Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 13, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Reunion of Esau and Jacob, by Francesco Hayez

Image in the Public Domain

Facing God, Other People, and Ourselves

AUGUST 4, 2019

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 33:1-11 or Isaiah 17:7-13

Psalm 17:1-8

1 Corinthians 4:1, 9-21

Matthew 10:16-33

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One might suffer for any one of a variety of reasons.  One might suffer (as in the case of Damascus, in Isaiah 17) as punishment for idolatry and injustice.  Maybe (as in 1 Corinthians 4 and Matthew 10) one might suffer for the sake of righteousness.  Perhaps one is merely unfortunate.  Or maybe another explanation fits one’s circumstances.

Either way, the commandment to remember, honor, and obey God remains.  Also, judgment for disobedience is both collective and individual.

As worthwhile as those points are, another one interests me more.  Certain verses in Genesis 32 and 33 refer to faces–of Jacob, Esau, and God.  Karen Armstrong, writing in In the Beginning:  A New Interpretation of Genesis (1996), makes a vital point:  they are all the same face.  Jacob, in confronting Esau, also confronts God and himself.

We human beings go to great lengths to avoid facing God, other people, and ourselves.  In the city in which I live, seldom do I enter a store or a restaurant in which music is not playing; silence is apparently anathema.  Unfortunately, the music is almost always bad, especially in one thrift store, the management of which pipes contemporary Christian “seven-eleven” songs over the speakers.  (I avoid that thrift store more often than not.)  Or, if there is no music, a television set is on.  Sensory stimulation is the order of the day.

But when we are alone and silent, we cannot ignore God and ourselves so easily.  And if we cannot face ourselves honestly, we cannot face others honestly either.  If we persist in running away, so to speak, we will cause our own suffering.  It will not be a matter of God smiting us, but of us smiting ourselves.

One would think that silence would be welcome in more churches.  The silence at the end of the Good Friday service in The Episcopal Church is potent, for example.  Yet many churchgoers have an aversion to silence.  And I recall that, one Good Friday, during that potent silence after the service had ended, someone’s cellular telephone rang, causing spiritual and liturgical disruption.

if we are to become the people we are supposed to be in God, we need to take time to turn off the distracting stimulation and face God, others, and ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/facing-god-other-people-and-ourselves/

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Devotion for Proper 5, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Faithful Servants of God, Part III

NOT OBSERVED IN 2019

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Ecclesiastes 7:1-4, 11-18 or Ezekiel 34:1-10

Psalm 9:1-10

Galatians 4:1-16

Matthew 5:38-48

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As Koheleth and Jesus tell us, the way of the world is that righteous people suffer, both the righteous and the wicked prosper, and God is in control.  The combination of those three statements might seem incongruous.  Throughout the Book of Psalms righteous people cry out to God for deliverance from oppression.  Often they are understandably angry, but Christ tells us to pray for our persecutors and to love our enemies.  Interestingly, nowhere does the Hebrew Bible command anyone to love one’s enemies, and, as we have read previously in this series of posts, God prospers that the wicked change their ways and find mercy.  Yet many of the wicked refuse to repent, so the divine deliverance of the oppressed becomes bad news for oppressors.

The call to radical love thunders off the pages of the Sermon on the Mount.  We are to trust in God, not ourselves, and be so loving as to seem foolish to many.  Such love breaks the cycle of anger, resentment, revenge, and violence.  We, as inheritors, by grace, and adopted members of the household of God, are free to do that, if we dare.

May we dare accordingly.  Then we, by grace, will be suited for our purpose, or, as Matthew 5:48 puts it, perfect.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 21, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH, AND JOHANN CHRISTIAN BACH, COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS OF FLÜE AND HIS GRANDSON, SAINT CONRAD SCHEUBER, SWISS HERMITS

THE FEAST OF SAINT SERAPION OF THMUIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM EDWARD HICKSON, ENGLISH MUSIC EDUCATOR AND SOCIAL REFORMER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/devotion-for-the-seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a-humes/

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Devotion for Proper 10 (Ackerman)   1 comment

Above:   The Death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Grace and Enemies

JULY 14, 2019

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Numbers 16:1-5, 23-25

Psalm 55

Acts 14:8-18

John 2:23-25

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Scarcely had [Moses] finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions.   They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.  All Israel around them fled at their shrieks, for they said, “The earth might swallow us!”

And a fire went forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense.

–Numbers 16:31-35, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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The moral of the story is not to challenge the authority of Moses.

A recurring theme in the assigned readings for today is the presence of enemies.  The life of Jesus is constantly in peril in the Gospel of John.  One might imagine him repeating Psalm 55 frequently.

The enemies in Acts 14 include those who, out of ignorance and cultural conditioning, mistake Sts. Barnabas and Paul the Apostle for Zeus and Hermes, respectively, after the healing of a man lame from birth.  It is true that the residents of Lystra did not know what they were doing.  We read of Sts. Paul and Barnabas attempting to correct them, to no avail.  If we keep reading, we learn of the stoning of St. Paul by hostile Jews at Lystra, followed by the departure of the evangelists from the town the following day.

[Paul and Barnabas] warned [the disciples] that to enter the kingdom of God we must undergo many hardships.

–Acts 14:22b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Suffering for the sake of righteousness is an old and frequently perplexing pattern.  We ought to know that God never promised us lives of ease because of our piety, but that we would have divine companionship during such times of suffering.   We also have the model of Jesus, who suffered and died mightily, not because of his own sins, but those of others.  Suffering the consequences of one’s actions makes more sense, from a human perspective, does it not?  Just desserts are reciprocal, after all.

Yet, as we notice often, the just desserts seem not to arrive, at least not on schedule, as we define the schedule.   The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper; that is an ancient lament.  When we interject scandalous grace into the equation we learn that some of wicked might repent.  Maybe we want them to suffer, not repent.  Perhaps we seek the wrath, not the forgiveness, of God for our enemies.  If so, are we not on their moral level?  Should we not dwell on a higher moral level?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/grace-and-enemies/

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Devotion for Trinity Sunday (Year D)   1 comment

ancient-corinth

Above:  Ancient Corinth

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-07406

Building Each Other Up in Christ

JUNE 16, 2019

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 9:1-9, 11:1-13 or Ecclesiastes 8:1-17

Psalm 35

John 15:18-25 (26-27); 16:1-4a

2 Corinthians 12:11-21; 13:1-10 (11-13)

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One might suffer for any of a number of reasons.  One might, as did Solomon, suffer for one’s sins; actions do have consequences, after all.  Or one might suffer because of the sins of at least one other person.  This is one reason one might suffer for the sake of righteousness.  Or perhaps one might suffer for merely being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  On other occasions there might be no apparent reason for one’s suffering.

This is a devotion for Trinity Sunday.  Many attempts to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity have resulted in heresy.  I have resolved to cease trying to explain it and to revel in the glorious mystery instead.  God is greater and more glorious than I can imagine; thanks be to God!

I do feel comfortable in making some comments, however.  For example, Jesus of Nazareth (the historical figure) was the incarnated form of the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son.  I do not pretend to grasp the mechanics of the Godhead, but so be it.  Jesus suffered and died, but not because of any sin of his; he committed none.  God suffered due to human sinfulness and made something wondrous out of something brutal and base.

That extravagant grace imposes certain obligations on those who benefit from it.  Among these obligations is building each other up.  St. Paul the Apostle’s words on that topic remain as applicable today as they were in Corinth nearly 2000 years ago.  Christ Jesus is in me.  He is also in you, O reader.  He is also in those around us.  How will we treat them?  We have Jesus, a role model, to emulate.  Where would the human race be without him?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTIETH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT FILIP SIPHONG ONPHITHAKT, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN THAILAND

THE FEAST OF MAUDE DOMINICA PETRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM AND RICHARD UPJOHN, ARCHITECTS; AND JOHN LAFARGE, SR., PAINTER AND STAINED GLASS MAKER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/building-up-each-other-in-christ/

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Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 26, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Job and His Alleged Friends

Above:   Job and His Alleged Friends

Image in the Public Domain

Easy and False Answers

OCTOBER 31, 2019

NOVEMBER 1, 2019

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The Collect:

Merciful God, gracious and benevolent,

through your Son you invite all the world to a meal of mercy.

Grant that we may eagerly follow this call,

and bring us with all your saints into your life of justice and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 15:8-11, 24-33 (Thursday)

Job 22:21-23:17 (Friday)

Psalm 32:1-7 (Both Days)

2 Corinthians 1:1-11 (Thursday)

2 Peter 1:1-11 (Friday)

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Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

–Psalm 32:5, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The author of Psalm 32 had guilt and sin with which to deal.  The fictional character of Job, however, did not suffer because of any sin he had committed, according to Chapters 1 and 2.  Eliphaz the Temanite did not grasp this reality, so he uttered pious-sounding statements (some of which echo certain Psalms and much of the Book of Proverbs), pestering (not consoling) Job, who felt isolated from the mystery he labeled God.  Job was terrified of God (as he should have been, given God’s conduct throughout the book, especially Chapters 1, 2, 38, 39, 40, and 41) and was honest about his feelings.  Eliphaz, in contrast, offered an easy and false answer to a difficult question.

Yes, some suffering flows from one’s sinful deeds and functions as discipline, but much suffering does not.  Consider the life of Jesus of Nazareth, O reader.  He suffered greatly, even to the point of death, but not because he had sinned.  Much of the time our suffering results from the sins of other people.  On other occasions we suffer for no apparent reason other than that we are at the wrong place at the wrong time or we have a pulse.

May we resist the temptation to peddle in easy and false answers to difficult questions.  May we seek not to be correct but to be compassionate, to live according to love for God and our fellow human beings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/easy-and-false-answers/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 14, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Abraham

Above:  Icon of Abraham

Image in the Public Domain

Waiting for God, Part I

AUGUST 8, 2019

AUGUST 9, 2019

AUGUST 10, 2019

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your church.

Open our hearts to the riches of your grace,

that we may be ready to receive you wherever you appear,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 21:1-16 (Thursday)

Ecclesiastes 6:1-6 (Friday)

Genesis 11:27-32 (Saturday)

Psalm 33:12-22 (All Days)

Romans 9:1-9 (Thursday)

Acts 7:1-8 (Friday)

Matthew 6:19-24 (Saturday)

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We are waiting for Yahweh;

he is our help and our shield,

for in him our heart rejoices,

in his holy name we trust.

Yahweh, let your faithful love rest on us,

as our hope has rested in you.

–Psalm 33:20-22, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Sometimes the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.  This reality has frustrated many for ages and contradicted incarnations of Prosperity Theology (a heresy that does not die) since antiquity.  In the Book of Job the titular character’s alleged friends insisted that he must have done something to deserve his suffering.  The text, with all of its layers of authorship, explains in Chapters 1 and 2 why Job suffered; God allowed it.  Job was a pawn in a heavenly wager.

We who follow God wait for God, but, if we are realistic, we will not expect that doing so will lead to life on Easy Street.  Sometimes, in fact, it will lead to suffering for the sake of righteousness.  On other occasions suffering will just happen, seemingly for no reason.  Suffering is a part of life, I have become convinced.

Yet we need not suffer alone.  In Christ Jesus God suffered in human flesh, after all.  The divine promise is not that a proper relationship with God will be present during suffering.  This has been my experience.  We are members of God’s household via grace, not lineage, and the pilgrimage of faith begins with one step.  In God we find intangible and eternal (in the Johannine sense of that word, that is, “of God,” see 17:3) treasures, the variety that outlasts and is vastly superior to the most appealing temporal prizes.

Of course we should love God for selfless reasons; the rewards will come.  I recall a story about a woman who walked around carrying a torch and a bucket of water.  The torch, she said, was to burn up heaven and the water was to extinguish the flames of hell so that nobody would seek to follow God to enter heaven or to avoid hell.  Yet we humans seem to have mixed motivations much of the time, do we not?  Certain evangelists emphasize the possibility of damnation to frighten people into salvation.  Although I affirm the existence of both heaven and hell, I argue that terror is not a basis for a mature relationship with God, whom many Jews and Christians describe as loving and compassionate.

May we wait for Yahweh, who is our loving and compassionate help and shield, in whom our hearts rejoice.  May we wait for God in times of prosperity and of scarcity, of suffering and of ease, of pain and of pleasure.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 23, 2016 COMMON ERA

WEDNESDAY IN HOLY WEEK

THE FEAST OF GEORGE RUNDLE PRYNNE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR, PATRIARCH OF ARMENIA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH VON LAUFENBERG, GERMAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT TURIBIUS OF MOGROVEJO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF LIMA

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/waiting-for-god-part-i/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 15, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Stoning of St. Stephen

Above:  The Stoning of St. Stephen, by Paolo Uccello

Image in the Public Domain

Causing Dissensions and Offenses, Part I

AUGUST 16, 17, and 18, 2018

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The Collect:

Ever-living God, your Son gives himself as living bread for the life of the world.

Fill us with such knowledge of his presence that we may be strengthened and sustained

by his risen life to serve you continually,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 11:1-20 (Thursday)

Job 12:1-25 (Friday)

Job 13:1-19 (Saturday)

Psalm 34:9-14 (All Days)

Acts 6:8-15 (Thursday)

Romans 16:17-20 (Friday)

John 4:7-26 (Saturday)

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See that you never say anything wrong;

do not deceive people by telling lies.

Turn from bad behaviour to good,

try your best to live in peace.

–Psalm 34:14-15, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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One might start by refraining from blaming victims for their plights.

The titular character of the Book of Job, the opening of that composite text informs us, suffered not because of any sin he had committed.  No, God had permitted Satan, then an employee of God in the Hebrew theology of the time, to test the loyalty of Job.  (The adversary did not become God’s rival in Jewish theology until much later.  Many readers miss that point and read the Book of Job anachronistically.)  The primary guilty party in the case of the suffering of the impatient Job, then, was God.  (The expression “the patience of Job” makes no sense to me, based on the text which bears his name.)  Job’s alleged friends, including Zophar the Naamathite, argued however that God, being just, would not permit the innocent to suffer, so Job must have done something wrong.  Job gave as good as he got, as Chapters 12 and 13 indicate:

But you invent lies;

All of you are quacks.

If you would only keep quiet

It would be considered wisdom on your part.

–Job 13:4-5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Nevertheless, much of what Job’s alleged friends said sounds like what one reads elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, especially in the Books of Psalms and Proverbs, stated authoritatively.  (Those books are too naively optimistic in places.  Of course some of those raised to follow God grow up and depart from the proper path, despite Proverbs 22:6, for example.)  These alleged friends were not entirely wrong, but they proceeded from a false assumption, one common in antiquity as well as today.  Old ideas–including demonstrably false ones–persist.  If one’s sins necessarily lead to one’s suffering, how does one explain the crucifixion of Jesus, the living bread, the living water, and the sinless one?  One must also, if one is to be intellectually thorough and honest, contend with the sufferings and martyrdoms of many faithful, mere mortals, from antiquity to current events.

There are, of course, various reasons for suffering.  The Buddhist statement that suffering results from wrong desiring covers much of that territory well.  One might suffer because of the wrong desiring of another person or because of one’s own wrong desiring.  Even that, however, does not account for the suffering one must endure apart from that with causation in wrong desiring.  Why do some children enter the world with terrible diseases with genetic causes, for example?

St. Paul the Apostle, writing in Romans 16:17, urged his audience

to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

I file Zophar the Naamathite and the false witnesses against St. Stephen in that category.

A complicating factor is that “those who cause dissensions and offenses” usually do not think of themselves as such.  They might even consider themselves as righteous people, or at least as people who perform necessary, if unpleasant, deeds for the greater good.  Furthermore, you, O reader, and I might be among these people, according to others.  The only infallible judge of such matters is God.

We can attempt to act kindly, at least, and to refrain from blaming victims for their afflictions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, APOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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This is post #700 of ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS.

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/causing-dissensions-and-offenses-part-i/

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