Sunday, April 24, 2011

Is There Hope for the Past? A Brief Reflection on Easter

In Dostoevsky’s wonderful novel The Brothers Karamazov, the brother Ivan lays out an interesting twist on classic theodicy while talking to his younger brother, Aloysha, a novice.  He has no problem with God, but it is the world he cannot accept;  in particular, he takes the case of the suffering of children. He gives several examples, but I’ll quote one of the most memorable at length:
This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty- shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn't ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child's groans! Can you understand why a little creature, who can't even understand what's done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child's prayer to dear, kind God'! I say nothing of the sufferings of grown-up people, they have eaten the apple, damn them, and the devil take them all! But these little ones!
Ivan is passionate about justice, declaring “I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself.” Ivan also argues that no future harmony/heaven could be worth the present unjust suffering of children, “It's not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to 'dear, kind God'!.....It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket."

Finally, he leaves Alyosha and the reader with a powerful question, “Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

There is no straightforward theological answer to how a good God created and allows a world that is full of evil. But throughout the Bible, and particularly in the resurrection, the central event of Christian faith, we are offered hope. Not hope for a life to come, but hope for the renewal and recreation of the present world.

There is sometimes confusion over the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. Sometimes we oversimplify Jesus’ death and resurrection as our entrance ticket into heaven.  But Jesus does not go from the tomb straight to heaven. His is a physical resurrection, a restoration of a body that had been beaten, crucified and broken a mere three days earlier. It is not just the promise of a new life, but the reversal of a past event: the suffering and death of the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah who had finally arrived to end the sufferings of the Israelites. In the resurrection there is hope not only for the future, but also for the past. As Jurgen Moltmann writes:
No human future can repair the crimes of the past. But in order to live with the past of ruins and victims, without having to repress them or relive them, we need this transcendent hope for the resurrection of the dead and the rebuilding of the ruins. Because of the resurrection of the destroyed Christ, Christians have hope for the future, in the nucleus of hope for resurrection. Without hope for the past there is no hope for the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment