"The theodicy question is not why God allows bad things to happen to good people but why we abandon God in the face of suffering."1
Ilia Delio
When you go to seminary, you learn “fancy” words such as “theodicy.” I will admit that before I went to seminary, I had never heard this word used or even seen it referenced in writing. “Merriam-Webster’s” online dictionary defines “theodicy” as the “defense of God's goodness and omnipotence given the existence of evil.”2 Or, why do bad things happen to good people if God is good? I may not have encountered that particular word before, but oh, I knew the question …
Just look around you, many might say. There is proof of human suffering all over the place … sitting on our urban street corners, victims of crime, cancer patients, rising rates of teen suicide, the ongoing starvation people face in Africa, the war in Ukraine, and now earthquake-ravaged Turkey and Syria.
We can justify it by saying it is deserved by their behavior, but not all of it is. And so we pray, as we should, for those suffering across the globe and in our little corner of it. We pray for God’s mercy to be felt, and God’s power to be made manifest.
Yet, Dr. Delio, in her quote above, is not addressing suffering in the abstract, suffering happening “over there” and to “those people” or maybe even our best friend or family member. No, she is pointing out that suffering is an individual experience, and it is costly. Suddenly, when our prayers for ourselves or someone close to us do not give us the expected result, we can question God’s goodness, God’s love for us and others … or maybe even God’s very existence.
What do you think Jesus meant when He proclaimed, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)? I think this informs us of at least two things: that it seems that suffering is a part of being human and that to be a follower of Jesus means that we are not protected from suffering.
While very few of us will be nailed to the cross we take up as followers of Jesus, we will suffer as we carry the cross of our humanity.
As a part of your Lenten practice this season, ponder how you have experienced suffering in carrying your cross of daily living and whether new life has been brought forth from that suffering.
1 Ilia Delio, “The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love” (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), 83-84.
2 Merriam-Webster, “Theodicy,” Accessed February 14, 2023.
The Rev. Sharron L. Cox
Associate for Outreach, Pastoral Care and Women's Ministries
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