I heard Proverbs of Ashes recommended as ‘a book that reads itself’, and indeed, it was exquisitely written and courageously told. In the forward, the authors share the long process that led them to the conclusion that the ideas they wanted to present would not be best communicated through a theoretical perspective, but rather by a painstakingly personal retelling of their stories. The result is a book is truly hard to put down, and even more difficult to remove from one’s thoughts.
Their book makes a strong case that our theologies can be dangerous. In particular, these feminist theologians take aim at popular theories of the atonement, and especially the substitutionary model, for the way it glorifies violence, pain, and suffering. Which fact is fairly obvious once they shine their light on this issue, though those of us who have been exposed to this as the only metaphor for the atonement might have missed some of the implications of this theory that suggests that God the father willingly punished his son Jesus, who was left to bear this suffering with dispassion.
Too, I applaud the personal narrative that Brock and Parker have employed– they’ve broken some important ground here in recognizing the personal nature of our theologies, and in honoring the power of our stories. At the same time and in the same vein, though, I found their occasional dispassion and detachment a bit unnerving. Both Brock and Parker describe some harrowing abuse, and never express much in the way of anger or rage at their abusers. Too, they suffer extreme emotional estrangement and sexual unfaithfulness by a series of husbands and male partners, yet don’t express any outrage at these deep and extended betrayals (in fact, at times they seem to take responsibility for their husbands’ actions). Of course, this may be due to their academic approach and backgrounds, painstaking detail in their therapeutic approach to the issues and situations, and their impressive psychological depth and acumen. And I realize that the burden of their book is to suggest that such theologies can lead to denial and even glorification of suffering, the very psychological phenomena to which they were subject. But as a layperson, I found myself outraged on their behalf, and a bit incredulous that they weren’t, too.
In the end, these great writers indeed offer a more sustainable vision of the world and God. Pain and suffering are all around us, but they need not define us. More importantly, God is not a removed deity who inflicts pain or who stands idly by as people suffer violence, but a Presence who endures suffering alongside us.