Mary, and the Weakness of Theodicy

For its Bible study, my church is going through The Easter Experience: What If What Happened Then Changes Everything Now?  Last night, we did Session 4, “my life has a plan”.  The lesson was about how life does not always turn out as we expected: we may have expected a smooth road, but instead we encounter trials and difficulties.  The DVD part of the study focused on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Did she seriously expect for things to turn out as they did for Jesus, for Jesus to be mocked, scourged, and crucified?

I have two items.

1.  All of the DVD parts of the lessons that we have watched thus far have been emotionally gut-wrenching, but last night’s session was the first that made me cry.  The DVD cut between Mary when she was a happy expectant mother with high hopes for her child, to Mary in the crowd as Pilate presents a scarred Jesus to the audience: the latter Mary had a smudge on her face, as well as a baffled expression.

I reacted similarly when I first saw The Passion of the Christ.  So much of the film, to be honest, did not have much of an impact on me.  I thought that the violence portrayed against Jesus was gratuitous and over-the-top.  But, when Jesus fell and his mother ran up to comfort him, I was moved to tears.

2.  We were talking about suffering, and the pastor read to us from the teacher’s manual.  What he read was that we may think that a good God should act in such-and-such a way, but we are not qualified to make that determination, for we are not good, and we are not God.

I had problems with that statement.  I can see the point that God may work good out of evil or have a good purpose for evil in ways that we cannot see from our limited perspective.  But I question the notion that we are so sinful that we cannot make determinations about what is good and what is bad for people.  Christianity asks us to make those determinations in exhorting us to live a moral life, and part of that moral life is recognizing that we should not do harm to others, but instead should help them.  Jesus did that when he healed people.  He did not just sit back and say that God had some purpose for evil, and that the evil was actually good in disguise that God was using to benefit somehow the blind, the lame, and the sick.  No, being blind is not good, and so Jesus healed people of their blindness.

Theodicies are tough.  A lot of the time, they strike me as attempts to justify, downplay, or trivialize evil.  I also don’t think that Christians should rush to present the usual glib theodicies or attempts to explain why God allows evil.  They should take the time to recognize evil for what it is, as evil.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Mary, and the Weakness of Theodicy

  1. James, I like the way your respond to teachers and writers: accept their good insights but continue to think for yourself.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Yeah, that’s the way to do it! I hope that’s what my students do when I become a teacher!


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