"In the midst of a world of violence and suffering, how can we believe in an almighty and all-loving God?" This question was posed by the Craigville Colloquy XXIV, a gathering of religious professionals and lay people last week on Cape Cod, Mass.
I've also pondered this question. I can't help thinking of the state the people of Israel must have been in when they were so roundly defeated by the Babylonians, as recounted in the Bible. Many were killed, and the rest were taken into slavery by the victors. How could their God have failed them?
Desmond Tutu refers to this several times in his sermons in "Hope and Suffering": "They were surrounded on all sides by reminders of the Babylonians' victory over them. There were imposing statues of the Babylonian gods, and temples dedicated to them, and the Jews felt that they were very small.... Their God had let them down very badly.... The Jews must have felt so low they could have crawled under a snake."
Then, just at that time in Israelite history, many scholars believe, the first chapter of Genesis appeared. Bishop Tutu goes on: "... it is out of such a slough of despond that this marvelous theological tract arises and is addressed precisely to the Jews who were without hope" (p. 64).
The key words come at the start of Genesis: "In the beginning, God created ..." It's an almost impossible juxtaposition: the Babylonian gods, seemingly victorious, yet this powerful affirmation that Spirit, not material deities, shaped the world and the universe.
I like to think that as this concept of God's precedence in creation sank into their thoughts, something happened within their lives. Perhaps there was soul-searching about their motives and behavior, their obedience to divinity (or lack of it).
The Bible gives examples that show that at least some among the captives were able to be a positive influence, even in those dreadful times. But perhaps more important it was their conviction of God's continuing goodness – and their need to move in a more spiritual direction – that helped them finally be free again.
Is this a message for our times? Even if we feel crushed by events, is there still hope? Is it possible to feel something of the God Christ Jesus told us is divine Love?
Jesus knew divine Love so well that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for humanity. He chose to go forward, despite knowing what lay ahead. The path he walked is not one we will have to walk; he has done this for us. But if you look at it without knowing the ending, it must have seemed crazy to trust a God who seemed so absent right at the point when He was most needed.
For me, there's a clue to Jesus' thinking in his farewell prayer, before his crucifixion. He said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Even then, before his resurrection, he trusted God enough to affirm, in his own way, "In the beginning, God ..."
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy loved Jesus, and she wrote of him in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "He proved Life to be deathless and Love to be the master of hate" (p. 44).
Even at times of hopelessness and despair, God's purpose and presence have broken through, as shown by individuals who have helped people in Europe and Africa escape genocide, and modern leaders such as Nelson Mandela who have stood up to evil.
Is it easy to master hate, to reject death? No. But we don't actually need to live with violence and suffering, and more people are rising in resistance to evil. As this effort continues, we will find that our "almighty and all-loving God" is with us, just as He was with Jesus.