Gamecock Disaster and Theodicy

>I could spit nails! Early this morning I tuned into “The Game” on FM107.5 to hear the Gamecock woes after last night’s humiliating loss to Vanderbilt. There’s nothing better than USC and Clemson losses to remind us all that life is more than what happens on the gridiron. There are much more important things for us to be about. Living and breathing football is an obsession. As a Gamecock fan I should be used to losing and being mediocre. In 114 years of football at USC, we’ve only won 8 or more games 3 times. Hey, we sure know how to tailgate though, and we surely live up to the SC state motto Dum spiro spero, “While I breathe, I hope.” It’s just sad and disheartening when you pin your distraction from real life on a team that perennially lets you down. Maybe it’s a good thing to get this idolatry over early in the season so we can focus on reality. The reality that I need to think about is Jesus, the One about whom the writer of Hebrews says, “…is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

This begs a question in the midst of life’s travails, even when they’re on the football field. The question is why bad things happen to people. Why do some people get away unscathed by problems and appear to have a Teflon coating where nothing bad sticks to them? Others, usually good people, go from one crisis to another. Why? I guess it’s a question of theodicy. Theodicy is a peculiar, almost sacrilegious word. Its roots are in Theos or God and dicy, the same root that appears in the word “judicial.” Theodicy literally means “Judging God.” It sounds, at first glance, like a spiritual no-no, but God is big enough for us to question. Check out Job’s experience when asking God, “Why?” for all of his calamities.
So Gamecock and Clemson fans, let’s ask the Why-question: What is our theodicy? Sure James (1:2ff) says we should count it all joy when we have trials, but doesn’t identify the source of the junk that comes our way, at least not until verse 13 of the same chapter, “When tempted/tested, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’” Interesting, isn’t it? So God isn’t the source of the junk that happens.
I’ve been reading a book, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence, by John Sanders. He talks over and over again about how Scripture presents God as “relenting” from doing certain things. Of course, this could be anthropomorphic language about God, putting human language on a God who’s really above that. Can God really change God’s mind and action? If we don’t really think so, then maybe we should become Calvinists. If we take seriously the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “…Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven…” then we must believe that prayer can possibly change things. The Wesleyan point of view allows God to change. I know this flies in the face of one of the long-held tenets of Christianity, and may be where I am personally closest to heresy. The idea of God’s immutability is at stake, and I’m okay with giving it up. I believe the Wesleyan view that focuses both on God’s grace/love and process theology allows, even encourages, a progressive view of God’s interaction in the world. God loves creation and its creatures enough to allow us to change our minds, to let nature do what it will, and yield to the utter fickleness of humankind. Our Wesleyan understanding of grace’s progression toward sanctification leaves great room for change, on God’s part and ours.
So why do bad things happen? I’ll lift up four reasons that come quickly to mind: our choices, the choices of others, the general crap that’s in the world because of the Fall, and Evil. Maybe there are really no accidents, there are only crashes caused by one of these 4 sources, but never God. So where’s God? God is doing what God has always done since the Garden: God is seeking us out in the crap and wants to redeem our situations. God does not cause them, but walks with us and gives us the ultimate victory through Jesus Christ. God doesn’t have a pre-set plan for our lives that precludes our ability to change, and God loves us enough to change with us. So with football out of the way for another season due to a mistake-prone offense, defense, coaching staff, etc, I’m going to throw my foibles and thick-headed mistakes onto a God who risks – A God who risks loving me and risks watching all the stupid things that happen on this planet, yet enters our vicissitudes and consistently loves. That’s the basis for my hope and lessens my acrimony on this dark day of Gamecock defeat.

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