“Something Holier”

NOTE: This post is the first in a new series: “From the Desk of” featuring theological reflection and a Christian response to current events and the state of the world.

Like many of you, Joani’s recent homily “Ticked at God” elicited many thoughts and conversations in our family.  In advance of an upcoming conversation on this homily (September 26th at 7:30PM via Zoom), I thought I’d share one of my thoughts on the topic here in the event that children’s bedtimes prevent me from joining the full discussion. 

It was the idea of the righteous indignation at our broken world that brought to mind a bit of an essay I had read more than 15 years ago.  After much pondering and eventual consultation with Google, I was finally able to track down the essay – written by C.S. Lewis as part of a collection entitled Christian Reflections.  I quote the relevant excerpt below: 

There is something holier about the atheism of a Shelley than about the theism of a Paley.  That is the lesson of the Book of Job.  No explanation of the problem of unjust suffering is there given: that is not the point of the poem.  The point is that the man who accepts our ordinary standard of good and by it hotly criticizes divine justice receives divine approval: the orthodox, pious people who palter with that standard in the attempt to justify God are condemned.  Apparently the way to advance from our imperfect apprehension of justice to the absolute justice is not to throw our imperfect apprehension aside but boldly to go on applying them. — “De Futilitate”, C.S. Lewis

On reflection, I find it curious that, out of the whole essay, what had stuck in my mind was that first sentence, and in particular the jarring juxtaposition of the words “holier about the atheism…”.  And I suppose you can see why—certainly not what we’d expect to hear from a Christian writer.

Yet, I would imagine many of us have had experiences where we find more that is Christian in what we hear in the humble grievances against the imperfect state of the world from an atheist than the confident explanation of the will of God from an outspoken Christian.  And here is where Lewis rightly points to the Biblical reference on this very point in the book of Job. 

(With no expertise at all in such things…) to me, a central lesson from the book of Job is that we should have greater confidence in our assessment of the nature of God rather than our interpretation of the will of God in any particularity.  In either case we are surely ignorant beyond measure, though by reading the Gospels we learn a great deal about the true nature of God in the person of Jesus.  

Ultimately we run a greater risk of expecting too little of God than we do too much, and as such we should be affirmed in calling on God (with perhaps even a little indignation from time to time!) to fix our broken world.  

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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