My wife, our life, our cries. . . experiential suffering and theodicy . . .

by William J Tsamis, M.A.

"Through his own abandonment by God, the crucified Christ brings God to those who feel 'abandoned by God'" ~ Juergen Moltmann).

In one day this woman's life was ripped out from underneath her and she was assigned to a life of excruciating constant pain and suffering. The thing is that none of it was her fault -- she was just a victim of fate. WHY? 

I'm sure, as many of you know, Gabriel Marcel spoke of both "existential evil" and "experiential evil," proposing that the philosophical problem of evil has been treated in its "existential" form, a detatached persepective, which to him, was meaningless. Of course, I disagree with that proposition - I believe evil can be perceived objectively. Nevertheless, I'm sure you have all experienced the "experiential" face of evil in your lives. Indeed, Everyman has, for this is a problem which confronts both the logic of the intellectual and the logic of the proletariat.

Let me share "our story" with you, because I think that you will find it interesting - a real chimera that will blow you away - an example of "experiential" evil and suffering that can only be swallowed up by "faith in God," i.e. in an "assent of the heart," understanding that "Jesus Christ, in his suffering, identified with "Everyman," thereby demonstrating the love of God for all mankind.

In sum, the past several years been a horrifying voyage for our "Christian" family. The only words we can relate to in Scripture are the "Psalms of Lament," and Jesus's cry on the cross, "Why have you forsaken (abandoned) me?" Now of course I wouldn't drift from the faith because there is "sufficent light for me to believe" (Pascal) - a theistic realist with a pinch of Kierkegaardian existentialism in me - so I believe on the "strength of the absurd." "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). Of course, Camus would find such a proposition "absurd," and Flew would turn me immediately into a Stoic; nevertheless, I'm with Pascal on this one. And although it bears a resemblance to Stoicism and absurdism, on its own ground it is thoroughly Christian.

Anyway, here's the story. My wife suffered a serious automobile accident in a taxi in Jamaica (250 feet off a cliff) and her spine was fractured in 5 places. Since then, she has had several major spinal surgeries (anterior and posterior), one in which the surgeon accidentially lacerated the vena cava (the largest arterial vein in your body that provides blood to the heart) -- anyway, she actually lost nine pints of blood and flatlined, but a vascular surgeon saved her life on the OR table. I remember that day as if it were yesterday, going into the "ecumenical" hospital chapel at the hospital and reciting the "typical" Christian prayer for surgery. Everything that I prayed for went wrong that day, to the point that I almost lost my wife.

After 10 years of descending into Dante's Inferno, several hospitalizations, several surgeries, and the like (my wife takes enough morphine to land someone in the cell for a few years) - anyway, my wife had a full blown spinal fusion on 12-3-98. It was deemed a success. A year and a half later (5-14-00), she developed a massive infection of her spinal hardware, and she was rushed to one of the leading research hospitals and spinal institutes in the Southeast - she received the heaviest antibiotic therapy possible for 100 days until the CDC and an infectious disease expert decided to cut her therapy down.

During that 100 days of summer 2000, she was scheduled to have two more massive neuorsurugeries by one of the leading neuros in the nation. I'll tell you, after all of these terrible things had happened, we weren't thinking too much about verses like Rom 8:28 ("God causes all things to work together for good . . ."), because they seemed senseless (at least in this life) - instead, we were ready to be introduced to the "theology of abandonemnt" and the text of Job 13:15. I have encountered "absurdism" in our un-healthcare system to the nth degree, I have encountered "evil" in our unhealthcare system, yes, I have encounted a lot of things . . . so why do I still believe? Is Flew right? Am I a Stoic? Do I just tend to ignore the absurdism of the world, along with the experiential evil in the world, and simply integrate it all into my systematic Christian theological system? NO, I don't do that, and I don't necessarily think the answer to theodicy will be found in "apologetics." Rather, it is to be found in the "Suffering Christ, the Son of God, who identified somehow with all of the experiential evils of mankind, by "emptying" himself, and subjecting himself to the same torments that we face, both physcial and emotional . . ." Yes, Dr Flew, "we continue to believe no matter what" -- for when we understand the Incarnation and the Suffering God, we then realize that we can barely touch the hem of his garment (Athanasius), yet what we see is beautiful. Of these mysteries, we know nothing . . . Certainly, the atheist would immediately conclude that this is an "irrational faith," a worthless hope. But such a conclusion would be unwarranted if that person really knew me . . .

Anyway, my wife's steel hardware from a second spinal fusion ruptured and pierced the outer layer of skin on her back at the beginning of our latest crisis, which started on 5-14-00. Simply put, she had a wound the size of a gunshot wound, and the steel hardware was protruding outward, visible to the naked eye -- very Frankensteinish, if you know what I mean. Tears, pain . . . like being alive, but dead. That's when they immediately began bombarding her, through IV delivery (for 104 days), with the heaviest antibiotic in the world to prevent osteomylitis of the spine (deep vertebrae spinal infection - one of the most painful things in existence!). Anyway, we actually had to move a hospital bed into our house . . . Our little girl (7 at the time) was so used to having a hospital bed in our house, along with frequent nursing visits (the nurses had actually become part of our family), that she (our daughter) developed characteristics of sympapthy, touching, gentleness, care, and compassion, and she became quite the little helper (wearing her surgical mask, gloves, and a real stethescope) --in the tragedy, there was something "cute." I will say, though, that at Bible camp one summer, the teacher was reading a pericope of Jesus's "healing of the paralytic," and our poor little girl started to cry. So, I know this was hard for her -- I'm not going to justifty it. God is either permitting all of this (for some reason), or God is simply a figment of my imagination. But like I said, as a moderate fideist, I will believe no matter what. "There is sufficient light for me to believe" (Pascal). Perhaps, God wants us to ascend to Him, through faith by an "assent of the heart" (Heb 11:6), rather than by an assent of the mind. And I must confess that my ascent to God so far has been primarily through the mind. (I started out as a nihilist).

Anyway, of the three surgeries, the most gruesome and painful was the removal of "all" of the steel hardware in my wife's back - and she was fused from the high thoracic down through to the lower lumbar of the spine. At the time, she already had her lumbar hardware taken out once, so this was the second removal of hardware (and we're talking bolts, screws, rods, hooks, etc - lots of them).

Now to my point. Like I said, I decided a while ago to utilize our "experiential" situation to explore that "cognitive dissonance" called "theodicy." In my view, Augustine, Leibniz, Aquinas, Hick, Plantinga, et al. were all grasping at straws in their existential theodocies, although I can understand Augustine's struggle and possible superimposition of Platonic thinking, because the "duality" that says that "this" is an "imperfect" world, therefore a "perfect" world awaits us has been my only hope. Anyway, not to digress, but perhaps it is senseless to reduce "existential" evil to objective logical theological/philosophical categories as we are so accustomed. Because if you've experienced "experiential" evil on the level that I have described, you know that all this "seems" senseless and absurd. Everything seems absurd!

In my view, it is not the "existential" theodicy that bothers skeptics so much, but rather, the immediate apologetic of an "experiential" account - this, perhaps more than any other issue, causes more "cognitive dissonance" in the minds of skeptics (and Christians) than any other issue. Why not leave it to ambiguity or mystery if it is ambigous or mysterious"

One thing I noticed, however, is that the last time I took my wife to ER at the Univ. of FL -- well, while we were waiting in an ER room for the neurosurgeon to "grace us" with his presence (I was reading Camus - the absurdist, but I also had Swinburne there - the philosopher/theologian --- note the dichotomy) --- anyway, I noticed a lady across the hall (maybe 60-70 years old), and she was crying, and weeping, and moaning in a terrible way. She had had 36 surgeries up to that point (we didn't talk with her, but I heard one doctor speaking to another). And interesting, I recognized that "moan." It was so familiar to me that I contemplated just on the sound of that "moan." And then I figured it out -- it was the same "moan" (or type of "moan") that I remember from my father's funeral (he died when I was 24). And then I realized that there is really no difference between "emotional suffering" and/or "physical suffering." The "moans," the "tears," and the "pain" are the same. Suffering, whether emotional or physical, strikes the human being in the same way. Pain is Pain, plain and simple. Suffering is suffering. But why so many variations of the same sensation? A mystery.

I didn't know (and still don't know) the theological/philosophical answer to the question that I have been faced with. I do know that we have gone through the "worst time" of our entire lives these past several years (even worse than my father's death). And I could have developed or leaned on theodicies from an existential, philosophical perspective, but they would have been worthless to me at the time. When a person is going through a severe degree of "experiential" evil, something most people will experience in their lives, something that my wife and family have experienced -- we can only relate in "solidarity with Jesus" on the cross, when He said: "My God, my God, why have your forsaken (abandoned) me"? If anything, this helped us (and still helps us) to understand God's love for man, to die in solidarity with man and all his suffering (cf. Moltmann). Too often we only think of "the cross" from a salvific perspective, whereas it would do us well to ponder the "suffering God," who is on the cross, suffering and dying with us . . . and, of course, for us.

With this said, please read the below post regarding my attempt at understanding some sort of theodicy - i.e. the theodicy of "the crucified God," a most grand and all encompassing theodicy.