Creighton University theology professor Julia Feder spoke Tuesday night in Carroll Auditorium about using a Christian worldview to deal with human suffering, especially with regards to sexual violence.
In her lecture, which was the final part of the Center for Spirituality’s “Developing a Spirituality of Resilience” series, Feder sought to distinguish between the theological notions of God being goodness and God being “all powerful,” arguing that the former is stronger.
“It’s only a God of love, and one who never desires human suffering, that can provide a foundation for a proper Christian spirituality of resilience,” Feder said. “The God of love opposes human suffering and empowers humanity to resist dehumanizing violence by sharpening our powers of perception of evil and feelings of indignation.
Feder, author of the forthcoming book “Saving Grace: Sexual Trauma in Christian Salvation,” also distinguished between forms of stress which “are good for us,” using a weightlifter’s improvements as an example and other forms “which are not good for us in any quantity at all.”
Sexual violence, Feder said, does no good and doesn’t have a role to play in God’s plan for humanity.
“Rape is an authentic breaking-apart of the human person and is never willed by God. Rape is senseless suffering,” Feder said.
Feder used the story of Jesus suffering on the cross in order to illustrate God’s role in dealing with human suffering. The brutal, painful suffering was inflicted on Jesus by sinful humans, not by God, she said.
The power of resurrection, she argued, does not derive from Jesus having suffered on purpose, but rather by how Jesus overcame that suffering.
“At the last supper, Jesus places his confidence in God as one who champions humanity and places his trust in this God in the face of death,” Feder said. “Despite his torture and death, Jesus trusted, somehow, some way, that his life’s work would not amount to nothing.”
Applying this to the interpretation of sexual violence, Feder said survivors could be better equipped against the propensity of self-blame.
“Our history of sexual violence can be a part of our story of being saved by God only insofar as it marks the evil that is committed by human beings that God is overcoming, not which God has given to us as a test,” she said.
Feder said responses of pain, anger and disappointment of traumatized survivors are caused by a “negative contrast” with God’s goodness and reflect “what God does not want for us.”
“Salvation is not just this spiritual and personal process, promising some other worldly reward, but instead is a restoration of the whole human person as she was created to be,” Feder said. “Salvation concerns the whole human person and all her created dimensions, physical, material, interpersonal, social, political and spiritual.”
Feder used this idea of salvation to recommend steps for Christian communities to take on the issue of sexual violence. She also acknowledged that the measures she recommended wouldn’t solve the issue once and for all, but at least would constitute good work with real influence.
“I would say Christian salvation must then include community denunciation of sexual violence. It must include clear reporting guidelines… and free psychological resources for survivors,” she said. “The sum of these measures doesn’t cause doesn’t constitute the fullness of Christian salvation, but salvation is at least in these measures.”
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