embodies most completely the relationship between God and humanity, challenging us to look beyond our prejudices in building a new, fuller community than previously imagined.” (Tataryn, 53) In order to better understand what this call looks like and how we got to where we are, the authors dive into a wide variety of theologians from both Eastern and Western orthodoxy. This helps us to see how we get to our understanding of the Trinity today: one of relationship to one another. Operating out of this knowledge is a challenge that the church continues to struggle with. “Unconsciously, our church communities tend to conform more to the tyrannical societal norm than to the dictates of Christ. But with conscious awareness, we can become communities of love that drew people so compellingly to follow Christ in the nascent Christian Church.” (Tataryn, 71)

Next examined are the various models of Christian community: understanding that caring means having relationship with others, that caritas is a necessary outcome of faith and not the exercise of charity as we see today: we potentially give charitably to have others love our neighbor for us. It also looks at the relationship with God in the context of solitude (like the monastic tradition) or service (where oftentimes acting out of pity is confused for loving our neighbors). Amongst several other models, they also examine what is termed a Holy Fool, where “…the Christian (not necessarily a monastic) acts contrary to social norms, shunning public approval, creatively embodying Christ’s radical transformation of the natural world.” (Tataryn, 78)

Following this they engage in an examination of the sacraments: “…we exist in relation to God, to each other, and to the cosmos. Thus, our faith is rooted in our materiality, and this sacred substantiality, as it were, is manifested sacramentality.” (Tataryn, 84) By understanding that all creation is laced with divinity, because the Divine touched all of creation, we can recognize that God is present through creation. Early in the church moments of time that were viewed as particularly imbued with divine presence were called mysteries. As more and more structure was built around these things, societal prerequisites became linked to being able to engage in the sacraments. This attitude has been examined by the church in recent decades.

The last few sections examine miracles, true hospitality and being icons.  The section on miracles looks in depth at the story of a family with children of different embodiments that faces a disabling and exclusive society which they are excluded from participating fully in. “Miracles are associated with faith, sin, cure, prayer, and the power of God over nature to perform the impossible… In our time, we have created disability as a deviance rather than understanding it as an ordinary human occurrence… a miracle presents a quick fix.” (Tataryn, 97) Ultimately, the point is made that rather than viewing the healing miracles as a path to a quick fix perhaps we should understand it as Jesus’ engagement in the Trinity as well as his living out caritas on the Sabbath with people rejected by society. Hospitality examines the church (and all the people that make it up) and asks why we are allowing our hospitality to be defined by society. If you truly care about somebody, that means we also care for them, and if there should be any place that defines inclusiveness and hospitality it ought to be found in Christ’s community.  Lastly we have icons, which some see as a form of idolatry. When more closely examined, “Iconographic style implicitly conveys a transfigured reality and elicits… a recognition of their participation in its meaning… The Eastern Christian does not bow before an icon to worship the wood, but rather venerates the reality recognized through the material substance.” (Tataryn, 109) This allows an extension of one’s self to the Other, in truth, to create a connection not just between those we live with in community today but to tie all humanity through all time together.

In summary, the authors effectively walk us through disability via the lens of the Trinitarian Paradigm as well as the social model, helping readers to gain a more thorough understanding of the Christian faith and what it means to those whose embodiment is different from the accepted norm. It reveals the ways in which our views of humanity are distorted and how it wrongs all of society; that being present and living out caritas with all humanity in an inclusive community is where we find a greater presence of the Trinity and what we are called into as followers of Christ.

Works Cited

Tataryn, Myroslaw & Truchan-Tataryn. Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference. United States of America: Novalis Publishing, 2013. Print.

Empathy and Being a Voice for the Marginalized

“When are we going to have the moral courage to speak in terms other than economy…” I struggle to understand people that have lacked empathy in the face of the fear and concern of minorities and marginalized people which rose out of the recent election; people who think it’s about who won/lost. I’ve often heard it said, “Those who voted for Trump but insist they aren’t racist/sexist/etc. are really only saying that I don’t matter at all; their wealth matters more than the wellbeing of others.” If we don’t stand for something, we stand for nothing. Let us make sure we strive to maintain the innate human dignity of every person.

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:7-11

 

The Hope that Lies In Relationship with God

I am humbled. Truly and deeply humbled.

The faithfulness of my God even when I struggle amazes me. I wrote at one point about how God tore down everything in my life that I had built in order to lay a good foundation. This allowed everything that was built afterwards to point to God’s power to redeem; that it demonstrates not my glory but God’s.

He called me to move to Clifton and when I gave up control, He gave me a beautiful home with a faithful Christian woman that challenges, inspires and balances me.

I said no to the move from Cincinnati that I’d always wanted and stayed in a city I never loved and God transformed my heart and vision for Cincinnati; through my volunteering, classes and relationships I’ve come to see this city and her people for the beautiful love story she is.

Less than two months ago I left my job because I felt like that was what I was supposed to do. I spent time in prayer and reflection asking God to lead me. I struggled and fought, wept and submitted. I put all my trust and faith in God who I believed would show up where I had heard His promise. This gave me time to learn to rest, to learn to listen, to deepen my faith and better understand the call God put on my heart. When I was ready, He connected me to the most beautiful team of people whose mission is the same as mine; I wouldn’t have recognized that this was the ideal role for me if God hadn’t called me to leave when He did and I hadn’t responded with a yes.

Every place I thought I would feel stifled by my faith I have found instead to be full of freedom. I’ll make a lot less money and I certainly own substantially less than I used to but it turns out money and THINGS were never able to bring me joy, freedom and happiness.

This life with God is a series of contradictions; each step of the way I felt like I was sacrificing so much and on the other side I see that they were just chains being broken so I know the freedom found in this true love, in this real relationship.

(Christian) Social Justice in the United States

We like to claim that the United States is the land of the free, but how free are we?  I want to believe that all people, regardless of where they are in their faith journey, want justice for the oppressed but it is a PARTICULAR call on the heart of those who are a follower of YHWH and Jesus. In that vein, I encourage everyone to watch “13th,” a documentary available on Netflix, and keep in your heart these passages.

“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” Zechariah 7:10 (NIV)

I would wonder what the effect of a ballooning prison population starting in the 70’s might have had on the stability of the family unit; in effect do we not create widows and orphans through incarceration?

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4 (NIV)

God puts all of us together; the cause of the voiceless is the cause of those with a voice. Those with power have a responsibility to act for those who are powerless. We should be defending and upholding the cause of anyone experiencing injustice.

“Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV)

This is not about anarchy but about making sure that a portion of our society isn’t existing in an oppressed state or being taken advantage of.

“He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” Psalm 146:7-9 (NIV)

So what do your actions say about which side you are on. Even something as simple as voting. Where do your votes fall for the widows, the fatherless, the foreigner and the poor?

A few additional articles:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/03/americas-prison-population (Article looking at the current prison population of the United States and what it means)

http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2015.html (2015 Prison Statistics)

http://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2015/08/14/jailsmatter/  (Role jails play in US)

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/magazine/the-bail-trap.html?_r=0   (The issues around bail for those in poverty and the ripple effect it has on their lives; many are found innocent)

http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/07/us/kalief-browder-dead/  (Man jailed as teen for 3 years without conviction commits suicide)

 

 

 

 

Romans 8:22-30 (My Exegesis Attempt)

Text: Romans 8:22-8:30 [NIV]

  1. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (8:22 [NIV])
  2. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (8:23)
  3. “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (8:24)
  4. “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (8:25)
  5. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (8:26)
  6. “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (8:27)
  7. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (8:28)
  8. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (8:29)
  9. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (8:30)

Theme/Paragraph Analysis

The theme of these verses is the story of God’s faithfulness and mercy to an unfaithful people and the response of patience and love from those who receive mercy from Him through their faith.

  1. All creation, with mankind, is experiencing a period of strife as we enter a new age.
  2. Although believers groan inwardly, God gave us the Spirit which represents the firstfruits of things to come.
  3. Christians are saved by faith in Jesus’ resurrection; they hope in a future promised in the Spirit’s firstfruits.
  4. We wait patiently through our suffering, trusting in God’s timing because of our hope.
  5. The Spirit helps our weakness and intercedes for us in prayer.
  6. God searches our hearts and understands the mind of the Spirit, who he sent to advocate for God’s people.
  7. Those who love God are called to the things God loves; God is good and so His work is for good.
  8. God knows His people from their creation. God planned their salvation through his Son’s relationship with them: that Jesus’ sacrifice would create a community of people who love God.
  9. The path to glorification with Christ is righteousness through the blood of Christ and repentance.

Historical Analysis

“Romans is arguably the most influential letter ever written. It is certainly the most significant letter in the history of Christianity. Romans has spawned conversions, doctrines, disputations, and even a few reformations, and it has done so quite ecumenically and with a kind of domino effect.”[1] One of the things that makes Romans so significant is that it has remained impactful throughout the centuries, from modern theologians like Karl Barth back to those such as Augustine and Martin Luther. This is in part because it addresses the struggle of faith in most seasons. “It narrates the grace of God toward sinful humanity, both Jews and Gentiles, that creates a multicultural cruciform community of obedient faith issuing in generous love and expectant hope.”[2]

Although Paul clearly knew quite a few of the Romans based on the names of those he listed, it is also clear that he is not the Church Father. This leads to substantial debate as to the purpose of Paul writing them. There is one thing of which we can be sure: all was not well in Rome. “In 49 an edict of Claudius expelled the Jews (or at least many of them) from Rome because of their fighting about one “Chrestus” -in all likelihood an allusion to intra-Jewish debate over the identity and role of the Jewish Messiah and, perhaps, whether Jesus was the expected one.”[3] In addition, Gentiles made up the majority if not the whole of the Roman Church which would likely have led to a marginalization of the Jews. Indications lead us to believe that this plus the differences in their practices led to issues of judgment over practices.[4] These historical tensions elicited the powerful response we see from Paul: “…the theme of Romans is God’s grace – God’s impartial faithfulness and mercy – for Jews and Gentiles that creates the eschatological, or new covenant, community through the “obedience of faith” (1:5;16:26).”[5]

 

Verse Analysis

1. Romans 8:22 [NIV] tells us “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”[6] We see evidence of this in frontiers possibly never even considered by Paul: deforestation, global warming, factory farming, unethical global supply chains that destroy developing regions, trafficking of over 20 million persons[7] etc. Fitzmyer writes that this comparison of struggle to childbirth was very common in Paul’s time for Greek philosophers. “Paul adopts this image to express the tortuous convulsions of frustrated material creation, as he sees it. It groans in hope and expectation, but also in pain. The compound verb (synodinei) expresses the concerted agony of the universe in all its parts.”[8]

One matter debated is whether mankind is included in the “whole creation.” Whereas Fitzmyer sees it unlikely because mankind is not brought up until the next verse, I believe it more likely that Paul meant to include us with the rest of creation; it further humbles us and reminds us that God is the Creator and we are the created. We groan in the pains with the rest of creation and are not set apart in this way; we on our own cannot distinguish ourselves from the rest of creation; only the grace of God can do that. For this reason, I prefer the perspective offered through the Hebrew Bible lens: “Although confident that God will be victorious, believers live in the present age, which is characterized by suffering and decay… Paul draws on a convention of the Hebrew Bible in which birth pains serve as a metaphor for the period of strife and travail that ushers in a new age…”[9]

2. Paul goes on to clarify that although we groan inwardly, we are in possession of the firstfruits. To make such a statement was no small gesture, as seen in Leviticus 23:14 (NAB) “Until this day, when you bring your God this offering, you shall not eat any bread or roasted grain or fresh kernels. This shall be a perpetual statute for you and your descendants wherever you dwell.”[10] In remembrance of their time in Egypt, the Jewish people would offer their firstfruits to God before preparing or eating any of their crop. The firstfruit was set aside for God. Yet now there is a reversal and God’s people are receiving God’s firstfruit in them. Paul writes, “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:23 [NIV][11] So although we groan with the rest of creation, we have also received a great gift from God.

The resurrection being such an important part of Paul’s theology, it is to be expected that he would mention not only sonship but redemption of our bodies, alluding to the resurrection of Christ and the belief that the same experience was in store for his followers in the future. Paul’s striving for love in the shape of a cross is not intellectual; it is literal. We have been saved but we are not yet remade in the image of Jesus. “Summing up the whole train of thought, Paul can declare, here and in vv. 26-27, that the present “groaning,” though at one level a sign of the present not fully redeemed state, is at the same time a sign of the Christian’s sure and certain hope… The body is intended to be a glorious, splendid, fashioned after the model of Jesus’ own resurrection body, no longer subject to weakness, humiliation, sickness, sin, and death (cf. 1 Cor 15:54; 2 Cor 5:1-5; Phil 3:21). The Christian in the present time is but a pale shadow of his or her future self.”[12]

3. Romans 8:24 [NIV] translates as “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?”[13] There are some issues with this translation, primarily with the writing of the last verse which makes it sound as if Christians may be putting their hope in something other than the resurrection of Jesus Christ, on which salvation hinges. It may be better translated as, “’For we were saved in hope.’ …Paul’s concern is to stress that, while salvation is already a reality for the Christian (“we were saved”: the tense is aorist, denoting a one-off event), it carries an inevitable future component.”[14] Remember, Paul first has emphasized our need to be humble through our equal struggle with the rest of creation, then reminded us of the undeserved grace God shows in offering salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This question of hope focuses the Romans on the hope offered in the generous gift of the Spirit given by God.

“Hope is built in to Christian experience from the start, and remains one of its central characteristics (see 5:2-5; 15:13).  But if this is so, Paul is stressing, one cannot expect present Christian living to be anything other than a matter of straining forward for what is yet to come, for what is yet unseen… One does not anxiously scan the horizon for a boat already in port.”[15] It is a state of being for the Christian rather than a means to an end. Hope is not our means of justification. “Justified through faith, man still looks to the future eschatological term of salvation and this is the sphere of hope.”[16] It is clear within the context of these verses why it is so important to differentiate between faith and hope so Christian’s build upon the proper foundation. “The replacement of faith by hope is understandable in this context, but they are not synonymous. In view of Paul’s understanding of faith, we cannot translate, “saved by hope” (KJV and even Luther). The full meaning is that we were saved-i.e. by Christ’s achievement, regard as complete, hence the past tense-so as to live now in…hope.”[17]

4. After clarifying we exist in a state where our spirit has been saved but our body not redeemed and that redemption is what we hope for but what remains unseen, Paul addresses how that hope should manifest itself within the community: “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:25 [NIV])[18] This is not hoping with anxious anticipation, like a child waiting eagerly for the moment they get to open their presents, it is trusting in the timing of God. Never, in the case of Paul, does this mean inaction. “It is hope that enables the Christian to bear with “the sufferings of the present,” (8:18) but that also makes him a witness to the world of a lively faith in the resurrection (cf. I Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 5:7; Heb 11:1).”[19] In summary, Paul is saying that the Christ follower who has hope is patient and obedient in this life because the Spirit helps us to trust in the promise of the future, having received the firstfruits (the Spirit itself).

5. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26 [NIV])[20] “The Spirit, he says, helps us in our weakness-or literally, “The Spirit helps our weakness.”[21] While Wright interprets that to mean the state prior to “full redemption,” I would rather take into consideration Paul’s first several lines referencing all of creation groaning in pain, and our groaning with it. While this is technically the state prior to redemption, Paul appears to be addressing issues of daily life with this verse. Mankind, by his very nature selfish, weak and prone to turn away from God now has within him an intercessor by means of the Spirit who speaks for us in our prayers when we have no words. “…the Spirit adds to them his intercession that transcends that weakness (hyperentygchanei,” intercedes over and above”) the result is that the Christian utters what would otherwise be ineffable. Even to pray “Abba, Father,” the Spirit must dynamically assist the Christian (8:15, Gal 4:6). But the Christian who so prays is aware that the Spirit is manifesting his presence to him.”[22]

When thinking of times of great struggle, turmoil or mourning there is often great comfort and relationship that can be found when we weep, cry and call out the name of our God and beg for His presence. Paul’s familiarity with this experience becomes clear to us through these last couple verses. “Rather, he is speaking of an agonizing in prayer, a mixture of lament and longing in which, like a great swell of tide at sea, “too full for sound or foam,” the weight of what is taking place has nothing to do with the waves and ripples on the surface…”[23] To be told that God in the form of the Spirit laments with us as we lament, mourns with us as we mourn, and gives voice to our prayers when we have no words provides great comfort to those who might feel like their experience is isolating, unbearable or unknowable.

6. Furthermore, whatever the Spirit gives voice to the Father comprehends. While Paul was certainly a monotheist, this is where we see some of the Trinitarian beliefs manifested. “That the Spirit intercedes for us distinguishes the Spirit from God. In vs. 34 intercession is the work of Christ…”[24] but when Christ leaves he said that he would send another for us, an “advocate” in some translations, and this is what we see now in Paul’s writing: “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:27 [NIV])[25] It is this distinction between that of the Spirit who inhabits us and that of the Father who can search our heart but also knows the mind of the Spirit. We see this distinction because we know that the phrase, “he who searches the hearts,” originates within the Old Testament. Examples include Proverbs 20:27 which the World English Bible translates as “The spirit of man is Yahweh’s lamp, searching all his innermost parts.”[26] Or the CEV version of Psalm 139:1 that says, “You have looked deep into my heart, Lord, and you know all about me.”[27] A searcher of hearts and man’s innermost parts is a clear part of God’s ongoing relationship with mankind. Additionally, “It was part of God’s loving plan of salvation that the Spirit should play such a dynamic role in the aspirations and prayers of Christians.”[28]

7. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 [NIV])[29] The use (or lack) of ho theos (God) in relationship to the verb synergei and the emphasis it puts on panta has ended up with three different ways of understanding this verse. First, if ho theos is included and synergei, “…is understood intransitively with an indirect object (“works together with”) …It stresses God’s co-operation “in all things” (panta, adv. Acc.) with those who love, and this is seen as the realization of his living plan of salvation…”[30] The second interpretation still includes ho theos but makes synergei transitive, making the subject panta so that the phrasing becomes, “all things work together for good for those who love God.”[31] While this might seem to fundamentally say the same thing as the third interpretation, taken in isolation, this translation or the first (similar to the NIV used) could be misinterpreted in isolation to say that God does good for those who love Him, not what is made more clear in the third and my preferred translation: “If ho theos is omitted…and panta is taken as the subject of the verb, then “all things work together for good for those who love God.”[32] Likewise, we see similar thinking echoed earlier in the Aramaic in Plain English translation of Romans 2:7 “To those who in the patience of good works are seeking glory, honor and indestructibility, he gives eternal life.”[33]

Thus, in understanding the intention to be that uses all things for good in the lives of those who love him, we can now rightly examine the second part of Paul’s sentence, “who have been called according to his purpose.” Another variation of this which we find in translations like the NAB is “who are called according to his purpose.”[34] Some interpretations draw on this to mean predestination but others believe it is a compliment. As we consider Paul’s overall theology, I believe the intention was more to accent the response God elicits in those who love Him; in other words, when one deeply loves God, you cannot help but feel called towards those things that God pursues. It is a natural response of love to support the ones you love in their purpose. Since it is a foundational belief that God is good, it would only make sense that those who love God would work towards good through all things in their life.

8. Paul goes on to clarify this path of the Christ follower even further: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28 [NIV])[35] I believe that Paul is speaking in a very general sense here, about an entire people and not an implication that God has sorted all people before the beginning of time. Paul tells the story of God and man in one broad stroke. We start with the phrase “God foreknew” which draws us back to the imagery of the Old Testament in Psalm 139:1-13 (NAB), “Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar… You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”[36] Then we move into the phrase “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” To be reminded that it was God’s plan to provide for us a Savior that looked exactly like Jesus Christ all along, back from Isaiah:1-12 (NAB), “…To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? …There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, no appearance that would attract us to him… He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering… But he was pierced for our offenses; crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, and by his stripes we are healed… But the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all…Though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood…Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear…Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.”[37] And it wasn’t only that God planned to send us his Son to us but that those who are God’s people would conform to the image of his Son.  As it is written in 1 John 2:5-6 (NAB), “But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way that we may know that we are in union with him; whoever claims to abide in him ought to live [just] as he lived.”[38] In other words, those who love God as mentioned in Romans 8:28 should be conformed to the image of his Son, and by doing so a growing community, or brothers and sisters, who love God and have Jesus Christ as their Savior are created.

9. Paul carries on the line of reasoning by explaining: And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30 [NIV])[39] This articulates the fact that if you have received Jesus as your Savior, you are in fact predestined by God to be in relationship with Jesus and the community of followers. It follows that anyone who is saved is also called; God isn’t passive and neither are followers, according to Paul. If you are called, you will also be justified, which is another term for being made righteous (again, although this is not named explicitly as an action, it would likely involve repentance from old ways and turning towards God), and lastly glorified. “All God’s plan (involving call, election, predestination, justification) is aimed only at the final destiny of glory for all men who will put faith in Christ. It is important to realize that in this passage Paul is not speaking of the predestination of individuals; he is describing God’s design apropos of Christians as a group.”[40]

In summary, although we struggle with the rest of creation God, because of His faithfulness and mercy, provides for us the firstfruits in the form of the Spirit. Only because of God’s grace are saved by faith, and it is tin that which we find hope and patience through the Spirit, who gives sound to our wordless cries. An intercessor that God has placed within us, God can understand our hearts and the mind of the Spirit who helps our weakness and intercedes in prayer. This relationship and the love of God calls followers to the things God loves; the result of this is that all things are directed for the goodness of God for those whose hearts are like God’s. God has known his people from the start and planned their salvation through the relationship with his Son; the Son’s sacrifice and example create a community who love God and put them on a path to glory with Christ through His blood, repentance and relationship.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Blackman, Edwin C. “The Letter of Paul to the Romans.” Ed. Charles M. Laymon. The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971. 768-94. Print.

 

Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J. “The Letter to the Romans.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Vol. 2. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. 291-331. Print.

 

Gaventa, Beverly R. The Women’s Bible Commentary. Ed. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe. London: SPCK, 1992. 313-20. Print.

 

Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. United States of America: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Print.

 

ILO. New ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour: 20.9 million victims. (2012, June 1). Retrieved August 19, 2016, from http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_182109/lang–en/index.htm

 

Isaiah 53:1-12 Who has believed what he has heard from us? (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+53%3A1-12&version=ESV

 

Proverbs 20:27 World English Translation. (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://biblehub.com/proverbs/20-27.htm

 

Psalm 139:13 CEV (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://biblehub.com/psalms/139-13.htm

 

Romans 2:7 Aramaic in Plain English (n.d.) [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/romans/2-7.htm

 

Romans 8 (NIV) (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 19, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

 

St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Wright, N. T. (1994).

 

Wright, N. T. “The Letter to Romans.” The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994. 395-770. Print.

[1] Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. Pg. 338

[2] Gorman, 339

[3] Gorman, 340

[4] Gorman, 342

[5] Gorman, 343

[6] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[7] ILO. (2012, June 1). Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_182109/lang–en/index.htm.

[8] Fitzmyer, J. A. S. J. (1968). The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Vol. 2). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. Pg. 317

[9] Gaventa, B. R. (1992). The Women’s Bible Commentary. London: SPCK. Pg. 318

[10] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Pg. 163

[11] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[12] Wright, N. T. (1994). The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Vols. X). Nashville: Abingdon. Pg. 597

[13] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[14] Wright, 597.

[15] Wright, 597.

[16] Fitzmyer, 317.

[17] Blackman, E. C. (1971). The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon. Pg. 784

[18] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[19] Fitzmyer, 317

[20] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[21] Wright, 598

[22] Fitzmyer, 317

[23] Wright, 599

[24] Blackman, 784

[25] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[26] Proverbs 20:27 World English Translation. (n.d.). Bible Hub [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/proverbs/20-27.htm

[27] Psalm 139:13 CEV. (n.d.). [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/psalms/139-13.htm

[28] Fitzmyer, 317

[29] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[30] Fitzmyer, 317

[31] Fitzmyer, 317

[32] Fitzmyer, 317

[33] Romans 2:7 Aramaic in Plain English. (n.d.). [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/romans/2-7.htm

[34] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1700

[35] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

[36] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 356-7

[37] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1090-1

[38] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1923

[39] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

[40] Fitzmyer, 317

Three German Theologians Post-Holocaust

Jurgen Moltmann hypothesized that God’s suffering is real. He theorized that it was relationally flowing from authentic love. Summarized below are some of the ideas contained in Moltmann’s theology.

Jurgen Moltmann, a German post-Holocaust “political theologist,” placed suffering into the being of God and described this idea as the “crucified God.” Before this, it was assumed in most circles that the suffering experienced by Jesus was relegated to the flesh and that the divine nature was out of the reach of this suffering. Moltmann’s proposal presented the startling vision of a God that truly suffers with those who suffer in the world. During the crucifixion, Moltmann suggests that not only does the Son suffer a brutal physical death, but the Father also suffers in the separation from His son and out of their mutual love the Holy Spirit comes into our sinful and broken world. It is really important to note that God doesn’t have to do go through this; God freely chooses to suffer out of their love for humanity. This does not justify evil or bad things happening in the world; instead it is a reminder that God is a God that sides with the suffering and rests in the depths of it, desirous for the freedom and restoration of the Creator’s people.

Dorothee Soelle worked through three “theological positions” by which she shapes her conclusion that “divine power is the silent cry of life in the midst of suffering.”

     Dorothee Soelle is a German whose family helped hide a Jewish family during the war and elected to visit Auschwitz as a young Lutheran theologian. Bearing witness to such events caused her to re-evaluate the classical attributes ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. As Elizabeth Johnson says in Quest for a Living God, “…she went from classical theism’s omnipotent Father who requires obedience, to the powerless God on the cross who models the impotence of love, to the crucified and risen Christ in whom the divine victory of life over death empowers our own participation in God’s power of life.” (Johnson, 63)

First, she questioned why we would be encouraged to worship a God whose most important characteristic seems to be power and disliking of independence. She eventually finds this incongruent with the character of God. Then she goes on to the idea of this passive, selfless love in Christ who dies on the cross. The portrayal comes across as weaponless, that love is impotent and that it creates apathy in followers in the face of real-life human suffering (as one might see in those who allowed the atrocities of WWII to happen). Soelle came to believe this was because it was neglecting the whole story of Christ, excluding the value of the resurrection. Finally, she arrives at the conclusion that the Divine is, “…a creative, noncompelling, life-giving good. This is power that flows through relationships bringing others to life, power as love.” (Johnson, 64) While nothing justifies events like Auschwitz to her, the belief that God shared in death and suffering as well as brings this kind of power through the resurrection of Jesus offers a vision of a loving and justice seeking God we can worship and with whom we can be in relationship.

Johannes Metz didn’t find the suffering God image helpful. Instead, Metz theologically positioned the problem of suffering within the constellation of considerations. Several components of theology guided the development to his two part approach.

Metz actually fought on the front for the German army at the age of 16; while he was delivering a message his company was attacked and he came back to only bodies where just a day before there were youths sharing hopes, dreams and jokes. His Catholic confidence in a good God  and orderly world began to separate and the Holocaust created a gap that couldn’t be bridged by ignoring the issue, as many in theology were doing.  Nor did Metz agree with the “God who suffers” that fellow Germans Solle and Moltmann had concluded upon. He felt this internalization made suffering beautiful and eternal and therefore went a different path. Suffering was outside of God. There aren’t simple answers. “Toward that end, Metz proposes two intertwined steps: remembering and lamenting unto God.” (Johnson, 65)

First was to remember. Jesus Christ stood in solidarity with all humanity. Through recalling his sacrifice and resurrection, we should also remember those who suffer throughout human history.  This is done because it takes victory away from the conquerors, the writers of history. It also connects each individuals story to the story of Christ in a concrete way, in a way that promises hope for them and also that reminds us of the dangers of inaction; the power of evil.  Second is to lament to God, to keep the question to our Father open rather than wrapping it up in a neat package. “So too, suffering of past and present must drive us toward God protesting, complaining, lamenting, grieving, crying out of the depths, insistently questioning “How long, O Lord?” (Johnson, 67)  This keeps our hopes alive.