The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8), June 30, 2024

May 15, 2024 | by Gabrie'l Atichson

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
2 Sam 1:1,17-27 Psalm 130 2 Cor 8:7-15 Mark 5:21-43

Theodicy is a branch of Religion that addresses the age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” How are we able to believe that God is good, when injustice and evil exist in the world. I am in the process of researching how theodicy shows up in the African American religious tradition. I am finding that theodicy is a central theme of Black Liberation Theology. Black Liberation Theology, most clearly articulated within the work of James Cone, emerges from an interpretation of Christianity based on the lived experiences of Africans in slavery and in the ongoing struggle for equality and freedom.
Black Liberation Theology provides an analysis of racism and is aligned with racial identity development and uplift. Black worship on Sunday morning is organized around building up African Americans who have been torn down by racism and oppression during the week. Most importantly, Black Liberation Theology connects the crucifixion of Jesus to the lynching of black bodies in America. Because the resurrection of Jesus represents God’s victory over death, God is victorious over racism and violence as well.

Theodicy, which is defined as “justifying God,” asks us to believe either that evil is separate from God and there are some things God cannot control or that God is omnipotent but chooses to do and not to do certain things. In the Wisdom of Solomon (1:13-15 and 2:23-24), the writer has chosen the former by explaining that God did not make death. We learn that God created us so that we could exist and that God cheers on our survival; however, evil has entered the world and is the cause of death. In Lamentations (3:21-33), the response illustrates the never ending love of God. The end of the passage reminds us that we will never be rejected by God. “Although God causes grief, God will have compassion according to the abundance of God’s steadfast love; for God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” (Lamentations 3:32-33)

In a debate about God as omniscient versus God as omnipotent is the third lane of God as omnipresent. God is with and for us. James Cone articulates that African Americans relate well to the story of Moses, who with God’s help frees God’s people from bondage because of our historical connection to the institution of slavery; however, it is the image of the Cross that speaks to African American Christians because it symbolizes a God who is aligned with those who suffer.

In the Gospel reading for this week, the theme of a relational God who walks with us in our suffering emerges. In Mark 5:21-43, there are two stories with female protagonists at the center, which is a somewhat rare occurrence in the Bible. The first woman had endured hemorrhages for twelve years. According to custom a woman going through an “issue of blood”, would most likely have been isolated and shunned by her community. She may have had to live separately from her family because she would be considered unclean. It would have been problematic for her to be near Jesus or to touch him. Despite this, she recognized the power Jesus held. She figured if she could just touch the hem of his garment, she would be healed.

As the woman received her healing, Jesus felt his power leave his body. When Jesus finds out that the woman has touched him, he hears her story. Jesus complements her faith, and she is healed. In the meantime, the little girl he was meant to heal dies. Jesus tells them not to mourn and brings her back from the dead. The resurrection like that of Lazarus, foreshadows Jesus’s own resurrection. In the middle of all the chaos, Jesus tells the people, “Do not be afraid, just believe.” (Mark 5: 36b)

In life we face many challenges that may seem insurmountable, and grief and loss can be debilitating. The lessons this week remind us that we have a God who is near to us and is in tune with our desires and needs. It can sometimes be difficult to feel God’s presence amid suffering; however, God’s presence can be felt in the healing. I find that I feel closest to God when I am helping to alleviate the suffering of others. Therefore, I strongly believe that we are called to work together with God to undo evil and nurture good.

Gabrie’l J. Atchison earned an M.A. in Religion from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from Clark University. She is an adjunct professor of Gender Studies, a blogger, and an author. Dr. Atchison is the editor of Environment and Religion in Feminist-Womanist, Queer, and Indigenous Perspectives a series by Lexington Books. She is author of Are You The Unchurched?: How to Develop a Relationship with God Inside or Outside of Church and a co-author of More to this Confession: Relational Prison Theology with Chris Barbera. She is a contributor to Preaching the Uncontrolling Love of God, Edited by Jeff Wells, Thomas Jay Oord, et. al. and The Creation Care Bible Challenge, Edited by Marek P. Zabriskie. She lives in Buffalo, New York with her dog, Jack.