Radical Good

No theologian of any reputation would dare to tackle the entirety of evil or theodicy and yet we know the first task of theology is to critique the revise the language of the church. This includes not only the language of uttered speech but also the language of radical involvement in the world.[1] To that end, we will engage in looking at moral evil, which manifests as radical suffering as being the result of creating a radical other. By moral evil, we mean that which is the control of human agents verses, that which is the result of nature or other created beings. Moral evil is fire; like all fire, it exists in two states, latent and active. Where it becomes active it is consuming and transmuting; it consumes the good and transmutes its embers into evil, and in all, it inflicts agony on the soul.[2] We are presently wrestling with moral evil in our government via the healthcare system and disproportionate impact of COVID -19 on Black communities. We are experiencing moral evil in the world as health care providers are asked to care for our most vulnerable populations without the proper protection they need to maintain their health. The reality of moral evil is visible all around us and for many of us, it is featured in the grief of the moment.

While it is necessary for our psychospiritual development and well-being to establish the distinction between self and others, the making of a radical other is that which allows us to stand apart from another in ways that make the other less than human. Radical otherness underlies all oppression, which seeks unjust use of authority or advantage. Wendy Farley states, “The multiplicity of religions, cultures, and nations gives depth to human life, but this plurality inevitably (if not necessarily) degenerates into competition, misunderstanding, and conflict. Diversity becomes the occasion for suspicion and violence.” She also surfaces the idea that compassion is contingent upon the ability to recognize the other person as human, [3] and therefore it is clear to me that what we see in the world as moral evil in the form of radical suffering is a result of the free will of humanity to dehumanize others.

The question of theodicy, where is God in this evil is one that has been debated for centuries. Some theologians now argue that the attempt to construct a full-scale theodicy was misdirected from the beginning. In Tambasco’s words, “The towering project of theodicy not only blocked the sight of other ways Christians responded to suffering and evil but even made things worse by effectively denying the reality and power of genuine evils that didn’t fit into the theodicists’ categories” (Tambasco, Bible on Suffering, 1).[4] I question whether God is at all our issue with evil or if in fact, evil diminishes God’s goodness in any way. If evil is in God and God is all-good, does it not follow that evil in God’s nature is different than evil in our perception? There then can only be benign evil in God, rather than the malevolent one in our earthly consciousness. God’s concept of evil must be benevolent since everything God created was good.[5]

For me, it is clear that the creation of a radical other, stems from our inner dissatisfaction with life, the insatiable need to become, produces without exception self -centeredness[6] and that is the root of radical suffering. When we liberate the question of evil from the walls of eschatological punishment and reward and place in the context of what human beings do as a consequence of free will then we have the hope of introducing a corrective narrative. Origin may indeed have had it right in terms of his doctrine of apokatastasis, or the restoration of all things. According to this doctrine, if God is truly sovereign, then good must decisively triumph over evil in the end. [7]

It is of utmost importance to continue to work with the language of evil because repentance requires that we can identify that for which we are sorry. Until we can name evil there is no hope of freedom from it. Radical suffering almost always shows up in marginalized people groups who have no voice in the dominant power structure. Evil is allowed to rob these radically other people of their personhood through economic injustice resulting in abject poverty and other forms of disenfranchisement.  It is the goodness that resides in the Universe that marginal persons become agents of change. Radical social change occurs when the creative subjectivity of marginal persons is empowered, acknowledged, and integrated into the dynamic social fabric.[8] I wonder what radical good will come of the current climate of radical suffering?

Non schola, sed vitae,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin - Signature

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry| Assistant Clinical Professor 

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Works Cited

[1] James H. Cone. Black Theology and Black Power. Orbis Books, 1997.

[2] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Revelation, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 272.

[3] Wendy Farley. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion. Westminister/Jon Knox Press. 1990

[4] Paul A. Hartog, “Suffering,” ed. John D. Barry and Lazarus Wentz, The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

[5] Carlton Pearson. The Gospel of Inclusion. Simon and Schuster, 2009.

[6] John Shelby Spong. This Hebrew Lord. HarperOne, 1993.

[7] Patrick S. Cheng. Radical Love. Church Publishing, Inc., 2011.

[8] James Empereur. Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1998.