Thursday, 10 May 2007

Does Evil Really Matter? Death and Resurrection as a Compost Heap

If there is one good reason to not believe in God it's because of the existence of evil; if there is one good reason to believe in God it's due to the same problem. There are two further statements that appear to be true and possibly even less helpful: we are all well aware of, and cannot avoid the evil within our world, and the church is often very silent on the matter. What is the role of the church toward evil? And what language and images do we have that help us frame a discussion that is not only helpful but hopeful? These are questions I hope all our meetings will engage in post the Swarthmore lecture.

This year's Swarthmore lecturer Beth Allen, in here talk titled "Ground and Spring," broached the subject of evil. She pointed out that James Nayler, an early Quaker who not only "messed up but was also messed up by others," discovered in his long journey back toward wholeness, "the forgiveness of God is the ground and spring of God." But the fact that Nayler remained alienated from at least some of the Quaker community, including George Fox, reminds us of the many people, often going nameless, who have "messed up" and been "messed up by others" and their own alienation from our communities. There are many ways in which we see these breakdowns and deaths occur within our society and while Nayler's life is one example, it is only one small example of the evil in the world. Evil is something that cannot be neglected by the church if we are any kind of hope to the world.

Beth Allen used the Compost pile to further illustrate the idea of breakdown (and death) and how that makes it possible for new life (and resurrection). The compost heap is a wonderful metaphor for the waste of life being turned into something new.

In our everyday lives it's not much different, though it can often take God much longer to turn the "waste of our lives" into something new and fresh. This is because we're much more fragile and stubborn than dirt, and evil is a very complex matter for us to deal with. We can't deny that evil exists in the world and often cripples us when we are confronted with it. Similarly, the various bits of waste within a compost are not only easily recognizable as decayed bananas, apples, and oranges but this process can often be grotesque (like the picture above in my own view).

Death inevitably surrounds us but so does resurrection. Without decay there is no space for new life, without death there is no resurrection.

The story of God's work in the world, as chronicled not only through Scripture, but also through our history, philosophy and science books, is a familiar story; this narrative includes one of creation, fall, redemption and resurrection. This narrative cycle of life continues on small and large scales throughout the history of our world.

But what of evil's permissiveness in our world? It's often very difficult, at times ridiculous, to image life after death. And this isn't something to gloss over easily, death is a part of fallen creation, just as resurrection is a part of God's intervention into our fallen world. There are no ready-made answers for these questions, the business of life and death is indeed dirty business. That is why the hope of the resurrection requires a people who embody forgiveness. Forgiveness is the link between these two realities. The church is to be a community of people formed around the prayer, "forgive us our debts (and trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (and those who trespass against us)." As Beth Allen said, "I can't offer myself forgiveness." We need to understand what it means to be absolved. Forgiveness only comes from the other; the the forgiveness and mercies of God, or forgiveness offered to us by our communities who hold the power to re-connect us with the "ground and spring" of life.

Quakers, as all Christians, are a people called to remind the world of this process of creation, fall, redemption and resurrection. All of life is packed into this cycle. And beyond the simple reminding, we are also to be a people who embody forgiveness, a forgiveness rooted in the love and mercy of God who has first loved and forgiven us.

If you'd like to read more on this issue read my short entry called "One Big Kitty Litter."


kathz said...

According to the date, you're blogging from the future. I find that rather scary.

Anonymous said...

During the lecture, everything stopped and the entire 700 of us sang a round at the drop of a hat. That was really something.

C. Wess Daniels said...

Yes - the future is bright. I should probably fix the date, not sure how that happened.

And the singing was awesome!