Session 3 Reflection

Please join me in this prayer as we get into Session 3

God, we gather here to hear your word and respond to it together. As we move deeper into this season of Lent, help us to ask hard questions, to listen for your voice, and to turn toward you with all that we are. Give us ears to hear your word, eyes to see your face, and courage to follow the path you set before us. Through Christ we pray. Amen.

So…repentance. Like the handout discusses, this is not always a fun topic. When you hear the word repentance – are you inclined to think about the definition that the author mentions: “get on your knees, blurt out your sins and say you’re sorry”? Indeed that seems to be the general thought around the issue – especially if you do a Google Image Search for repentance, you get a lot of those types of images (see here).

Or does the idea of repentance as metanoia, of turning around 180º, make the idea of repentance more palatable? (Note that it’s 180º degrees, and not 360º. I always love when someone is talking about how much they’ve changed and say “I’ve made a 360º change!)

The handout goes on to talk about the question of theodicy. Just this past week at youth group, I asked the youth to write down some questions they had to discuss in youth group sometime. Over half of their questions had to do with theodicy; below are just two examples:

  • If God loves everyone, why is it in a war God lets the side who kills more people win?
  • If God loves everyone, why punish people?

How have you experienced this question in your own life? Is it one that is troubling to you? 

The author shares three possible answers to this question of theodicy:

  1. Even though tragic circumstances and death are very real now, they are not God’s ultimate will for humanity. I agree with the dissatisfaction with this answer – while it’s nice to know that’s not what God ultimately wants, it still doesn’t answer the question for right now – what about the pain that we are experiencing now?
  2. From the book of Job: God (essentially) says, “You don’t get it – trust me.” I think this is a helpful reminder for us, that God’s ways aren’t our ways, and God’s thoughts aren’t our thoughts…and yes, we surely do need to trust God…but, again, it’s kind of a non-answer.
  3. Love and suffering found in the cross. This is the answer that the author finds the most fulfilling. That Jesus, haven’t experienced pain and sacrificial loss through death on the cross, knows what we are experiencing.

Do any of these explanations work for you? Have you heard others that are less or more helpful?

For me – the third “answer” to the question of theodicy gets closest to how to think about this, but still never answers the question of “Why?” Most of you all know that we lost our twin boys, Micah and Judah, halfway through the pregnancy. Of course, the question “Why?” was on my lips for weeks and weeks after that tragedy. And for me…I think I still have that question, and I don’t have an answer. But what does get me through it, is knowing that God suffers WITH me. God knows suffering – as God watched God’s own son, Jesus the Christ, die on the cross…God knows what suffering is, God is there WITH me, God is there WITH you as you experience suffering and tragedy and the incredibly sad and crappy parts of life.

Like I said – that doesn’t address the “Why?” or the nagging “Did God cause this? Did God simply allow it to happen?” questions that may still be there, beneath the surface…but it does remind us that regardless, God is present and with us in our suffering.

What else stood out to you about this week’s lesson? Any nagging questions still with you? Any new insight that you gained?

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5 thoughts on “Session 3 Reflection

  1. gayle

    Everything that we experience in life affects us one way or the other. We are challenged to deal with whatever comes our way, good or bad.

    I personally feel what we would most often label as ‘bad’ experiences — the ones that stretch us to our emotional limits — are the ones that make us the most human. These are our own crosses to bear — our experiences of dropping to the depths of vulnerability where there is only one direction left to go.

    Our faith is the only thing that can pull us out of these holes. It’s at these times that we must remember to reach out for help — to God and to his angels hiding within those around us. If we don’t reach out, we risk being stuck in the hole forever…

    To repent… to remember what the hole was like. To be thankful for everything — even the ‘bad’ — because only after climbing out of the depths can you realize the true gift that life is. Without the valleys, we would never appreciate the mountain tops.

    Without these experiences, we would not be able to understand what others are going through. We would not be able to genuinely show God’s love and grace to others in need. Repent — and remember where you would be without God’s love for you.

    Reply
    1. Adam Walker Cleaveland

      Gayle – that is a helpful way to look at and understand the hard things that we go through. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this issue. And I like that…that these are the things that allow us to most fully experience our humanity, our vulnerability…and that, I think, is what happened on the cross for the Christ…that Jesus the Christ was able to experience our vulnerability and humanity at the most profound and deepest level…

      Reply
    2. Carolyn

      I agree we are challenged to handle what comes our way. Life just *IS* … in a way. Sure, there are choices that impact our lives, and there are the random situations that come our way. It is the attitude (the grace?) with which we handle the tough times that show more of the depths of who we are (and who we choose to be).

      I like your phrase “his angels hiding within those around us” …

      Reply
  2. Carolyn

    I feel very naive. I know I come at this from a very simple point of view at times. I don’t recall every hearing the word “theodicy” (thank you Wikipedia!) although I’ve heard many conversations about God “allowing” bad things to happen to good people. And I am looking for more depth of understanding in how I approach faith (and hopefully will find some memory power to remember it and not keep falling into my old ruts (and rants) )

    For this discussion, I see two separate topics – 1) why (is there) good vs evil 2) repentance – changing directions

    Although there is a tradition in our culture to try to find someone or something to blame when something bad happens, I don’t think most modern Presbyterians are too deep in the belief that bad things happen because of something that person did. Many struggle at some level with Good vs Bad. But can’t what happens in our lives just be the fact that life is NOT scripted in any manner and it can get messy? It is painful and joyful, it is anger and laughter, it comes with good and bad (and all shades of gray in between). The deepest pains or highest joys we experience are unique to us, yet at the same time these intense emotions are shared by millions of others – past, present and future, who are also experiences the incredible breadth of life’s experiences. So we are never alone in our pain. Is God the energetic connection between all of us?

    Repentance – in some definitions – includes being sorry for what you did enough that you are willing to change your ways (which matches the 180 degree idea). As Christians we are called to follow the teachings & examples of Jesus …. to change our ways to more closely follow his way of living life / treating others, etc. Does it have to be some big bad thing we did? That may be the obvious path to change. Yet, maybe it’s as simple as changing course slight enough that we are taking time to treat everyone we meet with love, respect, without judgement.

    Reply
    1. Adam Walker Cleaveland

      Sorry about just throwing out theological terminology like that…yes, theodicy is the question of the problem of evil. And Wikipedia is always helpful – here’s the article there for anyone else who is interested:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicy

      Seems like you’re thinking along the lines of Gayle above…that these experiences (the good, the bad, the deepest sorrows/pains and highest joys) all point to our humanity – to what it means to be human…

      But….I’m guessing that someone might respond “Well? Why? Why does life have to be like that? Why does humanity have to entail experiencing these deep sorrows…?

      Reply

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