Friday, July 25, 2008

The Spanish Train - The Odyssey of Theodicy

Watch the above clip about the "Spanish Train" by Chris de Burgh.

Does evil win in the end? For the atheist, there is no god and belief in evil is merely the product of the evolution of our relational consciousness and derived from social engineering. The statement that "murder is wrong" is no more true than "I like chocolate", both expresses aesthetics, relative norms for a perceived collective good, but not an objective reality. For the Open Theist, evil might well win, but God is omnicompetent, he can handle anything, so lets wait and see. For the Buddhist, all life is suffering and suffering is defeated by the discipline of detachment until one reaches the point of nirvana which is somewhere between paradise and self-annihilation. The answer given in Chris de Burgh's Spanish Train is that evil wins, not in the absence of a God, but despite God. There is a duality in this song. One the one hand there is the desperate hope that "Lord you've got to win," for this is the hope of the dying, the suffering, the oppressed; a hope for a champion, a hero, a messiah, to defeat the tyrant of death and demons of tyranny. We cannot win or withstand the ferociousness of its might. You've got to win for us Lord. But the assumed reality on the song is that evil does win, suffering does prevail, death does reign, not because there is not God, there is a Lord, and "he's just doing his best". The god of de Burgh is noble and well intentioned, but periodicaly absent, somewhat impotent, and slightly naive.

But I would say that de Burgh's god more closely resembles the United Nations (emblematic for the self-striving of men and women against the tsunami of human depravity) and not the God who made himself known in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If I were to choose how to defeat evil myself I would probably try to use a superior but slightly less malevolent form of violence. Kill the murderers, show no mercy to the merciless, torture the torturers and so forth. Or one could take on the Qumranic tactic: bring on the angels of death and wipe them all out before us! But how on such a day would stand? Not me, not you, not any of us. For even when we fight evil, we create evil. When we hunt the monster, we often become what we are trying to destroy (I think that's the message of the new Batman movie). Where is our deliverance, from evil, from ourselves? I have seen, heard, and smelled the evil that men do and it is too much to bear. I have interviewed soldiers who had to listen to the cries and screams of men, women, and children massacred in an adjacent valley in Rwanda while they were powerless to do anything other than count bodies the next day. I have seen the evil impulse in myself and hesistate to think what I might be capable off.

Does God win then? Yes, he does, but at the cross. To defeat evil, God must exhaust it's energy and release its grip on humanity, so that humanity can be freed from the penalty, power, and even the presence of evil for all time. What God achieves is not merely retribution against evil, but liberation from and cleasning of evil. As Paul wrote in Col. 2.15, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in it [the cross]." It the greatest irony of all, the triumphant Lion of Judah is a blood stained lamb. The message of Revelation, as well now know, is that God wins in the end and so do his people. A new creation with no waters of terror or tears of pain. A world reborn anew. And we live between the death throes of an evil world dying and amidst the birth pains of a new world being reborn.

"Who'll be the king of this place?" the devil asks in Spanish Train. We see on the cross exactly who, "The King of the Jews". In Mark the word king occurs about 12 times, half of those are in chapter fifteen, Mark wants to show the link between Jesus' death and Jesus' kingship. Mark sets out for us the message of the kingdom and yet what we get at the end is the kingship of the crucified. The cross is not a defeat, but a glorious coronation. It is where the saving power of God manifests itself in the height of ignominy, shame, corruption, malevolence, and evil. Jesus is mocked by the priests that he is not "powerful enough" to save himself. But it is precisely in that moment of surrender and self-giving that divine power is made known, where sins are ransomed, the debt of transgression is expunged, and the sting of death is drained of its poison. And so the power of God's love becomes superior to men and their love for power.

But is it true? to be honest, there are days where I wonder myself and I muse over the words of Thénardiers from Les Miserable: "And God in his heaven, he don't interfere, cause he's dead as the stiffs at my feet. I raise my eyes to see the heavens and only the moon looks down, the harbours moon shines down". Does the abyss of evil prevail and are we just sophisticated dogs eating other dogs for survival or sport? But this counters it for me: (1) God is the reason why there is a something rather than a nothing, why the universe is wired up for life. (2) In the holy word of the Scriptures, in prayer and sacrament, and in my own experience I encounter something "other" than myself, something not me, something that has at once changed me and is still changing me. I am not what I am anymore. (3) It is the only story worth believing in and gives us hope as the medicine of our soul.

So instead of listening to "Spanish Train", I prefer singing about another mode of transport: "Swing Low Sweet Chariot".


Geoff Hudson said...

My problem is that I believe there was another story, which means, for me, that the train is a ghost train, the chariot is a delusion, and there never will be complete forgiveness or complete justice.

Dunc and Als said...

And so eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!

Do we have fears? Of course. Do we have doubts? Naturally. But have we walked blindly along simply following what others have told us? I don't think so.

As Michael puts it, "it's the only story worth believing in..."

I could walk away from "organised religion" tomorrow but I can't walk away from my Lord. Through pain and blessing he has continued to hold on to me in spite of me.

Geoff Hudson said...

I find this quote inspirational:

"I have learned not to look too far ahead, but to concentrate on the present. I am not afraid of death but I am in no hurry to die. My next goal is to go into space."