If I Summoned Him and He Answered Me …

“… I would not believe that he was listening to my voice“ (Job 9:16). This is Job’s bitter insight at the end of his futile indignation against the unjust suffering that came upon him. The “knowing” answers of his theologically educated friends seemed inadequate to him. Job’s question of “why” torments him (and many sufferers) no less than illness, pain, loss of loved ones, and social death. Then there is the question: Why am I suffering? Would God give me an answer if I asked him in my misery? And what answer?

At the expected end of earthly existence, Job is not the only one to ask about the finality of the life lived: about good and evil, toil and suffering, success and failure, right and wrong, bliss or damnation. In the Last Judgement, we believe, people come to the truth about their lives. It gives validity to their lives forever. The serious liturgical texts at the beginning of the approaching church year also remind us of this. It is no coincidence that they come from the last book of the Christian Old Testament and the last book of the New Testament and speak closing words about the end of life and the end of the world in the coming final judgement.

The promised return of the Lord – “Behold, I am coming soon … Yes, I am coming soon. – Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:7, 20) was once filled with hope for justice for all victims of suffering and injustice. But the pleading near expectation of the coming Christ has given way over time to the anticipation of the annual celebration of the birth of the child Jesus. And Advent, as its preparatory season, moved from the end to the beginning of the liturgical year. Only a few traces of the original eschatological Advent of Christ have survived in the liturgical readings. Have we turned our eyes away from the end because we do not expect anything (any more) of it? Is our hope now so small-minded that it applies to the historical entry of Jesus into earthly time, but no longer to his eschatological arrival and revelation, for which creation is eagerly awaiting “groaning with labor pains” (Rom 8:22)?

Answering questions in court
For centuries, the threat of judgement in the church’s proclamation has terrified people – and distorted the image of the biblical God fearfully into the grotesque. What will the judge ask me, how will he judge me “when books are opened” (Rev 20:12)? The images of damnation that the Bible, but even more so the frescoes and pictures of the Biblia pauperum, present to believers are inconceivably cruel and devastatingly final. The slim hope of escaping hell was tied to conditions that had to be meticulously observed. An extremely penitent life and the medieval Ars moriendi could help to avoid dying in a state of mortal sin. Not becoming guilty, of course, seemed just as impossible as being able to stand trial. Today, the liturgy for the commemoration of the dead, as well as the liturgy for death and burial, avoids everything threatening and frightening; it does not accuse nor indict, wants to save and comfort, allows complaints and questions. In this way, judgement has lost much of its horror, but not its necessity. For the questionability of life in its abysmal state remains.

But what if we too were allowed to ask, accuse, even bring charges against God? Allowed to do so in court and receive a different answer than Job? To bring a more comprehensive indictment than theological expertise has long considered conceivable? Surely neither the defense of God nor his justification by human beings (theodicy) is worthy of God, of whom Scripture says: “he Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” (1 Sam 2:6) and “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the Lord, who do all these things.” (Is 45:7)?

Why is your creation full of suffering?
The pastoral theologian Ottmar Fuchs pleads for the permissible reversal of the question about the cause of evil in the world, because it awakens new confidence in the judgement “on the living and the dead”: As much as human beings are capable and willing to do evil to one another (completely freely?) and to inflict abysmal suffering – God’s “dark” ultimate responsibility for a world, his creation, in which the experience of suffering, horror and injustice far exceeds that of freedom, remains greater. So may the responsibility of the Creator be claimed in the question: Why did you not create a world in which there is freedom from evil and infinite freedom for good? – in the certainty that God’s answer “will never be below the level of what was endurable in God’s darkness”.[1]

But was evil without alternative the price of the freedom of the well-created but self-inflicted fallen human being?

Wolfgang Schreiner undertakes an unusual attempt at thinking in his “Evolution Theology”.[2] Unlike Job’s desperation, Schreiner works from the doubts of the conscience of a natural scientist who seeks a plausible synthesis of evolutionary-theoretical findings and theological insights in harmony with Scripture. Where he finds common theological explanations for suffering – “Good becomes Bad?”[3] – and redemption seem insufficient to him, he approaches it “completely the other way round”[4] – and comes to questioning: the familiar narrative of the Fall charges man with the main guilt for the loss of paradise; but God, too, has a share in his “badness” through the punitive imposition of a burdensome earthly life. Are these concepts of guilt – some of which are literally (mis)understood – still valid today? Or could other consequences be drawn from the original narrative?

Are we redeemed from evil?
For if God set a beginning with evolution and gave free rein to its a-moral mechanisms of mutation and selection, it did not become a paradise, but highly successful in its wonderful diversity of species – until the emergence of man, whose intellect allowed him, as the first creature, to recognize and strive for possibilities for good and better beyond personal “success”: Their eyes were opened … (cf. Gen 3:5, 7). Here man’s suffering may have begun, for he too carries within him his “inherited evolutionary (behavioral) inventory” which brings him daily into contradiction with the ethical good to which he aspires. All moral principles, ethical norms and doctrines, the Golden Rule, the Decalogue, the commandment to love one’s neighbor and one’s enemy, etc., which have since been devised by humans and divinely revealed, seek to counteract this “inherited tribal guilt” of the attachment to evolutionary evils. The pre-ethical norms of his inherited nature, which give chance power over being or not-being and let the weak perish at the right of the strongest, still have man in their grip today. This situation needs redemption.

Has your suffering reconciled us?
Christians find redemption in the cross and traditionally interpret it as “atonement/expiation.” Just as the atonement rituals in the sanctuary made it possible for Israel to encounter God, the cross as an “expiation by his blood” (Rom 3:25; cf. 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10; 5:6-8; Col 2:14) reveals the truly “fallen” Son of God Himself, whose compassion endures all things in order to “draw all men to myself” (cf. Jn 12:32). Against this background, the above authors take their questions further: Is God himself atoning here “for the dust of death”[5] of his imperfect creation by descending into it in solidarity and taking upon himself the “sin of the world” – “the collateral damage of evolution”?[6] To compassionately stand by the people suffering from the effects of their descent and to give them “immediate help” to overcome it with the message of Jesus? And to ask us: “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5:20)?

Whether evolution or creation: In our world, evil often trumps freedom, and people do it even though they do not want to (cf. Rom 7:15). They all become victims and perpetrators alike, and as such will be finally judged on the Last Day – “repaired,” restored, completed? Their questioning will uncover everything so that it may be illuminated by the light (cf. Eph 5:13), for “for darkness is as light with thee” (Ps 139:12). But the questioning of God, which seeks to comprehend this, acknowledges him as God no less than Job’s resignation before the incomprehensibility of the Creator. How would he not listen to our voice?


[1]  Ottmar Fuchs, Das Jüngste Gericht: Hoffnung auf Gerechtigkeit (Regensburg, 2007),107.
[2] Wolfgang Schreiner, Göttliches Spiel: Evolutionstheologie (Wien, 2013).
[3] Schreiner, 145.
[4] Schreiner, 143.
[5] Fuchs Ottmar, Der zerrissene Gott: Das trinitarische Gottesbild in den Brüchen der Welt (Ostfildern, 2014), 45.
[6] Schreiner, 172.

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