The strange thing about studying early Christianity in Turkey is that there are not a lot of Christians left in Turkey, the lands that were home to so much of the earliest growth and development of Christianity and the location of all seven of the first Ecumenical Councils. As we discuss how Christianity displaced, person by person, century by century, the pagan gods that predominated the Mediterranean Basin prior to the rise of Christianity, we reflect in our course on how it could even take place at all. How could a mission started by Paul, John, Barnabas, Peter, Timothy, Priscilla, Lydia and others have any success? We focus a lot on the movement of the Holy Spirit, on the experience of Jesus Christ. The ancients were not looking for gods, necessarily, but they were looking for hope and salvation. If the conversion of these lands and people is a sign of God's powerful work, what does it mean when these lands converted by the Christians are no longer Christian lands?

This is a difficult question, at least for me and our class, and we face it each time we go to an ancient site in Turkey. We went yesterday to Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, the three cities of the Lycus Valley. Paul wrote to Philemon and the Church in his house in Colossae, and Paul, or a follower, wrote to the Colossians. John wrote to the Laodiceans in Revelation. Paul also wrote, it seems, a letter to the Laodiceans which is now lost. Each of these sites is a ruin, and Colossae is not even excavated, but the Christian communities which were once here are not in the neighboring towns and cities either.  

It is true, of course, that devastations do occur, both to human life and to institutions. The Church is a minimal presence in Turkey, but it can grow, just as it first did in these lands. As we stood on the mound of the ancient city of Colossae yesterday, in the shadow of Mt. Cadmus, we thought of another devastation. My colleague, Paul Gavrilyuk, asked us to reflect on all the lives lost by earthquakes that have occurred in Turkey since ancient times. Ephesus, Smyrna, Colossae, Pergamum, Hierapolis, Laodicea, all were destroyed by earthquakes in ancient times. Turkey has suffered them in modern times too. But what was on Paul's mind as well were those lost in Haiti, for whom we offered a moment's silence and a prayer. Human suffering and loss is hard to understand, but we pray that in the fullness of time, God's will is done.

 

John W. Martens

Comments

Dale Rodrigue | 1/26/2010 - 10:30pm
Why bad things happen to good people is always a troubling question.  However, we must remember that Jesus told Pilate His Kingdom is not of this world.  A close examination of scripture shows that this world is still fallen and subject to natural disasters and we who are in this world but no longer of this world because of our baptism are still subject to its natural disasters.  Faith that God and His followers will walk with us in the midst of all this is our hope.
John McNicoll | 1/16/2010 - 11:54pm
Well, Mr. 3D, I guess it's your concept of God. I think I was a senior at the Christian Brothers high school when Brother Anselm came through the door and looking at me said, "Can God make a rock so heavy he cannot lift it

Had I misunderstood those previous lessons of God being all-powerful and able to move even mountains? I believe the scriptures say no one has ever seen God, so we don't know how big those biceps are or whether we should bet on Him or Hulk Hogan in an arm wrestling match. I use my imagination to believe God works miracles and I don't know yet whether I believe he could have stopped that earthquake. I believe he is still all-powerful in the spiritual realm.

Others seem to have a problem with God allowing suffering. I will have a problem if we do not do enough to alleviate that suffering but all we have to do is look at the life of Jesus to see His suffering and the suffering of martyrs and both capital-letter and small-letter saints .

I have offered my prayers, sent my donation and feel guilty that my church may have contributed Haiti's overpopulation, but I have never blamed God for causing that earthquake or not stopping it from happening.

Sorry Mr. President, it is not incomprehensible to me. It's the movement of tectonic plates in the vicinity of the Caribbean Sea. We have tornadoes where I live, others have hurricanes and volcanic eruptions.

It's probably okay to erect your tent on the slopes of Mt. St Helen's but I wouldn't advise anyone to build there especially if their children or grandchildren decide to stay in that house in the future. And Governor Arnie should probably tell those Californians to stop building in those dry hills that seem to catch fire so often.

No Brother, I had never thought of it before, but I do not think that God can make or lift that rock. I guess he thought as high school seniors we could handle the thought without it shaking our faith. Any adult believer should understand that we are co-creators of this world and we better start taking responsibility for our part and not blame it on God.

I have no intent to be blase' about this tragedy, I just don't understand the seeming shallowness of people's faith in God because of suffering or earthly tragedy
JOSEPH DICKSON | 1/16/2010 - 12:47pm
The earthquake in Haiti, and the enormity of the tragedy and suffering, to me, cries out for God to show his face and explain how this can happen. We can understand it when men are evil and cruel: we can choose to follow God or reject God. And we can understand that our senseless, greedy conduct can effect the environment and climate, leading to other ''natural disasters'' that inflict pain suffering and death. But, and perhaps my scientific and geological ignorance is stunning, to say the least, what is the meaning to be found in all of this death and suffering caused by an earthquake, which surely we did not cause? I, for one, full of anquish and anger, am driven back to the psalms. I fully understand that we are not meant to know the will of God, but can someone out there help me to better understand why something like this can happen to these people, and to the people our ancient Christian world?