Moving on From Anguish
Before we continue, I must be responsible and say that Rabbi David Blumenthal’s Theology of Protest is not the Jewish Theodicy; it is a Jewish Theodicy, a Jewish approach to suffering and evil. I choose Rabbi Blumenthal’s approach because I feel it echoes most with my sentiments. In church theology we tend to stray away from honest anger at God. Many churches sadly, have no problem having anger/hate at people who disagree with their beliefs, while they evade completely anger towards God. Anger at God is usually forbidden, or seen as unhealthy; but what healthy relationship is absent of anger? Today many churches participate in the sin of Job’s friends. And while their intentions are good, they are warped. Upon seeing, hearing, and thinking on the world’s pain and our own, we must allow ourselves the freedom to mourn and to be enraged. And only from here can an authentic faith make sense. Sadly, I will depart Jewish Theology here, but I hope that someone will offer more solutions and perspectives from the Jewish faith at some point in blog form. I will continue this journey in my own tradition, that of Christianity.
A Brief Detour
Before we begin, I must apologize and say we need to take the briefest of detours and talk about what/who Jesus is in Christian Theology, and that involves a small amount of Christology. There are loads to study when it comes to Christology, for our purposes I will say simply here: Christians generally believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the ultimate revelation of God to humanity, and that in Jesus of Nazareth, God experienced our shared humanity…in Jesus, God became mortal man (Incarnation). What does that mean? Well, it depends on who you ask. I have what is known as a “low” Christology, so I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was limited in every way as a regular human being, and that he experienced what it was like to fear, cry, be sick feel pain, grieve, and laugh. Though he was intelligent and intuitive, and a man of immense faith, he did not have a crystal ball to predict the future. Jesus knew what it was to doubt, and only because of this can we say that he was courageous. He was completely human. And also somehow, God experienced all those frailties and triumphs as well in the person of Jesus.
Jesus’s Approach to Suffering
Jesus says very little on the cause of suffering. We have Luke 13:1-5:
“At the very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
So Pilate murdered some Jewish people in the temple, and there was a fatal construction accident; what does Jesus say about it? Here Jesus is clearly saying suffering and sin are not necessarily linked, which is breaking with Jewish tradition. And in true Jesus-style, before you go thinking who are the sinners that do deserve a tower falling on them, he points the finger at you the listener/reader to examine your own self. This is a typical tactic of Jesus: just when it is about to get juicy and we get to accuse someone else of sin, Jesus points the finger back at you…at me. It is very frustrating when trying to build an institution to determine who God loves more (the Church found a way). So Jesus rejects “bad things happen to bad people; good things happen to good people.” But I think it is in action towards suffering that we begin to see why he was so appealing.
In action we see Jesus does not evade suffering, in fact he makes it a point to go to people who suffer. If Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, then we see God is one that goes towards the suffering, to be with those who suffer. Jesus’s ministry is characterized by healing the sick and the suffering. In terms of demon possession (which liberal Christians cannot evade happened), we can see that God in Jesus is a liberator; liberating persons from those things that dominate or enslave us. This of course echoes the theme of the Exodus story for the Hebrew people. In Jesus we see God appears to have a particular care for those who are oppressed.
In Jesus we also see a direct challenge to those intuitions and forces that systematically oppress other people. Here I am reminded of an awful meme: it is a picture of the crucified Jesus, with a quotation, “His only crime was love.” It frustrates me in its damning simplicity. It wasn’t that Jesus loved that got him killed, it was who he loved, and how he loved them. If he would have just loved the political/religious establishment, he would have been fine. But he didn’t. He loved the least among him during his time. And when you do that, you will inevitably upset the established pecking order of a society. THAT was his crime. And he was faithful in that love even to the point of death.
So IF Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, then we see that God is primarily a healer, not a victimizer; a liberator, not an oppressor; an advocate for those outcast in a society, not a proponent of the established social order. And when reading the Hebrew Scriptures it is through that lens we must read.
Jesus, Bastard to a Whore?
Before we go onto Jesus’s suffering and death, I do want to briefly reflect on the possibility that Jesus had a mark against him his entire life. We learn from the Gospels that Jesus’ birth was one of scandal. Mary, his mother, becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Now, virgin births may sound great in stories, but I can assure you that Jesus’ society probably believed that story as much as we would today. We see too that this stigma carried over into his adult life. In Mark 6:3 he is referred to negatively as “the son of Mary.” Anyone else would be referred to as the son of their father, but Joseph is absent in this Gospel. Perhaps I am looking too much into this. But, I do think that it is telling that Jesus probably grew up with this stigma, and was aware at how people looked at him and his mother. It can probably explain his interesting relationship to women in the Gospels; he is very protective of outcast women in the Gospels. IF Jesus is the Messiah, it is interesting that this is the way God Incarnate would enter the world. It is also a cruel irony, how Christians have treated “bastards” and “whores” throughout the centuries in the light of how Jesus and Mary must have been treated due to the scandal of his birth. On top of that there is the fact he was a refugee for most of his childhood, and eventually returned to an impoverished town as the son of a day laborer. Again, I argue, that whatever someone might say about Jesus of Nazareth, he was no stranger to suffering even before the gruesome ordeal of his death.
And it is to his suffering and death we will look to next.