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From Misery to Hope

Encountering God in the Abyss of Suffering


Joseph Egan

How can one believe in a God of love amid all the evil and suffering found in the world? How does one do theology ‘after Auschwitz’, while vast numbers of people still have to endure violent oppression every day? This book seeks to address such questions from a standpoint informed by life in Africa, which in the face of extraordinary difficulties bears witness to Gospel hope by demonstrating forgiveness in action and promoting reconciliation.
The work unfolds in two parts. In the first part, a description of the misery that characterises much of life in Africa in the recent past opens up to a theological consideration of the underlying causes and of God’s response to them. In the second part, the joy which is so characteristic of life in Africa even in places of immense suffering sets the scene for detailed reflections on liturgy, memory, forgiveness and hope.


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Part II Presence 157


Part II Presence Chapter 5 Feasting with God in the Abyss Apart from Rwanda in 1994 I have never encountered hopelessness in Africa. Amidst the direst catastrophes – war and death, famine or just slow decline – Africans don’t do hopelessness. — Richard Dowden1 A theology of Auschwitz cannot be written unless its findings issue in prayer, for we can face the horror only by coming to terms with it liturgically. — Ulrich Simon2 The destructiveness and suffering that human beings have endured and continue to endure in so many places presents theologians with a daunt- ing task. The dangers involved in articulating a theological response to those horrific realities are all too obvious, because it is very easy to do so in abstract, rarefied categories which have as little relevance to the wretched existence of the oppressed as the theological musings of Job’s friends had to his sufferings. Theology of the “armchair” or “lecture podium”3 vari- ety has little or no relevance in contexts where the AK47 rifle is prized 1 Dowden, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, 284. 2 Ulrich Simon, A Theology of Auschwitz (London: SPCK, 1967) 47. 3 Both expressions derive from the work of Johann Baptist Metz. See his Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology, trans. David Smith (London: Burns & Oates, 1980) 151; and the second edition of the same work, trans- lated from the fifth German edition, Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology, trans. J. Matthew Ashley (New York: Crossroad,...

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