Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christian Theology: Wickedness

The saga continues...

Having worked with victims of sexual and domestic abuse, Mary Engel has witnessed suffering in its rawest forms. It is from this wounded community that she is "sourced" (D. Williams). Engel proposes a posture towards questions of theodicy that addresses "wickedness," which serves as the catchall term for both corporate evil and individual sinfulness. She initially considers three possible constructive theodical solutions:

1) Sin as distortion of feeling: self-denial, self-blame, moral callousness
2) Sin as betrayal of trust: breaking the sacred bond of trust
3) Sin as lack of care: avoiding responsibility and distorting the self's boundaries

Returning to the crucifixion as the violent slaughter of the God-Made-Vulnerable, Engel arrives at the following working definition: wickedness derives from the "distortion of the dynamic tension between freedom and dependence, or the lack of consent to the dependence and fragility of our lives."

In many ways, I quite like this provisional theological suggestion, as it incorporates both autonomous and systemic factors. I suspect, however, that post-colonial theorists might wrestle with the very concept of consent, which privileges a seemingly Western notion of empowered individual agency.

Either way, Engel is clearly on to something. I was particularly moved and disturbed by the poetic verses that opened her piece. One excerpt reads:

I have been raped
cause I have been wrong.

To me, this points to the most convincing answer to theodical inquiry: we cannot solve the problem of evil unless we learn to live with God in solidarity.

Wickedness is real and belies any totalizing explanation. The most we can hope for is concursus Dei. Or, as Bonhoeffer intuits, "only a suffering God can help."

Amidst suffering, all of creation walks with God in a constant "movement toward metamorphosis" (Song). Between the act of violence ("I have been raped") and the transition to meaning-making ("cause I have been wrong" - admittedly distorted, I might add), God clears space for us just to "be-" - with the smallest (Gutierrez), with the Great Companion (Duraisingh) and with all-else.

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