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When Life isn't as it's Meant to be: Why we need a Theodicy



 "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

That's the way Jesus wraps up the lesson we'll hear this Sunday.

I think I was in ordained ministry 15 years before I ever heard anyone point out something very obvious about this saying: you ever wonder why Jesus paired those two statements?

It's because the life we want - the life we are created for, intended for - is not the life we have.

It's as if over here in this corner Jesus, God on earth, offering not just life, but fullness of life, abundance of life. And in the opposite corner, someone, some force or forces that seek to kill, steal and destroy that life.  

This force or these forces are what the Book of Common prayer's baptismal covenant refers to as "Satan and the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God" and the "evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God," resulting in sinful desires that draw us away from the love of God.  

When Jesus stood up to read in the synagogue, and could have picked, from all scripture, any passage he wanted, what did he choose to read as a summary of his life and mission? Isaiah 61:1 -
 
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted 
To proclaim release for the captives 
And release from darkness for the prisoners.

Jesus recognizes that in one way shape or form our hearts are not whole, complete - they're broken...in one way shape or form (actually, in MANY ways, shapes and forms!) we're not living fullness, abundance of life.  

Instead we're held captive...prisoner to some form of darkness.  

In his book Waking the Dead: the Glory of a Heart Fully Alive, the author John Eldredge asks a good question:

"Ever wonder why every great story has a villain? Little red riding hood is attacked by a wolf. Dorothy must face and bring down the Wicked Witch of the West. Obi-Wan Kenobi goes hand to hand against Darth Maul. To release the captives of the Matrix, Neo battles the powerful "agents." Frodo is hunted by the Black Riders. Beowolf kills the monster Grendel, and then has to battle Grendel's mother. St. George slays the dragon. The children who stumbled into Narnia are called upon by Aslan to battle the white witch and her armies so that Narnia might be free. Every story has a villain because YOURS does. You were born into a world at war. .... You have an enemy. He is trying to steal your freedom, kill your heart, destroy your life."

Again - sad to say - I can recall no one taking this seriously in seminary. I didn't take it seriously for many of the first years of my ordained ministry.

Now for the record: I'm glad the abuses of a theodicy such as blaming everything on the devil, not taking personal responsibility, and literally demonizing people are not the Episcopal Church's dangers. But I'm afraid we've thrown the biblical and pastoral baby out with the theological bathwater.

Because what I've come to realize is that without a theodicy (and "theodicy" is just a theological term for an understanding of our fallen-ness, of the reality of evil in the world) - without taking foul sprits seriously, without taking the notion that our freedom and joy is opposed - how do you answer the question, "why is life so damn difficult sometimes?"  

Absent a theodicy, we tend to answer the question by assuming either that a) God is holding out on us - doesn't really intend our joy - or b) that we have screwed up our life, or c) a combination of both.  

But with a theodicy, we can understand the world Biblically, and as Jesus did: that "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

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