February 18, 2018

Lent 1

GENESIS 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 PETER 3:18-22; MARK 1:9-15

The Rev.  Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis

The Bible teaches us that studying God is a way of loving God, and that we have a God who studies us back. 

Somewhere in my four-year college education I chose anthropology as a major.  It was said by some to be a futile discipline; people studying people.  But for me exploring the infinite facets of humanity’s languages, foods, locations, religions, etc. was a way of loving people.

Later with my college studies far behind me I picked up the study of divinity.  Again I got push back for my choice.  How futile and foolish to devote oneself to the pursuit of that which is improbable, unproveable and potentially non-existent.  But for me exploring God and the expressions of the church was a way of loving God.

The Bible teaches us that studying God is a way of loving God, and that we have a God who studies and loves us back.

But begin the student of anything bears the consequence of feelings and mutual relationship.  We affect what we study and what we study affects us.  Today I am wondering if the Lord who looks constantly at creation does not suffer at times from compassion fatigue.

Harriet Hodgson explains that compassion fatigue is a type of stress caused by caring for others. Although burnout develops over time, compassion fatigue can come on suddenly.  This sounds so much like the God of Genesis who looks down on creation and so disliked it that God wanted to annihilate it.

Psychotherapist Dennis Portnoy explains  “Compassion fatigue is caused by empathy…It is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people.”  This sounds so much like the God of Genesis who looked down on creation and saw only violence and corruption to a degree that rendered creation intolerable.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth…And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

The problem in God’s eyes was corruption and violence.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence…God said to Noah I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.

This kind of anger and indifference on God’s part is akin to the symptoms of compassion fatigue which sets in for people who care for people; particularly victims of violence or other trauma.  Maybe that is what went on with the Lord who was so displeased and disheartened by creation.  Maybe the Lord who studies and loves us constantly suffers at times from compassion fatigue.

News commentators this week have explored the concern that we ourselves may become indifferent to the steady stream of violence and mass shootings such as the Parkland High School shooting in Florida.  These have become so regular that we are at risk of suffering the fatigue of constant fear and grief, or worse still at risk of going numb and feeling nothing at all.

Compassion for ourselves, for victims, for perpetrators, and for responders becomes a non-option during compassion fatigue as does our wherewithal to name the greed so increasingly indifferent to the slaughter of innocents.  It is possible to amass an arsenal that has no redemption.  I wonder today what the impact of this is on God.

Yet even in an impulse to annihilate God makes provision for preservation.  Noah’s family remained after the flood as did procreative pairs of living things.  And the Lord made a covenant that life will go on.  The colors of the rainbow – the spectrum of light – is a sign and symbol of that promise that is understood to have no end.

After the flood and destruction, God said to Noah and to his sons, “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

In this promise God seems to have recovered from God’s own fatigue and once again can exercise compassion and love for creation.  As Walter Brueggeman explains, “Yahweh will not be brainwashed by the flood.”  Instead God recovers God’s compassion and love for they are from everlasting.  Oh, that in studying the LORD we might learn to hate what is violent and corrupt while pursuing resiliency for the most abiding love and the very deepest compassion.