Friday, April 15, 2005

Pete and Alex and the stirrings of good.

"God is pleased with you when, for the sake of your conscience, you patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing right and are patient beneath the blows, God is pleased with you. This suffering is all part of what God has called you to. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps." -1Peter 2:19-21

This passage has been hard to read this week. Something else I read this week speaks to suffering too. I submit this as one more clue, not as an answer. This is Alexander Solzhenitsyn quoted in Johann Christoph Arnold's Be Not Afraid. After wrestling with hardships for some time, A.S. learned this:

"From then on I felt that the solution to suffering is this: that the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in development of the soul. From that point of view our torturers have been punished most horribly of all: they are turning into swine; they are departing from humanity. From that point of view punishment is inflicted on those whose development...holds out hope....
Looking back, I saw that for my whole conscious life I had not understood either myself or my strivings. What had seemed for so long to be beneficial now turned out in actuality to be fatal, and I had been striving to go in the opposite direction to that which was truly necessary for me...
It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good."

May we all learn how to be good.


Blue November said...

The week's Psalm from the Episcopal lectionary similarly gave me pause as I read it with Lisa on Monday:

For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;
You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

It was even more striking since the lectionary and Book of Common Prayer list these verses as 66:9-11, but we were reading verse 11 in the NRSV, which left us hanging at " laid burdens on our backs."

brad said...

that is a fantastic quote. thank you

ryan k said...

Thanks for the picture, Geoff. Does this guy look like he could talk about suffering or what?

geoff said...

"From that point of view our torturers have been punished most horribly of all: they are turning into swine; they are departing from humanity."

wow. what gentle love! 'forgive them for they know not what they are doing..." springs to mind as Jesus (and later, Stephen) find the grace. i'm am grateful i have you people reminding me not to depart from humanity. left to my own devices i can get very swinelike very quickly.

billy said...


Thanks for supplying us with this very challenging thought. It reminds me of a similar strain of thought in C.S. Lewis when he describes human participation in evil as producing "shadows" within the soul of the person and plunging one into a sub-human malaise of restless desires. I really take to heart what you've shared in the light of our recent trip to KL Auschwitz-Birkenau and the following travels in East Africa. I definitely felt touched by the evil that has taken place in those spaces, and am still trying to work it out within my own experience of life. Also, it was sobering to be reminded last week about the massive genocide against Native Americans by Edith & Randy at Eloheh Village. It makes me think about Psalm 4 where the apparently popular question is asked: Who can show us any good? This is a question that weighs heavily upon many of us as we behold the brazen nature of evil in this world. However, the psalmist's following declaration give's us the clue to the greener pastures that lie beyond the valley of the shadow of death. He says, "let the light of your face shine upon us, Oh Lord!" In an age where we continue to legitimately ask "Who can show us any good?" you have directed us back to that one change that we can all make in the world, viz. to embrace grace, change ourselves, and turn from evil. Everything that we know about God seems to indicate that we do have a choice. Thanks Ryan for this precious reminder.