Sin, Providence, Evil, Suffering, Oh My!

I want to share a paper I wrote for my theology class this past week in response to an article by Mary VandenBerg. The original article can be found here: 

Feedback is welcome.

Mary VandenBerg discusses the role of suffering in today’s culture and by Jesus Christ. She responds to the concern, especially from feminists, that by considering human suffering as redemption leads to abusive patterns. “Redemptive suffering is unique to Christ. Human suffering is not redemptive and should not be spoken of in those terms” (394). VandenBerg’s article is mostly a response to Brown and Parker’s article, in which they argue that “the church is a responsible agent… in the oppression and abuse of women…” (394). In no uncertain terms, Brown and Parker reject the common Christian understanding of orthodox atonement. They refer to Jesus’ sacrifice as “divine child abuse” and describe God as “bloodthirsty” (395). Unfortunately, the inclusion of Jesus’ willingness to sacrifice Himself seems to be missing. Mark 10:45, Luke 22:42, Romans 5, Romans 8:31-34, Philippians 2:5-11, and other passages and verses come to mind. VandenBerg cites a study that found 1 in 4 pastors “surveyed agreed that a wife should submit to her abusive husband” (396). Unfortunately abused verses have led to justifying abuse, but as budding ministers, seminarians can consider these issues and come to an accurate conclusion that will help reduce this false teaching and belief.

VandenBerg discusses Old Testament and New Testament usage of redemption. In reference to the Exodus, go’el, Hebrew for redemption, is only used with God as the redeemer. Similarly, padah, also Hebrew for redemption, is used as a legal release or pardon especially throughout Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. (398) Even so, God is the redeemer. In the New Testament, the Greek signals that God does the redeeming through Jesus Christ, not people. “It is clear in the New Testament that the redemption of persons is always accomplished by God, usually in the second person of the Trinity… it is clear that to speak soteriologically of redemption is to assume the Redeemer is God” (401). She points to many verses including Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14, I Corinthians 1:30, and others that lead to the conclusion that Christ’s death & [leads to] our redemption & forgiveness of sins. Unfortunately, VandenBerg quotes Brown suggesting that “Jesus’ example glorifies suffering” (405). In reality, the opposite seems to be true. The Gospels and especially Paul’s epistles explicitly outline the pain and torture of Jesus’ suffering. When the Word speaks of following Jesus’ example, the orthodox response it not to literally hang oneself on a cross or proceed to the nearest tree and curse it. Instead, there is a calling of holy living free of the abuse of sin and threat of damnation.

Perhaps Christianity does not glorify suffering, but gives hope to the inevitable suffering as a result of the human sin condition. Nowhere does Jesus promote mistreatment or abuse of anyone- adulterer, tax collector, Samaritan, the infirmed, the poor, or otherwise. To make the argument that the Bible, and by result God, supports or possibly requires abuse of the self or other people requires taking isolated verses way out of context. Canonically, especially in relation to Old Testament stories such as Abraham and Isaac or Passover, there are images of physical blood sacrifice that have been passed on to show God’s faithfulness in redeeming and saving His people. However, in the New Testament Christian context, a one time perfect sacrifice leads to complete atonement- Jesus Christ, Messiah. Any abuse called sacrifice or redemption is done in vain. The very fact that abuse is attempted to be justified Biblically speaks to the very fallen human sin nature that people need saving from. “While suffering may be part of the Christian life and may produce good results in us or others, it is not redemptive and should not be spoken of in those terms” (396).


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. chrismclain
    Feb 24, 2011 @ 00:25:32

    I remember reading that article, and I concur. Good thoughts.


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