Another Reason

Blue Ladder*Note: Theological reflection on a secular Korean Novel, High and Blue Ladder written by Jiyoung Gong

Another Reason

“Don’t be surprised and just listen,” she said. In a careful, low voice she continued to speak into the phone. According to her, he was not below the moon anymore; he made a false step and fell from his window. He was immediately taken to a hospital with the help of someone who heard his scream, but he drew his last breath before he arrived. His funeral was in absolute stillness. His ridiculous death, his sudden leaving, shut people up and shielded their eyes from tears. No miracle had saved him. How dare death be so easy! People tried to offer a few words of comfort to me; someone said his life could be meaningful to others through his death; someone said it was time for him to leave us; or someone said someday, we would be able to accept his death without any pain. Nothing, however, was heard from me. And I asked God, “What did you do when he turned his steps towards death? Where were you when your son gave a moan of pain? Did you forget your love, grace, and compassion that you promised on the Cross to us?”

On the road ahead, a little rain must fall into each life, as I experienced. Many theologians have struggled with the problem of suffering in order to dispel Christians’ doubts about God. For example, John Hick, a philosopher of religion who follows Irenaean theodicy, tries to identify individual suffering as serving God’s good purpose.1 On the other hand, David Ray Griffin suggests a process theodicy by rejecting this traditional belief in God’s omnipotence.2 However, I think both are not enough to explain the plurality in human suffering. On this issue, Ronald M. Green introduces five different types of theodicy: (1) free-will; (2) educative; (3) eschatological or recompense; (4) deferred or the mystery of suffering; and (5) communion.3 The free-will theodicy is based upon an idea that human beings have the capacity to make choices according to their own will. Since human suffering is the consequence of sinful acts, suffering indicates that those who are in pain have not been loyal to God. The educative theodicy means that experiences of suffering can enrich one’s life and give an opportunity to develop the ability to empathize or sympathize with other people. The problem of this theodicy, however, is that suffering can cause irreparable damage to the sufferer and can destroy their lives. The eschatological or recompense theodicy emphasizes that human life is not confined to this world, and appropriate reward and punishment for each person will be received in the afterlife. But those who refuse this concept of theodicy argue that it cannot justify the deaths of innocent people without any reason. The theodicy deferred or the mystery of suffering is that it is impossible to know the reason of suffering in this world, and people will get to know God’s mystery at the end. In other words, it is an answer to the question of why God’s justice cannot be realized now. In the communion theodicy, suffering is considered as a chance for personal relationship or communion with God, because compassionate God suffers with his creatures in pain. Notwithstanding many efforts, it is not easy to reach a conclusion. But since we are responsible for surviving in this strained relation between a religion and a reality, we should learn how to reconcile these two in our beliefs.

A Korean novel, High and Blue Ladder by Gong Jiyoung, a renowned Korean female writer, suggests an alternative to those who are striving to keep a balance between God’s love (or justice) and real-life problems. In her book, a young monk stands in the middle of a frozen pond. He promises himself that he will be a priest, but because of unexpected love for a woman and his friend’s sudden demise, he languishes in pain. He blames God and asks, “Why ever?” Facing a fact of life – unexplainable death and accident – he struggles with his fate to embrace both his life and belief in God. And he takes courage from an old German priest who has not given up loving his own life and Korean people, despite his terrible experiences during the Korean War. The author says that she wrote this novel to think about the essence of life, through the question ‘what men live by.’ And she suggests a relationship of unfailing love for others as a reason for living while facing incomprehensible reality.

When I was struggling with God after losing my friend in an accident, I asked myself over and over again, “How can I live in this world where even God cannot protect me?” And several years after the question consumed me, I realized something from my American friend here in the States. “As you said, God may not protect all of us at every moment. But it is the reason why God sent us and let us love each other. In our love, there is no fear.”

 

Chanhee Heo

MDiv Candidate w/ the Certificate in Religion in Arts, Vanderbilt Divinity School

 


  1. John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, revised ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1977). 
  2. David Ray Griffin, God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976). 
  3. Ronald M. Green, “Theodicy,” MirceaEliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 14 (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 430-441. 


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