For our last PEACEtalk I shared some of my reflections on mental illness and theology. One of the central points that I tried to make was that Christians are not to explain away suffering by pretending that it is a good in disguise. Now we have to be careful here, don’t we? After all, there are obviously countless examples of good things being brought about through suffering and evil. The cross of Christ is the prime example of this. The cross was a symbol of state terrorism and oppression. Yet Easter transformed its meaning into a symbol of God’s solidarity with our suffering and his ultimate conquest of empire and death. But this does not make crucifixion good. It is part of God’s nature-his creative power-to conquer evil by transforming it into a means of producing good. But God’s capacity for this kind of work by no means makes evil cease to be evil. The executors of Jesus were still guilty of a horrendous blasphemy despite their actions being a means of overcoming evil.
This dynamic is, if you like, the other side of the coin of a view of evil that evokes fate or discipline as an explanation of suffering. Job’s friends had a very neat explanation as to why he was suffering. That is, he must have unwittingly done something wrong. Now, scripture is clear that this is a fundamentally flawed view of suffering. I would argue that it is just as wrong-headed and pastorally unhelpful to see an intrinsic and necessary causal connection between an individual instance of suffering and some potential good. The reason I say this is that such a view seeks to explain away evil at the very point that those who are suffering need to be reminded that what they are going through is just that, an evil. The first step in comforting those who are suffering is to name their suffering for what it is and to suffer alongside them. In case of mental illness there may be all sorts of positives to come from an individual’s suffering- indeed a great many spiritual and theological masters were deeply depressed- but this does not mean that all mental illness will produce good nor, if it does happen to bear positive fruit, will such fruit turn that suffering into a good in itself.
For our next PEACEtalk Dr Peter Stiles will be talking to us about the influence of Christian theology and scripture on the formation of the Victorian novel. Come along for a stimulating discussion on the centrality of the Christian tradition to Western Culture. It will be held on the 2nd of May at 7pm starting with a light meal. All welcome. For more information on PEACEtalks as well as recordings of previous events go to www.peacetalks.co
PEACE stands for ‘political, ethical, artistic and cultural engagement’. As such, PEACEtalks seeks to provide a context where these things can be engaged with in an open and informed way in the context of relationship and hospitality. But ‘PEACE’ is not just a clever acronym. Peace is a core conviction that we seek to embrace and embody in its deepest sense; a way of togetherness that embodies wholeness and harmony.
At the moment we run monthly events on the evening of the first Saturday of each month in the rectory of Saint George’s Anglican Church, Paddington. The rectory itself is the home an intentional Christian community (comprised of two families) who, with others, offer the relationships and hospitality that is central to PEACEtalk’s life.
For more info on PEACE including recordings of past lectures go to www.peacetalks.co