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Incompatible Truths

Incompatible Truths

On Thursday, I listened on the radio to as much of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings as I could. I’m morbidly fascinated by this moment in American history. Disclaimer: This is going to be about politics for a minute, but I’m going to try to avoid getting political!

As I listened, I found the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to be intelligent, candid, raw, and vulnerable in the wake of the pain that she has experienced. Later in the day, I listened to Judge Brett Kavanaugh and heard similar qualities of intelligence, candor, rawness, and vulnerability in response to a more recent pain. Here’s the problem: they can’t both be telling the truth. I’m not writing to lobby for a particular side or to pull on any of the dozens of legal, cultural, or political threads that make this situation so complex. I’m content for now to simply point out the obvious: one truth has to be more true than the other. It’s quite possible that there is some truth in the testimonies of both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh; but only one of them can ultimately be correct about whether the alleged behavior of Kavanaugh was committed by him or not.

I’m glad it’s not my job to sort that out. Being a Pastor suddenly seems extraordinarily simple! Being a Senator, not so much.

In matters of theology—which  is my genuine concern here—there are similarly incompatible truths which cannot both be equally true. For example, Christians hold the “Goodness of God” to be a core truth while also holding to a robust “Doctrine of Sin,” which accounts for the sin, pain, and suffering of the world. There is a perennial tension between these two fundamental truths. Put in its simplest form, the question is: “If God is all good and powerful, how can there be so much suffering in the world?”

It’s not tenable to deny the reality and scope of suffering. It’s much easier to posit doubt about the goodness or potency of an invisible God.  To make matters even worse for people of faith, Russian author (and Christian) Fyodor Dostoyevsky put the conundrum this way: “Imagine that you yourself are building the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finale, of giving them peace and rest at last, but for that you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one tiny creature, one child, and raise your edifice on the foundation of her unrequited tears—would you agree to be the architect on such conditions?”

The way Dostoyevsky mashes together God’s original intention for a perfect world with the tragedy of human suffering never fails to make my soul ache. But through the aching, I have no qualms about endorsing the goodness of God as the greater, higher truth. Part of the surprise of the Christian story, and our way of addressing this perennial conundrum, is that God turns himself into the innocent child who takes the torture and trouble upon himself voluntarily to open up the possibility of happiness for everybody else.

Theology is tough stuff. Politics might be even tougher these days.

Grace and Peace to you in this mean time,
- Pastor Gregg