The Explanation and its Damage, July 28, 2017
The Explanation and It’s Damage
Rev, Yme Woensdregt
A few months ago, Richard Beck wrote in his blog about a thought experiment in which he imagined something he called “The Explanation”. It was a thoughtful and delightful piece of writing. I’ve been thinking about this blog for some time now. Let me recapitulate it for you here.
Imagine, if you will, that the Bible gave us an explanation for why there is so much pain and suffering in the world. It would be a way in which we could understand why cancer takes so many of us, why children die, why evil and good live side by side in the hearts of all of us.
Now imagine that the Bible gave us “The Explanation” in a specific text, something we could easily quote and share.
The fancy theological word for this is “theodicy”. The word was first used by Leibniz in 1710 in an essay in which he tried to show that the evil in the world does not conflict with the goodness of God. Theodicy is, thus, a way of trying to justify God’s goodness in the face of evil.
We all engage in this work when we try to understand why evil happens. Rabbi Harold Kushner was writing a theodicy in his 1981 book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Whenever we try to answer the question “Why did this happen?”, we are engaging in a theodicy.
So imagine that the Bible gives us the theodicy we all want, The Explanation we’ve all been asking for.
Once you’ve imagined that … now imagine how The Explanation would be used.
Imagine the thousands of sermons sharing The Explanation. Hundreds of books would be devoted to The Explanation, teasing out every possible way how The Explanation comforts us and helps us figure out why life is the way it is.
Imagine how The Explanation would be printed on t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and home decor, just like we do with every other inspirational Bible verse. Imagine it in needlepoint kits, and portrayed on bodies as a tattoo. You’d see it on billboards and neon signs … you’d find it everywhere.
Now imagine how we would use The Explanation with each other whenever any of us face some kind of pain or suffering. Imagine how people would use it to try to comfort themselves and others. Imagine how we would use it to try to explain the unexplainable.
Why did the Holocaust occur? Well, because The Explanation.
Why did my child die from cancer? Well, because The Explanation.
Why is there sex trafficking? Well, because The Explanation.
Why are LGBTQ people targeted? Well, because The Explanation.
Wherever suffering is found, we’d share The Explanation. With every war, every natural disaster, every hateful act, we’d share The Explanation. We would share it so often that it would become automatic. Cliché, even.
And when you think about it, about what it would be like to have The Explanation, you’re struck with just how much damage and violence we’d do to each other with The Explanation.
Every time we encountered a victim or a suffering, hurting person, we’d throw The Explanation at them. We would be even less empathetic than we are now, because we would have The Explanation for everything that happened. We would become less compassionate, because we have a formula now to explain it all. We would blame victims as being the cause of their own suffering because they refused to accept or believe The Explanation.
So it seems to me that the most loving thing God could do for us, in the face of suffering, is to refuse to give us The Explanation. Even if we cried out in the darkness for the Explanation. Because without The Explanation we’re forced into silence and solidarity. Which is exactly where we need to be.
Compassion and love can never be found in The Explanation or any other simple theodicy. Compassion and love must always be learned as we exercise it with each other.
Maybe that is why we’ll never have The Explanation.
We can’t be trusted with it.
If we had it, we’d hurt each other.