How should we respond to the pain of others? We are too often quick to justify God's permitting horrendous evils, answering why, and talking too much. In this episode, theologian David Kelsey reflects on human anguish and God's power, noticing the anomaly of evil and its wild and inexplicable grip on creatures, the constant temptation of such creatures to talk and explain evil in the face of others' pain, and finally the analogously wild and inexplicable nature of God's grace in his immediate, if silent, presence among human anguish. Interview by Ryan McAnnally-Linz.
How should we respond to the pain of others? We are too often quick to justify God's permitting horrendous evils, answering why, and talking too much. In this episode, theologian David Kelsey reflects on Human Anguish and God's Power, noticing the anomaly of evil and its wild and inexplicable grip on creatures, the constant temptation of such creatures to talk and explain evil in the face of others' pain, and finally the analogously wild and inexplicable nature of God's grace in his immediate, if silent, presence among human anguish. Interview by Ryan McAnnally-Linz.
- “When you're consoling somebody who’s in deep anguish, let them raise the why questions”
- “As people of faith, we don't know the answer. What we do affirm is that God is present in the situation of the people who are anguishing and the people who are suffering”
- “God is affirming the value of that life, even as it suffers”
- “And God is as offended at the suffering as you are”
- “You don't have to talk. Better to acknowledge what's there, witness to the presence of God's grace in the midst of it and be silent”
- David was one of Ryan’s professors at Yale Divinity School
- What to do about the pain of others?
- Observing human suffering when it is not our own
- People who have lost loved ones in the Pandemic, what do you say to them? What do you do?
- How to live in that sacred yet difficult place?
- Isaiah 6, “I’m a man of unclean lips”
- David Kelsey: “The main problem is that we seek explanations where there are in fact two mysteries”
- the positive mystery that is God cannot be grasped
- the negative mystery, which is evil
- And the two make no sense together
- "Look, when you look for an explanation there, you're going to get God wrong and you're going to hurt people. There's a better way and it starts and ends with silence”
- David Kelsey, Imagining Redemption
- David Kelsey, Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology
- David Kelsey, Human Anguish and God's Power
- Human Anguish and God's Power – what made you interested in this?
- Clergy are appalled about the rhetoric that people would say to those in anguish in the hospital. “This was sent for a purpose,’ ‘there is a plan here.’ It makes grief more complicated.
- So why do people say those things?
- The Abrahamic traditions asserted that God created the Earth out of nothing, which implies that God can do anything He wants. That leads to people think God wants people to suffer
- Initially the title was Human Anguish and Divine Power, but he realized that was wrong
- God so exceeds our capacity to get our minds around what it is to be God that everything we say about God should be "God is kind of like someone who loves," "God is kind of like someone who is focused on justice"
- We don’t really know what justice, in God’s case, really means
- “When people talk very fluently about God, I get very uneasy. It's too slick”
- Reading scripture in light of the text
- The drive to want an explanation
- Lutheran theologian, Deanna Thompson, has written about this in experience as a cancer victim
- “Christians have trouble with this: God did not create evil, and yet evil is there. It’s absurd, and it’s real.”
- “How it came to be that way, we don’t know. Presumably God knows, but I’ m not God”
- “Not short-circuiting the mysteriousness of evil and yet affirming somehow the priority of what you call ‘the positive mystery that is God’”
- Christians often think evil and grace are reconcilable if you think hard enough
- The wildness of God's grace: "why in the world would God love us this way?”
- Don’t try to talk, be a witness to the mystery
- “The wildness of evil is parasitic because it’s a deep distortion of God’s created good”
- Evil as distortion
- “Disease is a distortion of the dynamics of a healthy organism, but not some other sort of dynamic. It's just that gone awry”
- “And so it's that asymmetry where the mystery of evil is parasitic on the mystery of what grace produces”
- Where does silence land in a person’s life?
- “Worship: it's praying; it's singing; it's asking for help; it's confessing our sins; it's helping our neighbors”
- Praise of God’s glory as foundation of worship
- First silence, then praise
About David Kelsey
David Kelsey is Luther A. Weigle Professor Emeritus of Theology at Yale Divinity School. He is author of several works of theology, including Imagining Redemption, Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology, and most recently Human Anguish and God's Power.
- This podcast featured David Kelsey & Ryan McAnnally-Linz
- Edited by Evan Rosa
- Co-produced by Evan Rosa & Ryan McAnnally-Linz
- Hosted by Evan Rosa
- Production Assistance by Martin Chan & Nathan Jowers
- A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
- Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture: https://faith.yale.edu/give