Joseph Ratzinger on Suffering

“Pain and disease can paralyze one as a human being. They can shatter one to pieces, not only physically, but also psychologically and spiritually. However, they can also smash down complacency and spiritual lethargy and lead one to find oneself for the first time. The struggle with suffering is the place of human decision-making par excellence. Here the human project becomes flesh and blood. Here man is forced to face the fact that existence is not at his disposal, nor is his life his own property. Man may snap back defiantly that he will nevertheless try to acquire the power that will make it so. But in so doing, he makes a desperate anger his basic attitude to life. There is a second possibility: man can respond by seeking to trust this strange power to whom he is subject. He can allow himself to be led, unafraid, by the hand, without Angst-ridden concern for his situation. And in this second case, the human attitude towards pain, towards the presence of death within living, merges with the attitude we call love.”

Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, 95-96.

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Enjambment and the Provisionality of Suffering (?)

Here is another example of why I love studying Hebrew poetry. F.W. Dobbs-Allsopp points out that enjambment (love how that b is jammed in there) expresses meaning in Lamentations through giving “provisional” meaning in the first line of a couplet only to have this “half” meaning counteracted by the second. Here’s an example from Lamentations 2:22. We read:

2014-12-12 03.56.31 pm“He summoned as if a festival day”

And the couplet finishes:

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“my terrors on every side”

[Dobbs-Allsopp points out that this provisional expectation and resulting surprise is destroyed, for instance, by the NRSV’s translation: “You invited my enemies from all around / as if for a day of festival.”]

What I find interesting about this particular form of expression is how it reflects the purpose of Lamentations. Lamentations is most basically the expression of shock at brutally overturned expectations of blessing. Yes, the author admits that the sin has precipitated the suffering, but the tonal emphasis of the book is on the suffering. For example, the poet says, “For the chastisement of the daughter of my people has been greater / than the punishment of Sodom” (ESV). As an expression of shock, this use of enjambment exactly parallels the experience of the poet, an expectation of festival overturned by terrors on every side.

But to generalize even a bit more, this is also the universal experience of suffering. We all have a sort of imaginative construal of how things are and how things will be that is dramatically overturned when we encounter suffering. This is why suffering creates such profound mental pain. It involves a temporary split in the imaginative construal of the world. The characteristic orientation of the soul to find meaning in God’s purposes crashes against the present orientation of the soul, the overwhelming and bracing reality of evil. This fixation on present evil overthrows this characteristic sense of meaningfulness. (e.g. Coulehan, 2009)

But this raises the question of whether even this present suffering might be yet overturned by another couplet of experience? Perhaps I have only a “half” meaning at this moment? What if there still exists a possibility of meaningfulness being restored?

Still, while this possibility might exist, we must recognize that lingering in the shock of reversal is exactly what Lamentations enables us to do. Lamentations gives us words to voice this divided soul. On one level it validates our construal; it tells us that all is not right and that we are justified in feeling that the world is chaos, or even feeling that God is our enemy. In this sense, it is just the ordinary case of dealing with the sometimes dreadful particulars human life as we have no other alternative but to take them, in time, moment by moment. I can only taste human experience in the present tense with the full poignancy of the recent past. There is no future experience for humans, only future imaginative projection.

This moment by moment limitation of humanness is precisely what Augustine was complaining about in his Confessions. His thirst for the eternal was at least partially the thirst for seeing everything “as it is”, to experience the eternal, past, present, and future at once. So for the Christian the dramatic grief of suffering is not culpable, as if we just needed to think differently to begin with. Grief is just the response of the human soul coming to terms with particular evil in particular time. And the degree to which we finally judge this particular evil in particular time as irreconcilable with a meaningful whole is the degree to which we tend to deny the existence of meaning, or God himself. Voltaire was a good example of one did this.

Lamentations, however leads us not to this sort of despair, but ultimately to a prayer mingled with a question. “Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us Why do you forget us forever … why do you forsake us for so many days? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old–unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.”

This question of rejection, of the loss of all meaningful resolution remains for us all, will the final couplet of things to come alter the provisional meaning of our present experience?

“Remember, O Lord”

_______________

Jack Coulehan, “Compassionate Solidarity: Suffering, Poetry, and Medicine,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Autumn 2009), 585-603.

DBH: On Suffering and the Problem of Evil / Strange Vision

I don’t share his views on the reformed answer (at least not straightforwardly), but I certainly wouldn’t wish to embrace everything reformed people tend to say about how God’s sovereignty manifests itself today. At any rate, I enjoy David Bentley Hart and you’ll probably see why:
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=9634739&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

Suffering and the problem of evil from CPX on Vimeo.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=9633375&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

Nostalgia for a pagan past from CPX on Vimeo.

Nietzsche on Suffering

If you adherents of this religion actually have the same sentiments towards yourselves which you have towards your fellows, if you are unwilling to endure your own suffering even for an hour, and continually forestall all possible misfortune, if you regard suffering and pain generally as evil, as detestable, as deserving of annihilation, and as blots on existence, well, you have then, besides your religion of compassion, yet another religion in your heart (and this perhaps the mother of the former)–the religion of smug ease. Ah, how little you know of the happiness of man, you comfortable and good-natured ones!–for happiness and misfortune are brother and sister, and twins, who grow tall together, or as with you remain small together!

Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 338

Sometimes Only God Can Feel Hope

ht: Desiring God

Was the carnage of this past week in the USA extraordinary? These things came at us so fast that we did not click on them. Only when someone assembles them do they take our breath away.

Consider this from AP National Writer Ted Anthony:

Ugly things. Violent things. Elemental things. Epic things. The forces of nature and human anger unleashed in concentrated form across the land. Water and fire, gun and sky, bringing destruction, death and misery. And tears.

America’s body count for the week from Feb. 2 to Saturday tops four score. Fifty-nine dead from the tornadoes in the South. Five dead after Edwin Rivera opened fire on his family and a SWAT officer in Los Angeles. Six killed in Kirkwood, Mo., when Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton opened fire at a city council meeting and was slain by police. Five women herded into the back room of a suburban Chicago Lane Bryant store and gunned down by a man still at large.

You can’t even fit it into a single paragraph. Here’s more: Three dead in an Oregon plane crash, three dead in a Louisiana vocational college shooting, five dead and three missing in a Georgia sugar refinery explosion. An Ohio teacher stabbed in front of her grade-school students after her estranged husband walked into the classroom and pulled a knife. Across the state, hundreds of homes damaged in severe flooding. Hordes of motorists stranded on Wisconsin roads by snow.

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When Satan Hurts Christ’s People

When huge pain comes into your life—like divorce, or the loss of a precious family member, or the dream of wholeness shattered—it is good to have a few things settled with God ahead of time. The reason for this is not because it makes grieving easy, but because it gives focus and boundaries for the pain.

Being confident in God does not make the pain less deep, but less broad. If some things are settled with God, there are boundaries around the field of pain.

Link to the article

Tears at Thanksgiving

This is worth reading. I feel I can relate a little better to this than I used to be able to.

Every holiday is a time of balancing all the family pushes and pulls for a child of divorce. No matter what uneasy solution a child arrives at, it does not satisfy everyone, and the child herself is ultimately blamed for causing unhappiness. In this case, ongoing pressure is placed on Heather to warmly embrace the woman who willingly displaced Mom when Dad decided to trade her in for a newer model several years ago. Mom was left bitter and potentially destitute—without even medical insurance; certainly no current skills with which to provide for herself.

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