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Theodicy Paper( Based on the Hospital Visitation) by Phillip Bafana Phalane

Introduction

My visitation at Hospital was sad, but uplifting at the same time. I went to Hottentots Hospital and met a young man called Henry who was suffering from meningitis. He said the hospital is his second home, because anytime he is taken to the hospital to spend a month or two. He said the time he spends at the hospital is equal to the time he spends at home. I’m used to this place and there’s nothing I can do about it.

According to Bonheoffer in the letters from prison elaborates on the subject of the suffering God and says that unlike other religions that portrays God as an almighty, but the bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; and he adds and says only the suffering God can help (Bonheoffer). When I look at Henry’s situation it will be useless to say God is big and can help anytime, the question that will stand out in his mind is that why doesn’t he intervene for him?

Henry’s is 21 years he says what hurts him the most is not the fact that he is sick, but because his age mates are progressing and he is stuck in his sick bed. When one looks at the life of Christ he seems to be for the poor and the suffering. C.S Lewis asks a question in his book and says if suffering is good ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? When he answers he says suffering is not good in its self. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads. (Lewis, 1957).

Henry mentioned that his mother always cries when she visits him, and she always prays for him. One may wonder why God allows a parent to suffer without a resolution but Stanley Hauerwas says when a parent lost their child God  is not a spectator but suffers even more because He lost his child also (Hauerwas, 1990). Henry is a believer he goes to Anglican Church. He said he believes in God, and God is the one that sustains him. According to Feuerbach God is our own projection. When I was talking to Henry I have noticed that human being have put God in a very elevated place as if He is not interested in our day to day issues. In most time instances this view of God appears when we try we try to view God without the image of Christ in mind. When we give God credentials and try to elevate him is the more we make him a careless God. For an example Henry only recognizes as the one who sustains him but why would He sustain him? Because the more his days increase there more he suffers. When we look at the Islam to say Jesus is God is a taboo because God cannot be born, God cannot live with sinner and God cannot be killed. Jon Pouline when He writes about Islam and the Quran, He says it leaves God distant from us. The God of the Quran does not speak our language. Nor is He deeply involved in our existence. Instead, He is distant and easily seems uncaring and even vengeful unlike the God of Muhammad He is deeply engaged in the human condition (Pouline, 2002).

The blessing we have as human beings is that we have a God who has the same form as us and who suffers with us. According to the book of Matthew 18:7, He himself took our sickness and carried away our diseases. He didn’t did not make us numb so that we don’t experience the suffering but He suffers with us. Henry said that he changed his perspective towards life when he overheard the conversation his mother had with his doctor. The doctor said we can’t fix it we can only make him feel better. According to him life is just an ongoing thing that’s hurting day by day.

Henry has been in the hospital for the past two months people come and leave and he remains. Some come very sick and in a short period of time they get better and leave the hospital. He is always there. He was born in Bellville he has three brother and a sister and they are progressing in life, his younger sister is in matric he is stuck in his bed waiting for nothing. Why should all this happen if our God is almighty Jurgen Moltman comments on this and says that the suffering of a single innocent child is an irrefutable rebuttal of the notion of the almighty and kindly God in heaven. For a God who lets the innocent suffer and who permits senseless death is not worthy to be called God at all. Wherever the suffering of the living in all its manifold forms pierces our consciousness with its pain, we lose our childish primal confidence and our trust in God. The person who is torn by suffering stands alone (Moltman). Jurgen Moltman also adds says that There is no explanation of suffering which is capable of obliterating his pain, and no consolation of a higher wisdom which could assuage it. The person who cries out in pain over suffering has a dignity of his own which neither men nor gods can rob him of. The story of Job makes this evident; and since that time no theology can fall below Job’s level. The theology of ‘Job’s friends’ is confuted. Does Job have any real theological friend except the crucified Jesus on Golgotha? (Pp.47-48) (Moltman).

In this suffering world a powerful God has no place, unless if He doesn’t care about what we are going through. Only a suffering God can be a solution to Henry’s situation, a young man who has never enjoyed life all he does is to sleep. And drink his medication. Henry was transferred to Hottentots hospital because his specialist works at Hottentots hospital. When he told me this I remembered that our presupposition as Christian is that God is omnipresent and He is everywhere. The so called great physician is everywhere, and notices all sufferings of this world. The hospitals are full of hopeless people; people die everyday people go to sleep with empty stomachs. This world is full of hopelessness! If God is powerful and elevated above his own creation, while the world is sinking in the pool of suffering then there must be something wrong with him.

Edward Heppenstall states that God is the ultimate revelation of God (Heppenstall). If God is the most powerful being in this universe then He can’t be associated with the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ interest was for the poor those who suffered not the God who is elevated and ready to punish the Law transgressors. Jesus is a God who understands our suffering. Philip Yancey writes that the only people, who can teach us about suffering, both for the sake of our own preparation and our attempts comfort others, are the sufferers themselves (Yancey, 1990). Then Jesus who suffered is the only one who can teach us about suffering instead of asking questions and wondering if God care, we should learn this suffering from.

Conclusion

After my session with Henry I was tempted to say God loves him but instead I rephrased my thoughts and said Jesus knows what we all are going through because He himself suffered also. We prayed together and I didn’t know what to say in my prayer because I didn’t want to say stuff that will disturb him. There is notion that Jesus was powerful, we even sing the songs that He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set him free. These are kind of songs that strip him his care towards human beings. Just as Henry is weak and powerless so is Jesus who couldn’t even say a word against his persecutors, Jesus conquered in his weakness not in a splendor of his majestic throne with countless soldiers when elevating him we should give him his right place, He is strong when He is weak.

One author wrote that as paradoxical as it may seem, inherent in Jesus’ weakness was power. His weakness was powerful because it was the weakness of devotion to the will of God. So faithful was Jesus to the pledges of the eternal covenant, that He dedicated Himself to the cross, to all that the atonement involved, that He might bring many sons to glory. Jesus was strong enough to go to the cross that the purposes of God might be held inviolable. It was the weakness of love, long-suffering, and the weakness of consecration. For Henry to find peace in his heart He shouldn’t think of the God who is strong and powerful. He should reflect on the crucified Jesus who was powerless just like He is.

We exchanged numbers and He called me when I got here and keeps on sending sms’s to check if I’m well, I also send words of encouragement every day. Wish the Lord would give me strength to keep in touch.

 

 

Bibliography

  1. Bonheoffer, D. (n.d.). Letters from prison, Witness to Jesus Christ .

2. Hauerwas, S. (1990). A child’s dying. William B Erdmans.

3. Heppenstall, E. (n.d.). The Man Who Is God. Review and Herald.

4. Lewis, C. S. (1957). The problem of pain. London: Fontana Books.

5. Moltman, J. (n.d.). Trinity and the kingdom of God.

6. Pouline, J. (2002). The day that changed the world. Michigan: Review and Herald.

7.Yancey, P. (1990). where is God when it hurts. Michigan: Zondervan.

8. http://revlady.hubpages.com/hub/weakness).

 

 

 


[1] Bonheoffer Letters from Prison (Tegel 18 July 1944)

[2] C.S Lewis The Problem Of Pain page 77

[3] Jon Pouline The Day That Changed The Whole World page 71

[4] Jurgen Moltman The Trinity And The Kingdom

[5] Jurgen Moltman The Trinity And The Kingdom (Pp.47-48)

[6] Edward Heppenstall The Man Who Is God

[7] Phillip Yancey where is God when it hurts

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The Exegesis Of Matthew 5 By Phillip Bafana Phalane

 

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to look deeper at Matthew 5:3 and get the clear meaning of what Jesus is really saying about poor people. And it reads “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (NASB)[1]. The purpose of this paper is to explain what it means to be poor in spirit. This is one of the famous words uttered by Christ. Jesus as our spiritual leader and God, shouldn’t He advocate for our spiritual well-being? Shouldn’t He encourage us to reach Spiritual intelligence?

Analysis

For ages Christianity has been teaching us to be spiritual giants. In contrary to the verse we are told that even when we are poor we should be rich spiritually. On this text Jesus is teaching a very contradicting teaching, or are we the ones that are misinterpreting the text. There are two definitions connected to this word (poor). “As might be expected, it is frequently applied to those who are economically disadvantaged”[2] In Greek, there are two words that are both translated to poor in our modern English bibles. The first word is penas, being penas poor means one is poor but can still afford some basic needs, but the ‘poor’ that Jesus is using on this text is ptochoi[3] .This is an extreme expression of poverty. This word was often used to refer to the beggars in the streets. To make things worse Jesus is using the same word (ptochoi poor), so Jesus says that they should not just be Penas poor but extremely spiritually impoverished.

Focal point

Thinking logically, being spiritually rich can mean that one is mature in almost everything that relates to spirituality. In the Jewish communities the people were classified according to their economic abilities. There were those who were the elite of the community those who were rich, the leaders of the nation and the teachers of the law. This is a group of people that were always against Jesus in everything He did or said. So the crowd that followed Jesus was a very poor crowd, the outcasts of the community. So Christ is saying to them, poor as you are, disadvantaged as you are, u need to be poor spiritually as well. To understand the condition Jesus is requiring here we should look at the passage about Lazarus. He was a poor man. He was so poor and diseased that he was looking for crumbs to fall from the rich man’s table to the floor. He did not expect loaves or slices of bread – he was just hoping for crumbs. That is poor! He had absolutely nothing (Luke 16:19-25). The word blessed is from the word Makarioi which can be translated best as ‘happy’[4]. Jesus is using a word that contradicts the condition He wants them to be in. It’s not easy for a beggar to be happy. Those who were elite are the ones thought to be blessed because of their economic status and their positions, but Jesus is twisting everything. According to Joseph Ratzinger “They are blessed as well as the content of that blessing is now spelled out. The promise is present it belongs to them now. And not just future; in keeping with the Matthean emphasis on inaugurated eschatology, there is a tension between the already and the not yet. The faithful disciples now belong to the new kingdom Christ has inaugurated and at the final judgment will inherit it in full. There is both an authority and a privilege, as the powers of the kingdom are available to its citizens”[5]. However this shouldn’t mean that Christ is speaking of the joy in the future and doesn’t say anything about their current situation. “When man begins to see and to live from God’s perspective, when he is a companion on Jesus’ way, then he lives by new standards, and something of the eschaton, of the reality to come, is already present. Jesus brings joy into midst of affliction.”[6]

The rich in the community could afford the sacrificial lambs, by this they depended on their economic abilities for their righteousness. So Christ says to the crowd you don’t have to be able to afford sacrifices in order to be in the Kingdom. The kingdom is theirs now; he doesn’t refer to the kingdom in the future. “The poor in spirit might be better if translated to spiritual destitute it denotes the opposite of spiritual self-sufficient”[7]. Unlike their religious who thought the kingdom of God is for those who can afford their spiritual needs. Christ says to them our economic status will not help them in anyway when it comes to their spiritual well-being. He is the only one able when it comes to the matters of our salvation. As they may have previously depended on someone higher in class for their survival Christ tells them to depend on him even in their spirituality.

“The beatitudes in the community of Jesus’ disciples in view, are paradoxes; the standards of the world are turned upside down as soon as things are seen in the right perspective, which is to say, in terms of God’s values, so different from those of the world. It is those who are poor in worldly terms, those thought of as lost souls, who are truly fortunate ones, the blessed, who have every reason to rejoice and exult in the midst of their suffering”[8].

The kingdom is recognized by power wealth and security. It is very intriguing to see how Christ gives an ownership of the kingdom to the outcast of the community. These are the people who cannot do anything for themselves, what more if they are given the kingdom. Christ’s definition of the kingdom is totally different to how we define the kingdom. He also urged His disciples to be children in order to be in the kingdom. Clearly according to Christ the kingdom of God belongs to those who cannot do anything for themselves. To be in the kingdom requires one to have a total dependence on God.

Conclusion

To be poor in spirit means total dependence on Christ, depend on Christ like a beggar depends on the mercy of those who passes by. Christ doesn’t refer to some incredible life that is lived some people. He stands as an example of the people who are less restricted. The only way to be poor in spirit is to have Christ in heart, like Paul we should say “it’s not I who live, but Christ who lives in me”[9].Jesus’ message is that one should be poor in spirit, and this means that one should have the poor Christ in heart. He is an exact model of a life with a poor spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Bauer, W., 2001. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. s.l.:s.n.

 

France, R., 2007. Gospel of matthew. s.l.:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

 

Lowery, D. K., 2002. Bible Knowlegde Series. In: E. H. Merrill, ed. The Bible Knowlegde Word Study. Colorado: Cook Communications, p. 39.

 

Osborne, G. R., 2010. Exegetical Commentry on Newtestament. Michigan: Zondervan.

 

Ratzinger, J., 2007. Jesus of Nazareth. Milan: s.n.

 

Vos, H. F., 1979. Matthew study guide commentry. s.l.:Zondervan.

 

Revised Standart Version (RSV) 1952 Edition

 

New American standard Bible (NASB) 2012 Edition

 

 


[1] NASB

[2] Lowery, The Bible knowledge word study 51.

[3] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

[4] France, Gospel of Matthew, 160-161

[5] Grant R. Osborne Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 166

[6] Joseph Ratzinger Jesus of  Nazareth

[7] Howard F. Vos a study guide commentary on Matthew 47

[8] Joseph Ratzinger Jesus of Nazareth 71

[9] RSV copyright 1952