Tag Archive for: evil

And then the Problem of Evil: Lent Day 30

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 30: Rice Desert with Cherries

Of all the questions that have plagued humankind, of all the questions that have demanded an answer, perhaps there is none greater than “Why Evil?” Why is there evil in this world? The question is asked by people who profess a religious belief as well as those who disavow any notion of deity. For the Christian, the “Problem of Evil” is troubling a puzzle because it can shake the very foundation of faith and belief in God.

The Problem of Evil is expressed as follows: If God is good, and if God is all powerful, why does he allow evil? Why do bad things happen? Why are there earthquakes? Why is there cancer? Why wars and genocide? Why do we have to deal with so many tragedies? And so the problem is, either God is not all-powerful, and therefore allows evil, or He is not all good and therefore is responsible for the evil. The are other questions which are related and follow: why does evil happen to innocent people? Why do the good suffer?

Today we will look at the problem of evil, and build upon the themes that we have been exploring during the Lenten Journey, especially along the lines of our Parable of the Judge and our need to pray unceasingly. We keep in mind that on this 30th day of Lent we understand ourselves to be in a process of maturing and growing spiritually. Things look differently today. Things are understood differently today. Putting away our preconceptions, we open our heart to an answer that is coming to us from the definition of God being love.

In yesterday’s journey we were challenged to make our prayer life real. God is not some Santa Claus/Superman type of person to whom we can give our list of demands and wants. Rather, we submit by saying “Thy will be done…” or “Let it be Your will that is actualized in and through my life.” In so doing, we accept a new responsibility, a more mature outlook on our life and our surroundings.

The Christian is called to a life of responsibility. If someone else is in charge of your life, you cannot take responsibility. If it is someone else who is doing your work, it is not your fault when problems occur. But, the Christian stands firm and says, “It is my doing. I accept the love that God has given me in my heart and therefore I need to act on that love.”

Prayer is a conversation with God and also a conversation with the self. This is the idea of meditation, of secluding oneself, getting away from everything and really having that honest conversation with the self. What is it that I need in this life? Who am I? What special talents do I have that I can use and perhaps even exploit?

Now let’s move over to evil, because if I am in charge of my life, how do I explain the big evils within life? That is, what about those things over which I am completely powerless? Earthquakes that take away villages and towns where thousands upon thousands are destroyed? What about the evils of famine and war? More closely, what about illness that devastates families and relationships? I am completely powerless. And as much as I pray about them, I know they are not in my hands. How can I effectuate the change upon these big issues or upon the evils which occur on a grand scale? True, they are not individually in our hands, but this is where the power of the collective, of the Church, comes in.

We believe with Christ, all things are possible. We believe that love is more powerful than evil. Where is love going to manifest itself to this magnitude, but in the body of Christ? Two thousand years ago we had the example, we had the manifestation, we had the incarnation of Love. We touched that incarnation, and in so touching, we were healed. That Incarnation was taken up to a crucifixion and we witnessed a resurrection. If we accept this, then we have to also accept the entire package. The package says, “I am with you to the end of the ages.” In that package we understand – as Jesus says, “Have courage. The victory is mine” – we too, are worthy and capable of resurrecting from our crucifixions and can now have a different understanding of events in our life. In fact, earthquakes, hurricanes, catastrophes, illnesses, cancers – they are not the end. They are the crucifixions that we endure just as the Son of God endured. God did not prevent that cancer, that earthquake, that hurricane from trying to destroy love. Evil did try. But evil is all around. It is not a question of combating evil with more evil. It is a question of enduring and overcoming evil with only one power, the only power that we have – with love.

In enduring, we find the resurrections in our lives. We see that generations are built upon love that cannot crumble, that cannot be destroyed neither through earthquake nor famine nor through the cancers of evil, hatred, bigotry that are all consuming. You see there is evil in this world and God allows it even upon the cross. Does that make God powerless? We will look at that question was we continue our Lenten Journey during this season of prayer as we look at our prayer lives, as we look at the idea of evil and the power of love.

Today we conclude with a different type of prayer. It is an inspirational message. It is something I found a few years ago that brought a lot of comfort to a patient, and I wish to share it with you today. It has many applications, please use it accordingly as a prayer in your lives. It is entitled, Cancer is So Powerless.

Cancer is so powerless, 

It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope, 
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot destroy peace, kill friendship, suppress memories, silence courage, invade the soul.
It cannot steal eternal life. 
It cannot concur the spirit.
We confirm this by saying “Amen.”

Confirm by pronouncing the real power: Love.
 
Photo: (c)2006 Fr. Vazken Movsesian, Church Altar in Rwanda

Advent 19-50: Imagine

Advent 19 of 50: Imagine

These last couple of days on our Advent Journey we have spoken about Jesus’ commandment to not resist evil. The champions of good, by virtue of that title, are the heroes of folklore, history and even fantasy. All of them have left their mark by opposing and fighting evil, hence, the great disconnect between the good guys in our life and Jesus’ commandment to not resist evil. In Jesus’ case, his opposition to evil is not defined by increased violence. His opposition to evil came without inciting more evil.

John Lennon, in a song widely regarded as one of the greatest songs of all time, challenged us to Imagine, there’s no heaven… above us only sky… people living for today. Imagine countries… nothing to kill or die for… no religion… no possessions, no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man… Imagine all the people sharing all the world… and the world will live as one.

This song was written in opposition to the Vietnam War (1971) and Lennon himself regarded it as an “ad campaign for peace.”

In our encounter with Jesus’ commandments, and in particular with this one which asks us to not resist evil, we are understand that opposition to evil cannot come by adding evil to the equation. Evil + evil will never equal an absence of evil. We can’t fight fire with fire when it’s only reasonable (and preferrable) to fight it with water.

“Whoever slaps you on your right cheek,” Jesus instructs, “Turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” (Matthew 5:39-41)

Absence of evil is love and so “love your enemies” is a natural next step, and a necessary step on the road to peace.

Within the Armenian Church, the phrase “Peace unto all” is repeated often in its seven hours of worship, and most notably during its Divine Liturgy. Imagine that, a people that have not known peace, and at the same time have possessed no military power or elaborate military strategy, and yet they proclaim and offer peace.

We pause today with an invitation and an Advent challenge, in preparation for Christmas, can you imagine an alternative to evil to resolve evil? Jesus’ call to “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) implies that there are means that require us to use our God given talents to overcome the tragedies we identify as evil.

The Advent Journey is about preparing ourselves for the great Theophany, the Revelation of God. That preparation is through the struggle to understand – “imagine,” if you will – our existence as children of God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

We pray a prayer by Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind; in whom to dwell is to find peace and security; toward whom to turn is to find life and life eternal, we humbly beseech Thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldst be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, Thy saving health unto all nations. We also pray for Thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by Thy Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to Thy Fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed in mind or body. Give them patience under the suffering and power of endurance. This we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Advent 18-50: Resist not Evil, 2

Advent Day 18 of 50: Resist Not Evil, 2

Resisting Evil. In studying and learning the commandments of Jesus, his instruction to resist evil is the most disturbing of them all because it goes against our fundamental sense of justice. Good should be rewarded and evil must be punished to prevent it and/or stop it. If we do not resist evil, the argument goes, then evil will continue. We might even believe that not opposing evil is the same as rewarding it.

As children we are introduced to rewarding good and punishing evil with the friendly visitor at Christmas. Whether we call him St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Gaghant Baba, Papa Noel, or Kris Kringle, he exists and functions on this temporal plain. He knows if we’ve been naughty or nice and dishes out rewards or punishments accordingly.

God is not Santa Claus. Think of all the kids who did not get the rewards that were due to them. It usually turned them against Santa Claus. And while they may grow out of their feelings of disappointment, they may never regain a belief in the good man from the North. What happens when we have expectation of God that are not met? Many end up with loss of belief and faith.

As we have learned on this journey, God’s Universe is large, and His children are all. By our human standards the measures of good and evil are defined by our circumstances and known reality. Going beyond these parameters, things might be and will be perceived differently.

Torrential rains, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes wreak havoc throughout the world. We agree that these are horrible examples of destruction. They all take place within the atmosphere of Earth. Should we then curse the atmosphere? What is the alternative? Take a look at the Moon and you’ll see a world without these disastrous weather patterns, for no other reason than the Moon doesn’t have an atmosphere. Consequently, no atmosphere means there is no life! Even more, no atmosphere permits space debris to pelts it, leaving the craters and the Moon’s iconic pock-marked surface. There is “evil” in both spheres – the weather conditions on Earth, and the crashing of meteors and the lifeless Moon, and that “evil” is a condition of the system. Let us agree, some systems do not even allow for the resistance of evil.

Today on our Advent Journey, we are asked to look beyond evil, to the conditions that give rise to it. Yes, we do want to control and eliminate evil, but is it possible that the system that gives rise to evil is in need of an overhaul?

Do not resist evil. We’re still not through, but for today, we pray a prayer from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  O God, we thank you for the lives of great saints and prophets in the past, who have revealed to us that we can stand up amid the problems and difficulties and trials of life and not give in. We thank you for our foreparents, who’ve given us something in the midst of the darkness of exploitation and oppression to keep going. Grant that we will go on with the proper faith and the proper determination of will, so that we will be able to make a creative contribution to this world. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray.

 

Advent 13/14: No Response to Sin

Advent Day 13/14: No Response to Sin

During this weekend of Advent, the Armenian Church points us to the Gospel of St. Luke chapter 13 where Jesus explains that disaster, or evil, does not happen because we sin. Jesus brings up two incidents that were part of the common history of the people he was talking to, much like the terrorist attacks of “911” and the flattening of the twin towers would be for us. 911 is a part of our recent history. In other words, the details of these tragedies are not important; Jesus uses these as example to point to evil that befalls innocent people, because everyone to whom he was talking knew these news items. The first was the story of Galileans who made a sacred gesture to the Lord which was desecrated by Pilate, the Roman Procurator. The second incident was the catastrophe involving a tower which fell and killed 18 people. Regarding the victims of these tragedies, Jesus says, “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

As we study the Essential Teachings of Jesus as found in the Sermon on the Mount, we are reminded that our actions are not what causes catastrophe or cursed life. As many believe today, so too, in the times of Jesus, when evil befalls people, especially the seemingly innocent, there are many who believe it is God’s wrath being played out on their sins. As we have been exploring these past few weeks and will continue to explore on our Journey to Theophany, there is no one exempt from sin. Today’s break in the Sermon on the Mount is an important reminder from Jesus that God does not bring tragedy on people, and certainly not in response to our sins.

“Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish,” says our Lord.

Let us pray, from the 15th hour of St. Nersess Shnorhali’s prayer, “Christ, the guardian of all, let Your Right Hand guard and shelter me by day and by night, while at home and while away, while asleep and while awake, that I may not fall. Have mercy on me on all your creatures and on me, a sinner. Amen.

Overturning

Armodoxy for Today: Overturning

At the first Palm Sunday, that is, when Jesus entered Jerusalem to meet his appointment with the Cross, he saw a scene in the temple which infuriated him. We read in Matthew 21:12-13: Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” This event is sometimes referred to as “Jesus cleansing the temple” because he “cleaned out” all that did not belong there.

Considering that marketing professionals are now selling products under the “Christmas in July” banner, I didn’t hesitate to draw from another period on the Church calendar, namely Palm Sunday, to point to what doesn’t belong on our shopping list. We have been conditioned by what used to be called Madison Avenue, a street in New York City where many advertising agencies have offices and, today, by more elite methods that melt us down to mathematical formulas governed by algorithms. And we react. Christmas, we know is a season for shopping. It’s a season where sales are permissible. And so, if they tell us it’s Christmas in July, much like Pavlov’s dogs, we begin salivating at the chance to bite off some bargains.

Armodoxy is the study of ancient Orthodoxy as it pertains to our lives today. And just as much as the ancient traditions influence us, the methods and practices of today turn our head and direct our feet to follow our glance.

As much as Jesus’s actions in the temple were about cleansing the house of God, his action of overturning the tables, is also memorialized in this story. The phrase “cleansing the temple” is a description someone gave the story. Turning the tables, is the action Jesus took. As Christians, we may draw from these actions and make them metaphors for Christian living. For instance, let us begin with this popular sales pitch we came face-to-face with this year: Christmas in July. One option would have been to resist it, call if for what it is, a ploy to put cash into the economy at the expense of Christ’s name. That would be akin to “cleansing the temple.” But in his action to turn the tables, Jesus brought attention to the seriousness of the temple itself – a house of prayer. In opting for the overturn metaphor, we are turning the table on what is presented to us. In Christ’s words, “Do not resist evil.” We’re not resisting it, rather giving it a chance to work for our goals.

Here’s what happened this week on our “Path to Armodoxy.” We learned that we were being sold “Christmas in July.” We did not resist what was given, rather we took the concept and presented Christmas as a Christian. We spoke about Jesus being born – Christmas – to a world that did not want to be bothered – no room at the inn. We connected to the story of the Down Syndrome children – Fr. Gregor’s Arev Children – in Armenia. We saw the difference one man can make in the lives of so many. In essence, we turned the tables on the advertisers and sold Christmas – Christian Love – in July, rather than the made-in-China products the others were peddling.

Armodoxy is not a rejection of this life, but an understanding to allow us to work in harmony within this life. Jesus did not reject the life of this world. He pointed to something higher that could be attained in the here-and-now. The stories about which we reflect are all stories from our lives today. They are stories to inspire us to work out our Christianity in this world.

Throughout our travels in Armenia, the ever-looming threat of another unexpected attack by the enemy was present. The blockade and destruction of a portion of Armenia, namely Artsakh, was a daily reality we confronted, and the people of Artsakh are enduring it. The temple-cleansing model seems appropriate and efficient, but is it realistic?  The overturning model is an approach which takes the reality and uses it to channel a better outcome. Just as we did, Christmas in July became a sale where the work of a good priest in Armenia and the Arev Children became the “sale items” for us.

We live in a world that has issues which some define as problems and others refer to them as challenges. Cleansing the Temple – cleaning everything out – sounds good, but is it possible? Remember, the phrase “cleansing the temple” is what people called what Jesus did. Jesus was more strategic. He turned over the tables and in so doing, the temple remained while the insides were cleaned up and set in order.

Let us pray, Lord Jesus, enter my holy temple and turn over the tables that have set up shop. Turn over misunderstanding to understanding, judgement to tolerance, and hatred to love. Guide and direct my actions to so that your will of peace and harmony become my goals. Amen.

Lenten Journey Day 30 – Why Evil?

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 30: Rice Desert with Cherries

Lenten Journey Day 30 – Why Evil?

Of all the questions that have plagued humankind, of all the questions that have demanded an answer, perhaps there is none greater than “Why Evil?” Why is there evil in this world? The question is asked by people who profess a religious belief as well as those who disavow any notion of deity. For the Christian, the “Problem of Evil” is troubling a puzzle because it can shake the very foundation of faith and belief in God.

The Problem of Evil is expressed as follows: If God is good, and if God is all powerful, why does he allow evil? Why do bad things happen? Why are there earthquakes? Why is there cancer? Why wars and genocide? Why do we have to deal with so many tragedies? And so the problem is, either God is not all-powerful, and therefore allows evil, or He is not all good and therefore is responsible for the evil. The are other questions which are related and follow: why does evil happen to innocent people? Why do the good suffer?

Today we will look at the problem of evil, and build upon the themes that we have been exploring during the Lenten Journey, especially along the lines of our Parable of the Judge and our need to pray unceasingly. We keep in mind that on this 30th day of Lent we understand ourselves to be in a process of maturing and growing spiritually. Things look differently today. Things are understood differently today. Putting away our preconceptions, we open our heart to an answer that is coming to us from the definition of God being love.

In yesterday’s journey we were challenged to make our prayer life real. God is not some Santa Claus/Superman type of person to whom we can give our list of demands and wants. Rather, we submit by saying “Thy will be done…” or “Let it be Your will that is actualized in and through my life.” In so doing, we accept a new responsibility, a more mature outlook on our life and our surroundings.

The Christian is called to a life of responsibility. If someone else is in charge of your life, you cannot take responsibility. If it is someone else who is doing your work, it is not your fault when problems occur. But, the Christian stands firm and says, “It is my doing. I accept the love that God has given me in my heart and therefore I need to act on that love.”

Prayer is a conversation with God and also a conversation with the self. This is the idea of meditation, of secluding oneself, getting away from everything and really having that honest conversation with the self. What is it that I need in this life? Who am I? What special talents do I have that I can use and perhaps even exploit?

Now let’s move over to evil, because if I am in charge of my life, how do I explain the big evils within life? That is, what about those things over which I am completely powerless? Earthquakes that take away villages and towns where thousands upon thousands are destroyed? What about the evils of famine and war? More closely, what about illness that devastates families and relationships? I am completely powerless. And as much as I pray about them, I know they are not in my hands. How can I effectuate the change upon these big issues or upon the evils which occur on a grand scale? True, they are not individually in our hands, but this is where the power of the collective, of the Church, comes in.

We believe with Christ, all things are possible. We believe that love is more powerful than evil. Where is love going to manifest itself to this magnitude, but in the body of Christ? Two thousand years ago we had the example, we had the manifestation, we had the incarnation of Love. We touched that incarnation, and in so touching, we were healed. That Incarnation was taken up to a crucifixion and we witnessed a resurrection. If we accept this, then we have to also accept the entire package. The package says, “I am with you to the end of the ages.” In that package we understand – as Jesus says, “Have courage. The victory is mine” – we too, are worthy and capable of resurrecting from our crucifixions and can now have a different understanding of events in our life. In fact, earthquakes, hurricanes, catastrophes, illnesses, cancers – they are not the end. They are the crucifixions that we endure just as the Son of God endured. God did not prevent that cancer, that earthquake, that hurricane from trying to destroy love. Evil did try. But evil is all around. It is not a question of combating evil with more evil. It is a question of enduring and overcoming evil with only one power, the only power that we have – with love.

In enduring, we find the resurrections in our lives. We see that generations are built upon love that cannot crumble, that cannot be destroyed neither through earthquake nor famine nor through the cancers of evil, hatred, bigotry that are all consuming. You see there is evil in this world and God allows it even upon the cross. Does that make God powerless? We will look at that question was we continue our Lenten Journey during this season of prayer as we look at our prayer lives, as we look at the idea of evil and the power of love.

Today we conclude with a different type of prayer. It is an inspirational message. It is something I found a few years ago that brought a lot of comfort to a patient, and I wish to share it with you today. It has many applications, please use it accordingly as a prayer in your lives. It is entitled, Cancer is So Powerless.

Cancer is so powerless, 

It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope, 
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot destroy peace, kill friendship, suppress memories, silence courage, invade the soul.
It cannot steal eternal life. 
It cannot concur the spirit.
We confirm this by saying “Amen.”

Confirm by pronouncing the real power: Love.
 
Photo: (c)2006 Fr. Vazken Movsesian, Church Altar in Rwanda

Atmosphere

Armodoxy for Today: Atmosphere

If you’ve ever looked up at the illuminated moon, or studied close pictures of its surface, you can’t help but notice its pock-marked surface. Craters, large and small, are the witnesses to eons of bombardment by meteors, chunks of planets, debris, rocks, and ice slamming into its surface. Everywhere you look on the moon’s surface, there are craters. There’s no escaping the destruction of space-stuff on that surface.

The moon is our closest astronomical neighbor. It belongs to planet Earth, circling around us as Earth’s largest natural satellite. And yet, the surface of the Earth and the surface of the Moon have no resemblance.

The Earth is traveling around the Sun in its orbit, along with other planets and an assortment of debris, rocks, ice and space-stuff. Once these small bodies of matter enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they light up and we conveniently label them as meteors. They streak across the sky and we call them shooting-stars. Actually, they are merely matter becoming incandescent as a result of the friction. Thanks to our atmosphere, most of these objects burn away or slow down so much that their destruction is minimal. Thanks to our atmosphere, the surface of the Earth differs from the surface of the moon quite dramatically. Not only do we not have craters, but we have lush forests, vegetation, oceans, water and therefore, we have life! Of course, the atmosphere is also responsible for our weather patterns, which include beautiful moderate to fair weather, as well as hurricanes and tornadoes. Storms and monsoons cause floods and sometimes there is loss of life because of the harsh conditions. The atmosphere is responsible for life, as well as for the loss of life.

Natural disasters are built into the design of life. An earthquake happens because the tectonic plates, deep below the Earth’s surface, upon which we build our civilizations, settle and shift. Much like the atmosphere that saves us from meteors, the earth below our feet gives us an environment to build and create life.

We end today, with a short reading from the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 13, where our Lord Jesus Christ explains that natural disasters are not based on our guilt, our sins nor the sins of our fathers.

“Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Applied Theodicy

Armodoxy for Today

Applied Theodicy

We have dedicated this week of Advent to exploring theodicies, that is, what does it mean to believe in a good and just God, especially in the face of evil. We were prompted by the lesson of the week from Luke 13.

Today, we apply theodicy and decipher a practical theodicy. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” We begin to understand ourselves as part of a process, part of God’s royal family, and in so doing we begin to understand that the kingdom is not about prestige and honor but about accepting a responsibility of being human and created in the image of God. In other word, solutions that are found outside of us, reduce or nullify a very important component of our humanity, namely the ability to interact and share in the love is God. We pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is more than a wish, it is the understanding that we are the inhabitants of earth and therefore, if His will is to be done, it is with our participation.

The world around us is filled with the much pain, and suffering is everywhere. The evil we experience in life has many causes, some brought about by people, others by life circumstances. The Christian is called to be Christlike. Jesus came across people who were suffering from illness as well as those in deep pain over losses brought about by tragedies in life. He reached out, comforted, healed and restored. We would like to do the same, of course, but are not confident of our ability to do so because we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of evil in our lives.

Reach out. Comfort. Heal. Restore.

Applied theodicy is about applying what we have learned as an answer to evil. Before Jesus healed and restored, he reached out and comforted. Reaching out is the first step a Christian is called to do, and each of us is capable to doing so.

During the Advent Season, we have a very special evening dedicated to the remembrance of one of the greatest evils, namely the death of children. On the second Sunday in December, we gather and remember those who have passed before their time to live. “Children’s Memorial Day” is an opportunity to come together, offer ourselves, and bring semblance in a time of disaster. For a parent that has lost a child, whether to illness or to accident, comforting them may seem impossible, so then begin with the first step, reach out. It is simple action that mimics the actions of our Lord. He reached out. Comfort will follow and begin to understand how God uses people, in this case you, to bring about healing and restoration. You begin to understand that indeed the Kingdom of God is within you, and as a member of that Kingdom you are honored with responsibility.

Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

We are only half-way through Advent, and already the pieces are coming together. Each day builds on the lessons of the previous day. To be Christlike is to accept responsibility to overcome the hardships, the evil, of this world.

We pray, the words taught to us by Christ, “Our Father who is in heaven, lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory. Amen.”

We continue our Advent Journey next time and I look forward to doing so with you.

Earthquake Theodicy

Armodoxy for Today
Earthquake Theodicy

On this date the earth shook in the town of Spitak, Armenia. The year was 1988, the Soviet Union was still intact. It’s president, Michael Gorbachev was visiting the United States, engaging in high level talks with then President Ronald Reagan promoting Glasnost and Perestroika. He cut his trip short and returned home and to Armenia to assess the damages. Anywhere from 25,000 – 50,000 people were presumed dead and thousand more injured.

At the time I was serving at the Armenian Church in Cupertino, California. We immediately went into disaster aid mode and became the collection center for humanitarian aid in the Bay Area, shipping much needed medical supplies and survival goods and services on a weekly basis.

The season was Advent. Christmas was approaching, but everyone was so overwhelmed by the enormity of the disaster that normal celebrations and gift giving was severely curtailed. Yet, on January 6, we would be celebrating Christmas – the joy of the Christ Child coming into the world – and greeting one another, “Christ is revealed among us!”

I was approached by the San Jose Mercury News to write a piece focusing on my sermon for Christmas: “God is Revealed, but where was He when we needed Him?” Here then, is what I offered and was printed January 5, 1989:

One of the most difficult questions asked of a priest is the question of evil. The problem is this: If God is good, and God is all powerful, why is there evil in the world? Since evil is a reality in this world, then it follows that either God is not all-powerful, or God does not will the good, or God does not exist. The search for an answer is more troubling when evil occurs in the form of a natural disaster, such as the Armenian earthquake. It seems that there is no one to blame but God.

This year, on January 6th the Armenian Church will celebrate Theophany (sometimes called Armenian Christmas). More than Christmas, we celebrate the Revelation of God to the world through His Son, Jesus Christ. Theophany is one of the major feast days of the Church. Far from a feast, this year will be different for Armenians. Still fresh in our minds is the tragedy of December 7, 1988 when we lost over 50,000 people to a natural disaster. Although this number is great by any standard, it is particularly significant for a small group of people such as the Armenians because it represents about 1% of the total world population of Armenians and approximately 2% of the population in Armenia. In comparison, if an earthquake in the United States killed 2% of the population, we would lose five million people! One third of Armenia was leveled. Imagine one third of the United States leveled – from the Rocky Mountains to the Western coast!

When facing such devastation, it is only natural to ask why? Even more, why did not God spare the good Armenian people?  Why did He not intervene? Why the Armenian people? The same ones who were the first to accept Christianity, the ones who have so piously observed the faith for centuries, the ones who defended the faith to death, why them? When the history of a people, such as the Armenian’s, is plagued by devastation and tragedy, the questioning goes deeper: Why believe in a God who cannot save us from these dangers? I am confronted with questions such as these almost daily.

I also hear some answers. Some feel God has abandoned the Armenians for some divine purpose and plan. Even some doomsday forecasters claim the earthquake was part of the “signs of the times.” It is interesting to note, how quickly we are willing to thrust aside reason and logic when hit by calamity.

For me, I do not shy away from the scientific and logical approach. Why did the earthquake happen? Because the earth shifts. Why did people die? Because people were trapped under the rubble of buildings which were constructed poorly. Why didn’t God step in and save the Armenian people? I don’t know, but I venture to say that things just don’t work that way.

In times of crisis, our mental image of God transforms Him into a kind of superman. After all, He is omnipotent.  But the order of nature is such that that there is an imperfection built into this world. Lightning causes fires. Drought causes crops to wither and brings famine. The shifting and settling of the earth causes earthquakes. And sometimes, unfortunately, people die.

So, the more important question becomes, why believe in a god that cannot save you from the perils and dangers of this world? Why celebrate the revelation and birth of a god who is powerless against nature? We begin by answering that God is not some kind of superman. God is not there to prevent an earthquake. Disasters will happen, but God is found in the reaction to the disaster. Where was God when the earthquake happened? Most probably He was weeping and hurt like all of us. But the real power of God is seen in the aftermath. We see God in the reaction to the earthquake–in the love and support He provides us.

When we see people throughout the world coming together to aid the Armenians, it is God working. God gives us the capacity to love. We give to others because of that ability to love. We must stop thinking of God as this great puppeteer who sends disaster to this world to see our reaction. No!  Disaster, pain and suffering are part of an imperfect world. Where we do find God is in the peace and love that only He can give in answer to that disaster.

The feast of Theophany is the celebration of God becoming man so that man can know God. He took our form and went through all the motions of man. He suffered and died. He did not exempt Himself from this great suffering, for no one is exempt. However, He conquered death and promised the same to those who believe. What He left was His own peace, “not as the world gives.”

When the earthquake hit, we were all hurt. Where was God? We saw Him in the love and support from the four corners of the earth. We saw a world come together. We saw “enemies” helping “enemies.”

God is revealed: a God who understands us; a God who suffers with us; a God who helps and gives us strength during our darkest hour. This is God being revealed. This is the celebration of Theophany.

Theodicy 2

Armodoxy for Today
Theodicy 2

On our journey through Advent, we are dealing with the “Problem of Evil.” A theodicy is an answer to the problem, defined by the incongruity between the statements that God is good, God is all powerful and yet, evil exists. Yesterday, in reviewing Luke 13, we saw that Jesus clearly states that evil is not a punishment from God for our sins and mistakes. Still, we have to question, if God is all powerful, why doesn’t He merely do away with evil once and for all?

Our query begins today with an understanding of what we believe. What are the definitions of our Faith? Much of our understanding of God comes from images and concepts that are brought to us courtesy of Hollywood. And most of those ideas are formulated on misreading and misinterpretation of Old Testament stories. Jesus came with a simple message to tell us we are all children of God and there are no favorites for God. In Armenian folklore, a mother asks her children, “Which one of my fingers, if I were to cut, would not bleed?” They all bleed equally and so is a mother’s love for her children: equal for all. Even more, our Heavenly Father, Jesus tells us, “Makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We must be careful in defining something as evil, or even as good, because we do not have the view of God.

We often confuse God with a character who appears this time of year, someone who rewards good and punishes evil. We’ve created a folklore around him and even written songs about how he makes a list and checks it twice and “Knows if you’ve been naughty or nice.” That’s Santa Claus! While Santa Claus may help us with our sense of dealing out justice, God’s justice is His own.

The other day, a celebrity with a history that would make some people uncomfortable, made a donation to a charity. Someone commented, “We don’t want your filthy money.”  How presumptuous! First, that you have the right to reject someone else’s goodness, second, that there is such a thing as non-filthy money! Jesus is clearly delineating a Christian stance when he says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

God’s judgement has its own time and own method of being administered. Why God doesn’t vaporize the evil people and do away evil once and for all, the step we take tomorrow in our Advent Journey.

We pray, Heavenly Father, You know our needs better than we can ever know or understand. Calm my heart and my spirit so that I may find comfort in Your care and help me to not go beyond the limits of what is my responsibility in this world. Amen.

 

 

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