Introduction to "Ask the Professor"
While waiting for glitches to be worked out of our new internet DiscplesNet Café, we’ve decided to go ahead and open one of the thought and discussion features of DisciplesNet Church that we have been working on: "Ask the Professor."
New Testament accounts show Jesus constantly working to help his followers grow in understanding of God and God’s calling to them. At DisciplesNet, we try to apply this same standard to who we are. We are working on being a loving network of Christ’s disciples, constantly growing in understanding of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, ourselves, and others through the lens of God’s saving love and grace. We don't believe that God minds our asking questions, but rather minds when we don't ask questions about what worries us, or don't allow God to be a conversation partner in the messages we are taking in from the religious sources in our lives.
Along this line, we hope that Ask the Professor gives people chances to think and ask the questions about God that are common to all people, even the tough questions that may not have quick and ready answers. We hope the questions, answers, and discussions can be a source of personal conversation with God that bring growth.
Each Ask the Professor session will begin with a question posed by one of our DisciplesNet congregation. Next will follow a response from one or more respected professors who have written and studied extensively in the area in question. Following the professor's comments, we offer opportunities fordiscussion, for our readers sharing their own insights about the question
II. Participation Guidelines: We ask each participant in Ask the Professordiscussions to imagine the discussion taking place around the table with Christ at the center, as Jesus' own disciples experenced so many years ago. We ask participants to remain loving, polite and respectful, speak their truth in love, and suggest ways for looking at various aspects of the questions without being condescending, disagreeable, judgmental or divisive. We ask that each recognize that all are constantly maturing in their faith and understanding of God, and that others are not at the same place in their journey as we are in ours. Each of us in our learning ofGod’s ways will continue to grow beyond the words we write.
At DisciplesNet we embrace the complex nature of God, human life, our world, and the issues related to them all. So, we tend to steer clear of talking points that use overly simple, two-sided, "either-or" labels and lenses that may have been handed to us by our cultures and human leaders. We have problems when these labels and lenses get so politically charged and divisive that they get in the way of working together in loving and respectful ways toward collaborative solutions toward even life's most complex problems.
III. Now, to introduce our first professor in our, "Ask the Professor."
It is indeed an extraordinary honor to have Clark Williamson as the first professor helping us with Ask the Professor. Clark is a well-known and highly esteemed theologian, author, professor, lecturer. Clark serves as Indiana Professor of Christian Thought, Emeritus, at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. A systematic theologian, his area of special concentration is on rethinking Christian theology after the events of the Holocaust. For more about Clark Williamson and his life work and service, follow this link: http://www.cts.edu/academics/faculty/williamson
Ask the Professor:
This question comes from one of our DisciplesNet regulars who struggles with constant physical pain and more, asking the age-old question:
"Why does God allow so much suffering?"
Professor Williamson responds:
This is a profound and deeply personal question for many people of faith. The world is full of suffering, some caused by other people, some by natural events such as tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, lightning strikes, some by ourselves, and some by disease and death. Suffering is a universal and inescapable fact and the question it raises for people of faith equally inescapable.
To answer it with any adequacy, we have to try to become clear about at least two matters. One is the nature of God. If God is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, why is there evil, and why does suffering happen? If God knows it might happen and is all-powerful, why does God not prevent it? Here the issue is one of getting clear about what we mean when we speak of God's power. The scriptures speak of God's power, but equally as much of God's love and God's justice. Love, power, and justice are attributes of God. And God is one. To say that God is one is not quite the same thing as saying that there is only one God, although it implies that. It is to say that God is not divided against God, God is not a cosmic psychiatric basket-case. No, God's power is just and loving, God's love is just and powerful, and God's justice is a loving, compassionate and powerful justice.
But if God's power is loving, then God neither causes nor allows evil and its consequence, suffering. Rather, as we should learn from the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, God is the One who suffers with us, who suffers when and because we suffer, who identifies with us in our suffering. God is the great companion who understands and empathizes. The great Jewish writer, Elie Wiesel, in his memoir of being in a Nazi concentration camp, tells of the time when the Nazis hanged two men and a little boy for some petty crime and then made the inmates walk past the three victims on the gallows. Wiesel says that as he walked past them he heard a voice behind him ask "Where is God?" and another that answered--"He is here, hanging on this gallows."
The other question has to do with the fact that God is not the only being in the universe who causes things to happen. Adolf Hitler caused lots of things to happen, and so does every other human being on earth. Tidal waves and typhoons cause things to happen, as do tornadoes and earthquakes. Good and bad politicians cause good and bad things to happen. God wants us all to be God's covenant partners, but obviously we are free to do otherwise. As a wise rabbi once said, "everything is in the control of God, except the love of God."
Disciplesnet participants who would like to do some reading on this topic could do worse than to find a copy of a book by Rabbi Harold Kirshner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I recommend it.
Indiana Professor of Christian Thought, Emeritus, Christian Theological Seminary
1000 W. 42nd Street
Indianapolis, IN 46208