A Practical Pentecostal Theodicy

A Practical Pentecostal Theodicy

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PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 pentecostal Theology A Practical Pentecostal Theodicy? A Proposal Steven M. Fettke* Southeastern University, Lakeland, Florida smfettke@seu.edu Michael L. Dusing† Trinity Bible College, Ellendale, North Dakota Abstract A common critique of Pentecostalism from other Christian traditions is that Pente- costals lack an adequate response to evil and chronic and unrelieved suffering. I will propose a response to evil and suffering that is not expressed solely in repeated calls to faith or in stark black and white terms of faith versus doubt. This essay will address the role of the pentecostal faith community in its social dimension in response to suffering. I will also suggest a “practical” pentecostal theodicy, one grounded in the stories of the outpouring of the Spirit in the book of Acts and in deep pastoral concern. Finally, I will address the inscrutable activity of God, who often works ad hoc, mysteriously, variously through miracle, pentecostal pastoral concern, or deep existential encounter. Keywords theodicy – suffering – sin – doubt – domesticated – testimony * I want to dedicate this work to and share credit for these ideas with Michael L. Dusing and his memory; see his paper, “‘Trophimus Have I Left at Miletus Sick’—The Case for Those Who Are not Healed” (paper presented at the 31st Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Southeastern University, Lakeland, fl, May 14–16, 2002). In November 2014, Mike Dusing asked me to write with him a pentecostal theodicy and I gladly agreed. He had suffered for years with ms; I had suffered for years with an autistic child. Sadly, Mike passed away on December 27, 2014. He suffered with ms with great dignity, humility, and even joy in being able to serve others though afflicted himself. © koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2016 | doi: 10.1163/15700747-03801002 ========1========a practical pentecostal theodicy? 161 Introduction My wife and I were reeling from the neurologist’s report: our son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Specifically, he had (has) a version of the afflic- tion on the severe side of the autism spectrum. He was eighteen months old. At the time (the middle 1980s), autism spectrum disorder was not a very well- known affliction. Our previous experience, including our pentecostal practices, had left us and, as it seems, our pentecostal community completely unprepared for this. I was only vaguely aware of the termtheodicyfrom my theological stud- ies in seminary, and theodicy certainly was not a part of the vocabulary of the pentecostal community to which I belonged. This is the very general definition of the term I had learned in seminary: “Theodicy is the study of the problem of evil in the world. The issue is raised in light of the sovereignty of God. How could a holy and loving God who is in control of all things allow evil to exist?”1 Theonlything mywifeand Iknewtodowaspray—whichwecertainly did— and ask others to pray for us and our son. Also, we were part of a pentecostal tradition that put great stock in the prayers of famous preachers and what was euphemistically called “Prayer Warriors”: those people noted for their frequent and fervent prayers. At that time in this southeastern part of the United States there lived an elderly woman who had been a pastor and missionary for fifty years; she had been ordained in the local district of the Assemblies of God in 1927. She was well known among older Pentecostals I knew in the area as “a mighty woman of God” who was also a “true prayer warrior.” Each summer she conducted a camp meeting south of Lakeland, Florida, where we live. I decided I would take my son to the meeting to ask her to pray for him. When I took my son to the camp meeting for prayer, there was a long wait through a long service to get to the altar time for prayer. One of the chief characteristics of the autistic is hyperactivity, so by the end of the long service my son was very hyper. When, finally, I was able to get him to this famous praying elderly lady, she began to command demon spirits to leave him, I assume based on his hyperactivity! I was so stunned I just stood there holding him in disbelief whereupon she slapped me across my arm, chiding me for not praying fervently for the spirits to leave my son. I had come for a loving, healing touch from God through the prayer of a famous preacher, only to hear her “diagnosis” of my son as demon-controlled and of me as not having enough faith. I left as quickly as I could. 1 Matt Slick, “Theodicy” https://carm.org/dictionary-theodicy (accessed March 23, 2015). PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========2========162 fettke and dusing Social Systems and Reflective Pentecostal Praxis In any social arrangement, including the expression of a pentecostal faith community, there exist ways to legitimate social power, to provide a sense of acceptability of prevailing thought and practice, and to reward “right” think- ing, language, and practice with positive social benefits. While many believe the “blessings” of God come from heaven exclusively, in reality so much of what is a “blessing” can also be traced to the contrivance of the community; in many ways, God is viewed as the One who endorses the community mind- set. God is working, but so is the community working; together, God and the faith community are in the process of making meaning of life and life’s experi- ences. If the word theodicy is understood as theos (God) and dike (justice), then certainly God’s justice has to be understood through social voices and social realities in which so many have a great stake. Perhaps, then, in a way, a theod- icy might be understood as a protest against unequal power and privileged arrangements in which some in the community are happy while others suf- fer.2This view of social arrangements and social power can result in a different reading of what constitutes evil and suffering and who or what is responsible. It can mean that God is blamed for unjust social arrangements and distribution of social power. The community has developed social arrangements that can suggest God’s imprimatur when, in fact, God probably had nothing to do with it.3 If one reads through popular pentecostal denominational literature, one cannot help but notice the consistent choice and presentation of dramatic healing, miracle, and deliverance stories. These stories affirm and legitimate pentecostal doctrines and practices. Those with dramatic healing stories are given opportunities to testify and to add to the collection of healing testimonies that provide “proof” of the pentecostal message of salvation-healing for “all.” In addition to the healing and miracle stories “told” in popular church litera- ture, similar kinds of stories are allowed to be expressed through testimony in local pentecostal churches. Thus, the prevailing message is that healing, mira- cles, and deliverance are available to “all.” Sadly, however, “all” does not include 2 For two biblical examples of unjust arrangements of social power in the early Christian community, see the story of the preference of the Hebrew Jews over the Hellene Jews in Acts 6:1–5, and see the story of the humiliation of the poor believers in 1Corinthians 11:17– 22. 3 See James Crenshaw, “The Shift from Theodicy to Anthropodicy,” in Theodicy in the Old Testament, ed. James Crenshaw (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 1–16. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========3========a practical pentecostal theodicy? 163 those who are not healed or delivered or do not “receive” a miracle. A rigid belief in supernaturalism, which makes absolute religious claims, substitutes for an awareness of social power; supernaturalism trumps any sense of justice for those who are not healed despite the earnest prayers of preachers or parish- ioners.4 In the social arrangement of many North American pentecostal congrega- tions, God is presented as the invisible Guarantor of social benefits. If this God is proclaimed as “present” only to those who are publicly recognized in public meetings as healed, delivered, or the receptors of a miracle, then those who are not healed are either blamed in some way for a lack of faith or they are fur- ther encouraged to keep on believing despite the apparent non-answer to their prayers. Or some might be simply ignored as “unspiritual” and thus unworthy of the social blessings of the community and the implied blessings of God. This social arrangement has its own script that endorses the status quo. Those who are helped have “prayed through” and have “received the victory.” They have “claimed the promises” and “through Jesus’ name” are healed, deliv- ered, or received a miracle. The same script includes a critique of those who are not helped. In a depressed economy, those who are unable to find work are “lazy.” Those who are still sick “haven’t claimed their healing.” In the case of my son’s autism, we were accused of “having no faith.” These phrases are hurtful critiques of sufferers who already have weakened spiritual foundations, reinforcing what many sufferers already think about themselves because of the dominant script. Those who are suffering are “interpreted” as a kind of critique of the prevail- ing understanding of the healing and miracles doctrine: everyone who is really “spiritual” would be helped; those who are not helped must have some kind of flaw; they become a kind of “dangerous memory” in the community.5Those “flawed” people are marginalized and robbed of community power and bless- ing. It couldn’t be our beliefs that are flawed, could it? Surely it must be those chronically ill and afflicted people that are flawed, right? It is no wonder sufferers begin to blame God for their “failure” to be healed, delivered, or “receive” a miracle. And when the only message from the commu- nity is either to blame them for their problems or relegate them to the “outer 4 Although some advocate that “actions have built-in consequences.” See Klaus Koch, “Is There a Doctrine of Divine Retribution in the Old Testament?” Theodicy in the Old Testament, ed. James Crenshaw (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 64. 5 Stanley Hauerwas and Richard Bondi. “Memory, Community and the Reasons for Living: Theological and Ethical Reflections on Suicide and Euthanasia,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion44, no. 3 (September 1976): 439–452. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========4========164 fettke and dusing darkness” of the church’s apathy, no wonder so many give up on their faith or believe that somehow they have fallen out of God’s good favor. In a way, access to social power and “blessings” are dependent upon a perception of physical and spiritual “health” as defined by the culture and the dominant pentecostal script. The healing-deliverance-miracles emphasis has led so many to become one-dimensional in pastoral ministry: lay hands on and pray for the “afflicted.” If the afflicted are not healed or helped in the way the culture expects, the afflicted are relegated to a kind of second-class citizenship in the local faith community; there seems to be no “Planb” in regard to ministry to the afflicted. In a beautifully written essay, Shane Clifton has invited the pentecostal community to reflect with him on how the dominant social script of healing might be expanded to include him, a victim of a severe spinal cord injury (sci). He has called for the pentecostal church to think of healing as “well-being,” expressed in three ways. In the first place, healing has never actually been (or shouldn’t have been) the priority of the Pentecostal Full Gospel but, rather, prayer was a means of connecting people to Jesus, who offers fullness of life … Second, in focusing on well-being rather than healing, the emphasis of baptism in the Spirit is turned away from the short-term spectacle of (hoped- for but rarely seen) miracles toward lifelong fruitfulness … Third, if the life and ministry of Jesus is paradigmatic, it is not the miraculous and supernatural that is in view but, rather, his modeling of the love of God and neighbor.6 Clifton has called for a kind of paradigm shift in the ways Pentecostals under- stand their sociological/theological emphasis and script, and he has reminded Pentecostals of the essence of Jesus’ ministry: calling people to love God and neighbor as the center of faith and faithfulness. In considering reflective pentecostal praxis, besides Clifton’s call I would further invite Pentecostals to reflect on their own early history in light of the story of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:15–24. In its early history, the pentecostal movement was famous for its welcome of the helpless, hurting, and marginal- ized of North American society into their local churches without requiring them to be healed or helped first. Indeed, in the developing world the pente- 6 Shane Clifton, “The Dark Side of Prayer for Healing: A Pentecostal Theology of Well-Being,” Pneuma36, no. 2 (2014): 221–222. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========5========a practical pentecostal theodicy? 165 costal church still has that reputation.7The pentecostal community gave those with little social power or social benefits a community in which all were rec- ognized for their worth in God’s kingdom, those who were healed and helped and those who were saved but still lived with an affliction. In Jesus’ parable, the one who gave the banquet bade his servant to invite “the poor, crippled, blind, and lame” (Luke 14:21), with no requirement for healing or help attached. Such a call expressed by the parable is an invitation to think of ways in which all might be embraced in God’s community, physically healed or not. Amos Yong has written eloquently about the differently abled and their rightful place in God’s kingdom and the local church.8 Again, Clifton has helped in providing a different way of understanding just how “healing” (or well-being) might be rescripted for both the afflicted and the supporting community: I have not had any spectacular or miraculous healing, notwithstanding prayer from thousands of people around the world as well as the “laying on of hands” by people with reputations for a healing gift. But in the face of embodied limits that once seemed insurmountable, I have since been transformed: by an outpouring of love from family and friends, by prayer that ministered grace and established hope, by acts of charity that funded rehabilitation and made my home accessible, by a Spirit-filled workplace that went out of its way to accommodate my needs and yet treated me as a scholar and not a cripple, by providential encouragements in the many times that I was down. And as I have been helped to flourish within the limits of ansci, the community supporting me has also been transformed and enriched.9 Stories like Clifton’s make it possible to expand the dominant pentecostal script to include these experiences, too. I have heard, privately, many such stories from students who have gone through very difficult situations of suffering, but they had never felt safe enough or welcome enough to tell their stories in their pentecostal churches because their stories did not end with healing- deliverance-miracle. In fact, Cartledge’s fine study has shown the potential 7 See Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori,GlobalPentecostalism:TheNewFaceofChristian Social Engagement (Los Angeles,ca: University of California Press, 2007), 15–38. 8 Amos Yong, The Bible, Disability, and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God (Grand Rapids,mi: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011). 9 Clifton, “The Dark Side of Prayer for Healing,” 223. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========6========166 fettke and dusing for rescripting stories in pentecostal circles.10 “Indeed, the kind of rationality employed within Pentecostalism is more likely to be narrative in shape: a story about what happened and its consequences rather than a set of abstract propo- sitions.”11 Sadly, often, the “acceptable” shape of the story is predetermined, resistant to rescripting. In the past, I described church leadership—lay and professional minister alike—as those deemed “powerful” in spiritual terms and who “do” ministry to others and who are physically and mentally “abled”: they do not have spe- cial needs or afflictions.12 Because of their “ableness,” they are often impa- tient with or dismissive of those whose conditions are not in keeping with “ableness.” This can create a social hierarchy with the most “charismatic” and thus most “powerful” at the top and those who are suffering or afflicted in some way at the very bottom of the social order. Helen Betenbaugh has said, “We are told that we [the disabled] have an obligation to be cured by the prayers of the church rather than healed by people’s acceptance of us as we are.”13 A “Practical” Pentecostal Theodicy: A Proposal It seems to me that so much of what is expressed in pentecostal circles as “ordinary theology”14 has much more pragmatic and/or utilitarian concerns than philosophical or systematic theological ones. A deeply complex philo- sophical answer to the problems of evil and suffering might be off-putting to pentecostal people long accustomed to an encounter with the living God through the work of the Holy Spirit. “Pentecostals were and continue to be ‘doers’ before they are ‘thinkers.’”15 Having noted that, however, I must also point to the testimonies of various pentecostal scholars whose deep encoun- 10 11 12 13 14 15 Mark J. Cartledge, Testimony in the Spirit: Rescripting Ordinary Pentecostal Theology (Bur- lington,vt: Ashgate, 2010), 17. Ibid. Steven M. Fettke, “The Spirit of God Hovered over the Waters: Creation, the Local Church, and the Mentally and Physical Challenged, A Call to Spirit-led Ministry,” Journal of Pente- costal Theology17 (2008): 170–182. Helen Bentenbaugh, “Disability: A Lived Theology,” Theology Today 57, no. 2 (2000): 208 (emphasis hers). Cartledge,Testimony in the Spirit, 15ff. Daniel Castelo, “The Improvisational Quality of Ecclesial Holiness,” in Pentecostal Ecclesi- ology, ed. John Christopher Thomas (Cleveland,tn: cptPress, 2010), 89. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========7========a practical pentecostal theodicy? 167 ters with God came through academic/intellectual pursuits.16 It is just that few lay Pentecostals describe such experiences. Also, I do not wish to den- igrate the complexities of the issue; I only wish to state what I think is the obvious: most Pentecostals seem to long for an encounter with God that is life-transformative. They are unaccustomed to such encounters coming from intellectual pursuits. In fact, even if, somehow, the issue regarding evil and suffering could be articulated fully, there has been no real consensus on what evil is. Some, like Spinoza, have argued that evil is necessary for its effects on the cause of all (God/Nature).17On the other end of the spectrum is the conclusion of Christian Science: evil is only an illusion.18 Does evil apply only to moral issues? Is there natural evil? Are there both? Is evil deeply intrinsic to the human experience or do humans choose to do evil? To complicate things even further, postmodern writers have tended to identify evil as the suffering people experience; no difference is made between evil and suffering, avoiding moral judgments about “evil.”19 For centuries humans have sought answers to the problem of evil in all its forms in light of claims of goodness or a good God. As early as the third century b.c.e. one can find an expression of a theodicy in the works of Ploti- nus.20Augustine argued that the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden allowed evil to enter the world as justice for this “original” sin.21 More mod- ern religious writers have also attempted to provide a theodicy that might help suffering people find solace in their suffering. Rabbi Harold Kushner argued for a God who hurts with hurting people because this God was/is not actually omnipotent: there are things God cannot do.22Phillip Yancey has written about the triumph of God’s grace in the midst of evil and suffering and how God con- tinues to seek the sufferer.23Tom Long has written that the parable of the wheat and tares teaches that evil will be present until the time of God’s final judg- 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Steven M. Fettke and Robby C. Waddell, eds., Pentecostals in the Academy(Cleveland,tn: cptPress, 2012). Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics(New York: Penguin, 2005). Mary Baker Eddy,Science and Health(Boston: Christian Science Publishing Society, 1934). Jennifer Geddes, ed., Evil after Postmodernism(New York: Routledge, 2001). Plotinus, “The Six Enneads,” trans. Stephen Mackenna and B.S. Page: http://classics.mit .edu/Plotinus/enneads.html (accessed July 17, 2015). Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, ed. Marcus Dods (Peabody, ma: Hendrickson, 2009): ix.13.2. Harold S. Kushner,When Bad Things Happen to Good People(New York: Avon, 1983). Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God (Grand Rapids,mi: Zondervan, 1997). PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========8========168 fettke and dusing ment.24 These are only a few examples of the approaches to theodicy taken in recent years. In addition to those presenting a theodicy there are also those who might be described as opposing any attempt at a theodicy. Karl Barth argued that only the crucifixion can attest to God’s goodness and the defeat of evil; people can- not “prove” God’s goodness any other way.25 Tom Billings argues, “Attempts to ‘solve’ it [the problem of evil] end in a pernicious twisting of faith and prac- tice.”26 John Swinton is even more blunt in rejecting philosophical theodicy: “[Many] apparently logical theodicies make little sense when they encounter the reality of evil and suffering as people experience them in ‘real time.’ When this happens, rather than solving the problem of evil, theodicy can easily become a source of evil in and of itself.”27 Instead, Swinton argues for dealing with the problems of evil and suffering in the context of pastoral care.28 He argues that a purely intellectual pursuit of the answer to the problem of evil and suffering is too dangerous and can lead to even more suffering.29 My sympathies are with Billings and Swinton. When Swinton argues that an intellectual pursuit of the answer to the problem of evil and suffering is “a second-order activity of the intellect that tends to masquerade as a first-order activity of experience,” I find myself in agreement.30When someone is suffering from a mysterious illness in a hospital bed, the last thing he or she wants from a visitor is an attempt to engage in a debate over competing theodicies or hear a presentation of a particular theodicy. Instead, that person would prefer genuine pastoral care. Given the historic preference of Pentecostals for existential and utilitarian approaches to the faith, a pentecostal theodicy would likely fall heavily on the side of pastoral concern. This is not to say that in some way pentecostal scholarship cannot find ways to express intellectual and/or academic “answers” to the issue of evil and suffering. Pentecostals already know full well the story of the outpouring of God’s Spirit and the ways the Spirit overcame evil spirits and the suffering of many in the 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 Thomas G. Long, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Grand Rapids, mi: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011). Karl Barth,Church Dogmatics4.1 (London:t&tClark, 1957), 246. Todd Billings, “Theodicy as a ‘Lived Question’: Moving beyond a Theoretical Approach to Theodicy,” Journal for Christian Theological Research5, no. 2 (2000): 1–9. John Swinton, Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids,mi: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007), 17. Ibid. Ibid., 27–28. Ibid., 16–17. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========9========a practical pentecostal theodicy? 169 book of Acts, delivering many from the darkness of evil to God’s glorious light. Those stories in Acts are the raison d’être for the pentecostal faith tradition. It would be very easy to embrace the same stories told to show God’s healing- deliverance-miracle to assist in describing the work of the Spirit in providing “answers” to the problem of evil and suffering. As Yong has noted: [Insofar] as theology is theodicy, then Pentecostal theology will be reflec- tion on the fallenness of the human condition and on the divine response of the outpouring of the Spirit. [Insofar] as theology is second-order reflection on lived experience, then Pentecostal theology will be reflec- tion on the triumphs over sin, sickness, and Satan that are enjoyed by those visited by the Spirit.31 In light of these things, I would hope my proposals here would be part of what might be described as a “practical” pentecostal theodicy. This would include viewing the work of the Spirit in Acts in a new way. While an “academic” or intellectual “answer” to the problem of evil might be plausible, I think any final answers to the questions about evil and suffering might also prove to be elusive. Instead, a response to evil and suffering can be an appeal to the work of the Spirit in ways that bring peace and light and comfort. Such an appeal might be described as redemptive, pastoral, and deeply existential and all accomplished by the work of the Spirit. However,I am not naïveabout such things.Evenmyproposalfor a “practical” pentecostal theodicy requires new ways of thinking about “ordinary theology,” new ways of pastoral ministry, and lots of energy expended on behalf of the suffering, but also on behalf of those who have not yet suffered a “dark night of the soul”; they need to reimagine ways to think and act in regard to suffer- ing and healing.32After all, all people will suffer in one way or another at some point in their lives. In addition to the common experience of suffering, Pente- costals can also have the common experience of being servants to those who are suffering, knowing what to say, how to minister, how to speak about suffer- ing that embraces the whole biblical record, not just selected passages about healing-deliverance-miracles. 31 32 Amos Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology(Grand Rapids,mi: Baker Academic, 2005), 31. See Amos Yong, “Reimagining and Renewing Theology in Late Modernity: Enabling a Disabled World,” in Theology and Down Syndrome (Waco, tx: Baylor University Press, 2007), 155–292. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========10========170 fettke and dusing Those who are not healed or helped deserve a response more thorough than a simple repetition of the healing doctrine or selected Scriptures emphasizing healing or even expanded ministries to them, even though much needed by them. Pentecostal churches have people with all kinds of afflictions, chronic illnesses, and special needs, and who have faced horrible hardships, yet are not healed or helped in the way often expected. “Faith is not so much needed when one sees God’s miracles; faith is needed when we are facing the dark side of life and the immanence of death.”33 Time spent searching for specific reasons for hardships and afflictions might prove to be frustrating for the lay person; it might even be interpreted by many lay people as a lack of pastoral concern for the afflicted.34Blaming the believer for “non-healing” can be wrong-headed. However, just as wrong-headed is assuming God is too weak to deal with many afflictions and hardships.35 This is not to deny the deep thought and careful wisdom that might be available through philosophical/theological studies. It is, instead, to acknowledge the limitations of human knowledge. Afflicted believers might be asked, finally, to live with the mystery of their affliction in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, not all evil and suffering are the same. And some evil and some suffering can be named. Horrible injustices, demonic influence, and human perfidy can all be recognized in their various forms and named as evil and as the cause of suffering by Christians. These forms of evil and suffering can be named, interpreted, and dealt with by the work of the Holy Spirit within the faith community. Later, I will mention some ways in which this can be done. What is often mislabeled by Pentecostals, however, is what Simon Chan identifies from the mystical tradition: the dark night of the soul. Pentecostals might wrongly identify internal suffering or anxiety as coming from a lack of faith or from the devil, but the cause may be what mystics consider a part of the process of spiritual maturation—a “dark night of the soul”—and a work of God.36 Chan asserts, “[In] the mystical way the devout soul must pass through the dark night of the soul and spirit between illumination and union. But Pentecostals have no place in their schema for the dark night.”37 33 34 35 36 37 Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “Theology of the Cross: Stumbling Block to Pentecostal/ Charis- matic Spirituality,” in Wonsuk Ma and Robert P. Menzies, eds., The Spirit and Spirituality: Essays in Honour of Russell P. Spittler, JPTSup 24 (London:t&tClark, 2004), 163. Daniel Castelo,Theological Theodicy(Eugene,or: Cascade Books, 2012). As this writer suggests: Kushner,When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Simon Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition (Wipf & Stock, 2000), 75–76. Ibid., 75. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========11========a practical pentecostal theodicy? 171 Through the Pauline literature alone, Pentecostals can be shown how God is not bound to isolated healing-promise passages and how God will not be manipulated or domesticated into doing what someone thinks should be done. In 2 Corinthians different possibilities can be highlighted for sufferers. The Apostle described some kind of unnamed hardship that had him on the brink of death, yet God intervened, providing both deliverance and a reason for this experience: so that he would learn not to rely on himself (2Cor 1:8–11). He argued that God provides suffering people comfort so that the comfort provided can “overflow” to other suffering people (2Cor 1:3–7). Sometimes Pentecostals“claim”2Corinthians 1:20: “[all] the promisesof God are yes and amen.” Although taken out of context either to apply toguaranteed healing and help or to “prove” that all should be healed or helped in ways humanly expected, the actual way in which God works in humans can be as mysterious and wide-ranging as the very Spirit who makes God’s promises possible. Indeed, the Apostle himself had an amazing spiritual experience only to find himself afflicted in some way. And when he prayed three times for relief from the affliction, he was told, in essence, “No,” God’s grace would have to be sufficient for him (2Cor 12:1–10). Epaphroditus was “sick unto death” but received God’s mercy (Phil 2:27), and Trophimus had to be left in Miletus, sick (2Tim 4:20). Neither Epaphroditus nor Trophimus was blamed for a lack of faith or some kind of unconfessed sin. Christians share in Christ’s sufferings (all kinds of sufferings; Rom 8:17), and the Holy Spirit prays for Christians in their weakness and suffering (Rom 8:26– 27). In fact, even where it is expected that sin would be cited as the reason for suffering and evil, there is found a more nuanced assertion. When describing Israel’s wilderness wanderings, the Deuteronomist argued that the forty-year experience in the wilderness was God’s way of testing and disciplining Israel to understand that God would supply their needs. “In this passage we hear rather explicitly about God humbling, testing, and disciplining Israel in a manner that suggests one cannot simply assume every experience of adversity is a form of punishment for some previous sin” (Deut 8:2–5).38 In the story of Joseph’s enslavement and then exaltation in the Egyptian kingdom, the narrative sug- gests an alternative interpretation to Joseph’s suffering at the unjust “hands” of his brothers, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today” (Gen 50:20, nrsv). Joseph did not suffer because of “evil” brothers. 38 Joel S. Kaminsky, “Would You Impugn My Justice? A Nuanced Approach to the Hebrew Bible’s Theology of Divine Recompense,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 69, no. 3 (2015): 303. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========12========172 fettke and dusing In some mysterious way, the Spirit can mediate God’s concern for all suffer- ing, even the suffering found in the created world. Frank Macchia links Spirit baptism and the suffering groan of all creation as described in Romans 8 (espe- cially v. 22): In Spirit baptism, God seeks to tabernacle with creation in empathy with the suffering creation and toward its final liberation. After all, the Spirit of Spirit baptism is the one who groans with the suffering creation for its eventual liberation through Christ. Spirit baptism reveals profoundly what is implied in the incarnation and the cross.39 This is not to say that evil and suffering have to wait until the eschaton for final resolution. Pentecostals have long embraced the possibility of deliverance, opposed the injustices of empires, and believed for the end of human suffering by virtue of the outpouring the Holy Spirit in Acts. Amos Yong puts it this way: [The] same Spirit who anointed Jesus to go about “doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38) continues to empower the works of Jesus’ followers today, so that through them, Jesus, who has gone to be with the Father, can do even greater things than he did while in the flesh.40 Jn 14:12 The Spirit of God can work in believers’ lives in myriad and mysterious ways that might bring full healing-deliverance-miracle, or bring affliction, or bring a period of waiting, or bring a community to help, or be a period of testing, or provide answers yet to be discovered, as Joseph learned after a long period of suffering. It is important to pray for healing-deliverance-miracle and believe that something wonderful will occur in God’s response, but it is arrogant to say that God has to do one thing or another; it is an attempt to domesticate God by making healing-deliverance-miracle theonlyacceptable response from God. In contemplating afflictions and hardships apparently unanswered by God, Pentecostals can learn that it is also important to address the presence of 39 40 Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Grand Rapids, mi: Zondervan, 2006), 126. Amos Yong,Who Is the Holy Spirit? A Walk with the Apostles(Brewster,ma: Paraclete Press, 2011), 130. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========13========a practical pentecostal theodicy? 173 evil in this world. And while there can be few complete answers in regard to the presence of evil, nevertheless, believers can remember that God sent God’s Son as the response to the problem of evil. “The cross shows the final evidence of the fact that God assumed the responsibility over evil by send- ing God’s Son to the cross. This is the way the New Testament—which does not know any kind of philosophical theodicy—talks about evil and suffer- ing.”41 Finally, the most important response to the problem of suffering and the existence of a holy, loving God is one with which Pentecostals surely are most familiar: God’s abiding presence (John 14). If the Lord is with Christians always, even to the end of the age (Matt 28:20), then God’s presence is a response to the problem of evil and suffering. At the end of the day, pentecostal people can remember that they are those who “have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Rom 8:5), and they know that no kind of trouble or hardship can separate them from God’s loving presence (Rom 8:35–39).42 Pastoral Responses to Suffering43 It is one thing to speak of God’s abiding presence in good times; it is another to have the awareness of God’s presence in the midst of awful suffering or hardship. It is important for Pentecostals to continue to practice the laying on of hands for the sick and afflicted, even calling the elders to pray with the laying on of hands and the ceremonial anointing with olive oil. Pente- costals want to pray for God’s very best for those who are suffering. If their only response to suffering is the laying on of hands and prayer, however, then the pastoral response might miss the Spirit’s nuances. Note this profound thought: God will not hear prayer that is painless, that causes no inconvenience to its authors, that involves no bodily contact. We are responsible for those for whom we pray. We respond to God for them and we become God’s response to them. It is not a matter of turning the whole thing back to God … to pray is to announce to God and to one another our readiness to 41 42 43 Kärkkäinen, “Theology of the Cross,” 162. See Gregory Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil (Downers Grove, il: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 16–17. Allare ministers: See Steven M. Fettke,God’s Empowered People: A Pentecostal Theology of the Laity(Eugene,or: Wipf & Stock, 2010), 18–44. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========14========174 fettke and dusing accept God’s invitation to participate in the vicarious life of the Christ, to become in deed as well as in thought and word his Body, and to extend his priesthood in and for the world. It is an awesome thing, and not to be entered lightly.44 I am reminded of what Jesus said about his own mission and that of his followers in Mark 10:42–45. If Christians are called out to serve others, as the Lord demonstrated, then, as Hall also says, “Our prayer … when it is real, is always a sacramental reenactment of Gethsemane” (“… not my will, but Thine be done”).45 How can Pentecostals become “fully present” to serve those who are suffering? “To make intercession means to grant our (sister or) brother the same right that we have received, namely to stand before Christ and share in (her or) his mercy.”46 Swinton describes this concern from fellow believers as a kind of holy friendship; these Christian friends are those who “stand in solidarity as a plausible, healing alternative to the hopelessness and misery of evil.”47 Pentecostals who express the pastoral ministry of intercessory prayer and concern might be drawn into the very lives of those for whom they have been praying. They might be required to make sacrifices, endure pain, feel the hurts and anguish of those people whose names they have called in prayer. Also, Pentecostals “put feet on their prayers” or “incarnate” God’s loving Presence when they step out of the prayer closet directly into the line of fire or into the fray with and for the very ones whose names they have called in the prayer closet. I am reminded of the haunting words of the prophet, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed” (Jer 8:21). As products of a pain-denying and “success”-oriented culture, we can find it very difficult to draw a crowd to pastoral concern like this. After all, who wants to discover that their religion calls them to suffer on behalf of others when there are plenty of messages about parties, prosperity, and easy, pain-free living? Besides intercessory concern, I wish also to mention both lament and testi- mony. Lament can be encouraged in all its rawness. Unfortunately, the script of most pentecostal churches does not include lament; it tolerates only praise and “positive” messages. “Lament and testimony both continue in the church 44 45 46 47 Douglas John Hall,When You Pray: Thinking Your Way into God’s World (Eugene,or: Wipf & Stock, 2003), 85. Ibid., 83. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community(San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009), 97. Swinton, Raging with Compassion, 247. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========15========a practical pentecostal theodicy? 175 today because the circumstances that occasion lament have not ceased, and neither has God ceased to answer prayer with new experiences of deliverance and presence.”48 In his book on lament, Scott Ellington has caught well how powerful, yet how risky lament and lament prayers can be: Lament … is not concerned with objectivity, but rather with verbalizing pain … The crisis that confronts the one praying a lament is more than the potential loss of a theological understanding of God, it is the weakening or loss of trust in God. It is not just that tragedy has struck, but that in the midst of that tragedy God who has been a loving source of protection and prosperity in the past seems suddenly to have fallen silent, so that he will not provide, not protect, and not heal … Such [lament] prayers simply will not constrain themselves to conventional, acceptable, safe language in their address to God. Laments rightly diagnose the fundamental problem as a crisis of relationship with God.49 Pentecostals are invited to risk “unsafe” language so that hurting people might be honest with God. In fact, Pentecostals might become aware that lament psalms are available whose daring language might help teach them that God is big enough and strong enough to handle the toughest situations. Also, God does not reject troubled, transparent people.50 Brueggemann, however, has made an excellent point: “Where the lament is absent, the normal mode of the theodicy question is forfeited. When the lament form is censured, justice questions cannot be asked and eventually become invisible and illegitimate.”51 Swinton has argued for lament as practical theodicy.52 “Lament has a purpose and an endpoint beyond the simple expression of pain: reconciliation with and a deeper love of God.”53 Pentecostals value testimony as a key part of their experience; however, they have a script for “acceptable” testimonies. Testimonies must begin with some tragedy, proceed to describe how believers “prayed through,” and then must 48 49 50 51 52 53 Scott A. Ellington, “The Costly Loss of Testimony,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 16 (2000): 59. Scott A. Ellington, Risking Truth: Reshaping the World through Prayers of Lament (Eugene, or: Pickwick Publications, 2008), 2–3. See the story of Job; see the story of Jeremiah’s complaint, Jer 15:15–21. WalterBrueggemann,“TheCostlyLossofLament,”JournaloftheStudyoftheOldTestament 36 (1986): 63–64. Emphasis his. Swinton, Raging with Compassion, 109–111. Ibid., 111. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========16========176 fettke and dusing end with “proclaiming the victory,” by which is meant the sought-for solution materialized. Instead of following this strict script, I would urge Pentecostals to allow hurting people to be honest about their hurts and disappointments. Such transparency can lead also to a renewed concern for the one hurting. It can demonstrate that not all of life unfolds in a neatly designed process. Honest testimonies can show others that life in Christ can still be messy, sometimes disappointing, but always with some kind of awareness of God’s presence. Cartledge has shown how Spirit-inspired testimony can help individuals and pentecostal communities “rescript” their narratives in powerful ways.54 This can constitute the intercessory presence of others in the faith community, producing a new dimension of compassion in people caring for one another as Pentecostals learn to “weep with those who weep” as well as “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom 12:15). All kinds of pastoral ministry can be expressed to the ones who are hurting; for example, church leaders can educate the “abled” on how to reach out and serve the suffering as well as allow the suffering to minister to them. I wish to emphasize what I have said before: “I think it is possible to begin to view folks we have usually considered disabled and weak as those who both can do ministry and to whom ministry can be directed.”55 In their zeal to reach out to the suffering, Pentecostals can remember that suffering people are also ministers.56 Finally, let us note that the Spirit might very well inspire alternative readings to Bible passages related to evil and suffering, the most famous of which is the story of Job. While many scholars complain that in the God Speeches in the Book of Job God does not answer Job’s questions but changes the subject to God’s creative power, Amos Yong proposes a different reading and applies it to those with disabilities, highlighting their dignity and place in God’s plan.57 The pentecostal faith community can be open to new, Spirit-inspired readings of familiar biblical passages or stories, readings that give suffering people new perspectives on their suffering. 54 55 56 57 Cartledge,Testimony in the Spirit, 15–20. Steven M. Fettke, “The Spirit of God Hovered over the Waters,” 180. See Amos Yong, “The Blind, the Deaf, and the Lame: Biblical and Historical Trajectories,” in Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity(Waco,tx: Baylor University Press, 2007), 19–44. Amos Yong,The Bible, Disability and the Church, 38–40. PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========17========a practical pentecostal theodicy? 177 Existential Responses to Suffering I was sitting in my office when my wife called me from the neurologist’s office to tell me, tearfully, of our son’s diagnosis. At that moment I became numb with anguish. I was so stunned by this news I could barely pray. Where was God? What sin had we committed? Did we have no faith? I was repeating to myself the dominant pentecostal script. At that time I did not know how to lament or even know to turn to the lament psalms. Our pentecostal faith community did not know how to minister to my wife and me concerning our son’s condition, nor did my pentecostal colleagues at the university. My prayers seemed to crash against the ceiling. I was in deep spiritual anguish, an existential crisis of the worst kind (for my wife and me). This numbness, this anguish continued from February to August: no tears, no sense of God’s presence, no help or wisdom from colleagues or people in the church. Deep inside I was crying out to God, but I felt only darkness. In August the university president at the time always began the annual faculty seminar with a prayer meeting. As the prayer meeting began, an elderly faculty colleague began to weep profusely. At that very moment I had a sense of the Spirit speaking deep within me: “That (the tears, the prayer) is for you,” is what I “heard.” When my elderly colleague could compose himself, here is the only “word” of knowledge he spoke: “Oh, how the Fettkes must be hurting.” I had had an existential encounter with God through my colleague’s intercession and through his word of knowledge. I wept as though I would never stop; I felt an overwhelming sense of God’s true care. God did know I hurt. From that moment in August 1986 until now, I have not felt that same numbness, that same darkness. No, my son’s condition had not changed, but I had met God and it changed everything.58 I learned that I needed God much more than any “solution” to my son’s condition. In fact, I learned eventually that my son’s condition was not a “problem” at all; God had created my son just as he was and is.59 PentecostalsknowhowtoseekGod: forhealing, fordeliverance,for miracles. Why not seek God for this kind of existential encounter? Such a deep encounter with God’s Spirit might bring healing-deliverance-miracle, or a reason for the affliction (as with the Apostle), or a new awareness of God’s presence, or new strength to continue, with possibilities as endless as the Spirit of God. Sadly, 58 59 See Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, trans. Alastair Hannay (New York: Penguin Books, 1985). Steven M. Fettke, “The Spirit of God Hovered over the Waters.” PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========18========178 fettke and dusing however, sufferers usually wait alone, or, sometimes just abandon the faith; they begin to believe more in God’s absence than in the promise of God’s presence. Stories of such pain and trauma are stories of wounds that cry out for some kind of divine response. Among those who have taken a different approach to biblical studies fairly recently are those who have pioneered trauma studies. One such pioneer of trauma studies is Kathleen M. O’Connor in her study of Jeremiah and the trauma of enemy invasion and exile for the people of Judah. In one chapter entitled “Confusion as Meaning Making,” she provides this insight: In all its profusion, Jeremiah is a quest for meaning, a continuous search for expressions and points of view to name, understand and live through the catastrophe. Its untidy mixture of perspectives create conversations and arguments that force readers themselves to become analysts of a world ground to bits by the disaster.60 In addition to O’Connor and her work in trauma studies, David Carr contends that Scripture was formed as a response of faith to deep historical trauma. In the title of his book he includes the word resilience as a way of describing how faith communities have continued in the face of catastrophe and disaster.61 In the work of both O’Connor and Carr trauma, pain, and catastrophe pro- vide the impetus for reflection, deep prayer, and a call to careful processing of the hurt and trauma. It is the story of trauma itself that contains the seeds of possible answers or means by which to find new ways to live or find a new understanding of the divine way. Is it possible to view suffering and trauma as invitations to sufferers and their supporting faith communities to being pro- cessing the trauma? Perhaps such analyses can lead to perspectives heretofore unrealized. For those whose faith appears weak, Pentecostals can offer a “shoulder” of faith on which the weak one can lean. By joining with the sufferers with intercessory concern, the intercessors’ faith becomes intermingled with that of the sufferers so that there is no discernible difference. There might be times Pentecostals can thus “carry” hurting, weak fellow believers, although this will require much diligence and perseverance. This spiritual “stretch” can actually 60 61 Kathleen M. O’Connor, Jeremiah: Pain and Promise(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 128. David M. Carr, Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins(New Haven,ct: Yale Univer- sity Press, 2015). PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========19========a practical pentecostal theodicy? 179 be good for a pentecostal faith community as they begin to carry one another through trauma, suffering, tests, and trials, discovering along the way that comfort overflows in all directions (2Cor 1:3–7). PNEUMA 38 (2016) 160–179 ========20========

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