Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Psalms and Theodicy

Rachel Barenblat and Chris Heard both posted today issues related to theodicy and random acts of violence, and the problems inherent in faith and trust as if they were measurable.

Chris asks why a “sovereign” God does not always get what God wants. And he suggests the solution of kenosis (Philippians 2)- self-emptying as if God hides part of self from self. My comment was not well-enough formed to get through the ether, so I will try and reconstruct the thought here. Moses in the later chapters of Deuteronomy (29:28/9) writes of Hidden things: These belong to God but the revealed things belong to us and our children for ever - come hell and high water. (He didn't say that last bit). Is this hidden aspect the other side of God's voluntary kenosis? Science notes that some things are not measurable concurrently - you can have momentum and position but you cannot be sure of both concurrently. We always disturb what we measure. As with science, so theology must recognize some of its inherent limitations. We think we could understand but our fullness is not even available to ourselves. (Cleanse me from my secret faults) (Psalm 19). And as for flat tires as acts of God - Psalm 148 allows for a certain fixity to reality and its rules without which we would have nothing rather than the hidden and the revealed.

Rachel quotes the Gemara: what does thought help to happen, and when does thought actually project an energy that prevents something from happening? Chazal say, that's a function of yirat shamayim [fear/awe of heaven/God]

The Sages do not mean, if I can dare to say such a thing, that your fear or faith or trust was somehow insufficient to enable the desired outcome. They refer, I expect, to that continuous voluntary engagement with the Most High which oscillates among presence, forgetfulness, joy, error, and hope. Why would it not be so? It is 'prayer without ceasing', to use the terms of the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles, Paul of Tarsus. You do not get your own way or what you deserved or what you wanted, but as with the Levites, you get God as your land. Who else do I have in heaven or on earth? (Psalm 73) What other hope is feasible for the twin problems of theodicy and faith?

There is much more - but it is beyond me to write about it at the moment. Thanks to the others for the stimulus.

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