When the volcanic island of Krakatoa erupted in 1883, its explosion was four times more powerful than the Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated (and, for scale, it was thirteen thousand times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan). Instantly, two-thirds of the island disappeared outward in a rising pillar of earth containing six cubic miles of rock. With it, the loudest sound ever recorded literally echoed across the globe for several days. Given its immediate impact and scale, it was one of the first major disasters that received near-simultaneous news coverage around the world.
Today, in our age of information, cataclysmic events or the enormity of human evil seem a sadly routine occurrence. Floods, fires, famines, war; all of them fill us with a sort of sublime numbness as we are pelted by a rush of images from all corners of the earth, leaping up almost unbidden from phones and tablets and laptop computers. Perfect love, as they say, casts out fear (1 John 4:18). But, what can one truly do in the face of such enormous suffering? What can one do confronted by such enormous evil?
The problem redoubles when we each begin to feel not just the weight of these tragedies, but believe ourselves condemned by our own hesitations, doubts and anxieties. As New Wine, New Wineskin’s Director, Dr. Paul Louis Metzger puts it, “All too often, we are led to think that if you really love God and people, you will not share with them your doubts and faith struggles or allow other believers to share their own with you.”
With Multnomah University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary’s Christian Life Conference, co-hosted by The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins, and Multnomah’s Student Life Department, the theme “Love God. Love Neighbor. Live The Question.” brings us down from such unmanageable heights so we can explore together how best to love our neighbors and wrestle with questions related to faith — especially including the many doubts that arise from the problem of evil and suffering. If you need more incentive, each session is eligible for chapel credit!
Author and speaker Tony Kriz will open the session Monday at 10 a.m. by presenting a “theology of doubt,” which speaks to how we can best wrestle with our own uncertainties, harvesting them to better aid one another. Monday evening at 6 p.m., a wonderful group of New Wine interns will help us discuss, “What questions aren’t we asking?” because sometimes pain is so visceral it produces habits of retreat in both thought and practice, of which we are often not even aware. Tuesday morning, Karl Kutz will walk us through the book of Job’s complex relationship to suffering and evil. Tony Kriz returns Tuesday evening for “Tony Unplugged,” as he dialogues further about dealing with doubt in the face of pain and evil. John Terveen will use the book of Lamentations Wednesday morning to help us become more proficient in asking — like Israel did — “How will we move on after tragedy?”
Wednesday evening, Pastor Cliff Chappell will bring home the timely topic of evil and the problem of racial justice, speaking from his own experiences as a black pastor in a city like Portland, so deeply scarred by its divisive racial history. Thursday morning, Karen Fancher will speak about “living in a time of war,” relating her sojourn overseas among war-torn countries. Thursday evening, Derrick Peterson will help us think about some broader theoretical concerns, such as why theodicy (that is, justifying God in the face of evil) became a specifically modern concern. Friday morning, Pastor Sharad Yadav will lay down some wisdom as he sums up the conference week and gives his own perspective on pastoral strategies for navigating hurt, suffering and evil. Friday evening, we will close the week with a Film and Culture session, watching Martin Scorsese’s powerful film rendition of Susako Endo’s book Silence about the struggle of Christian missionaries to keep their faith amidst intense suffering in 17th century Japan. New Wine’s Director, Paul Louis Metzger, will lead the discussion after.
There are no good solutions for action or understanding in the wake of devastating tragedies like Krakatoa—or more recently like hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and now Maria. Or the huge scale of flooding currently happening in South Asia. Or the fires raging in the Western United States. In the midst of it all, we are still called to love God, love neighbor and, indeed, live all the questions that go along with them. We hope you can join us this week for the Christian Life Conference as we gather together and learn how to navigate these issues as the body of Christ and with the world beyond.
This post was written by Derrick Peterson, Coordinator of the Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins.