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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Cultivating Patience: a note

Sometimes in preparing to preach I find that I hit what seems to be a promising seam of ideas, only to have it raise more questions than I anticipated. Not that questions are bad, mind you, in preaching or elsewhere, but that you cannot possibly begin to do justice to them in the context of a homily, and they often seem tangential to what you sense being called to preach by those propers. But the questions certainly linger.

With this sermon, the following question hit me as I was writing, and I had to put it to one side: Why is God so patient when it seems that patience is not a virtue but a vice? For example, why was God so patient during the Shoa? Or in a child’s sickness? Or in any of the pointless suffering that the world seems racked with? I do not know. God’s patience is at bottom a deep, inscrutable mystery. It would be easy to interpret God’s patience as God’s silence – or God’s absence.

Of course, this verges into theodicy, the problem of evil (why would a good, wise, powerful God allow suffering or evil to occur in the world?). While there are some good intellectual probiings of this problem, such that it does not seem to be much of an intellectual problem anymore, it still remains as an existential question: where is God in this suffering? Why this suffering?

Perhaps the best answer in a situation like this, when another is suffering, is simply to sit shiv, a Jewish expression of reverent silence (usually used in the aftermath of a death). This is, at bottom, deep mystery which resists explanation.

I take hope that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is working to deliver the whole of God’s creation in some way. Perhaps one day we will be given the mercy to see how it all worked together in spite of the darkness, although I am not counting on it. Some days this hope is, as I mentioned in the sermon, despite appearances, but I take it as a pious act of resistance, even protest, to try to live constantly with this "nevertheless".

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