Sing, Muse, of that deep man, who wander’d much,
when he had raz’d the walls of sacred Troy,… Oddyssey by Homer
This odd title is tied to the concept in two seemingly unrelated ideas. Homer’s Oddyssey tells of the wanderings of the Greek hero, Odysseus, following the end of the Trojan War. There is no end of learned literature on this story, on its meaning and place in western literature and I am not about to add what little I know to the pile. I will say that I use it to symbolize our personal journeys. Odysseus encountered many perils in the course of a decade before he finally reached Ithaca, his home and family.
If your journey is on the Christian path, sooner or later you will encounter your own perils and will have to deal with a problem so significant that it is known as theodicy. Put simply, this is the question as to why bad things happen to good people. How can we justify faith in the face of overwhelming tragedy? There is no simple answer, no sure path through this thicket. It is an unavoidable problem, because we all have encountered it.
The issue arose most recently due to the Corona virus. The death of the daughter of a family in our community was a shock. She was a mother, teacher, and good friend, and pray as we might, and we did mightily, still she succumbed to the virus. Her faith and ours was of no avail.
What then is the use of faith? In what do we have faith? I have written on this blog on that question at https://pepperandvinegar.blog/2018/04/24/test-page/. It will help this discussion if you take the time to review it. The gist of my argument is that belief in God is a choice and this implies that we were created to make that choice. Beyond that, I cannot take you since I do not know the mind of God.
It is common to turn to our creator in times of duress. It is the same for every religion. Yet it must be observed that for every miracle in our experience, there are as many or more times when it seems as if God is not listening. It is also possible to argue oneself into a corner on the presumption that, since God is perfect, he could not have created an imperfect world. Yet here we are.
The beginning of Christian faith is accepting that God became the man Jesus and walked this earth. As told in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) He became widely known throughout the Holy Land for his miracles. It began with the wedding at Cana culminating with raising Lazarus from the dead and His own resurrection. Clearly, He could have done more. He literally could have fixed everything. But He did not. One can only conclude then that it was not His purpose, that He was not God made man in order to make this world perfect.
Given that, we must then conclude that the reward for our faith is in the next life, not on this earth. God’s purpose in all things is beyond our understanding. It is not much comfort when confronted by the vicissitudes of an uncaring universe. And yet, sometimes, there is a hopeful sign. Jack Fowler, writing in a weekly newsletter from National Review, tells us,
“Of the young cancer-bereft father for whom I sought prayers, his elated mother writes that his “markers” have fallen dramatically. All around, family and doctors find this result shocking and amazing and yes, believe it is rooted somewhat in the power of prayer. Never underestimate it, and exercise it — while you may.”
Keep the faith, no matter the outcome.
And what of Odysseus? If you haven’t read Oddysey (in the original Greek, of course) then you wouldn’t know that, after a decade of wandering and adversity including the loss of all his crew and his ship, he returned to Ithaca and his long suffering wife and settled a few scores.
Vase image: By Siren Painter (eponymous vase) – Jastrow (2006), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1517690