The Gift and the Function of Unstructured Malevolences

           The mystic Howard Thurman writes in The Inward Journey that “the stirring of energy in myriad forms of unstructured malevolences may well be the spirit of Life, of God at work in behalf of new life and perhaps a new creation on this planet.”

The sentence stopped me cold, because clearly, there are “unstructured malevolences” going on all around us. We are being bombarded by storms, both physical and political, that are ripping us from our berths of comfort and familiarity and thrusting us into a space of mystery and the unknown. There is much suffering on behalf of God’s children in general – in spite of there being a God – but the suffering is more intense now. The nation seems to be suffering from the malevolent spirit of the people who run the federal government and its agencies; people are weary of tweets and name-calling and the overt racial bias of the president. Instead of performing as a civilized government, our government is more of a spectacle, an ongoing reality show, with the so-called “leader of the free world” doing and saying things which are making America the laughing stock of the world but worse, a symbol of ignorance and bigotry which could well result in a war with nations which have long hated America’s claim to social and political superiority.

The political storms are thrusting us backward, it seems, to a time a place we wanted to believe were long gone. Our very lives are being tossed and blown; we are being beaten down by winds of oppression, racism, sexism, ignorance, arrogance, homophobia, nationalism, racial identity politics, and more. The gains of “the least of these” are being reversed with no regard for those who will be most seriously affected.

The physical storms add insult to injury; people who are already spiritually and emotionally depleted because of the political storms are now in the throes of abject suffering because the physical storms have taken away everything they ever owned. Many are still under water; people do not have access to food and water and many still have no electricity and may not for months.

Unstructured malevolences. They are all around us. 

Thurman says that we must “find our place in the areas of new vitalities, the place where the old is breaking up and the new is being born.” Perhaps we are in a process of geminating – the unstructured malevolences are planting within us and within our society new seeds. In these seeds are the embryos which will bring forth new life. Surely, none can hold onto “what was” and maintain sanity. The loss of what we knew is too great to bear. No, the way to get through periods of unstructured malevolences is to accept that something new is being born. Instead of looking back to what was, times like these, where we are depleted of everything we knew and held dear, force us to look forward  to see “what the end will bring.”

It is not possible to “understand God.” Those of us who try to intellectualize that which is beyond our capacity to grasp run the danger of slipping into despair. If we say God is sovereign, then the most difficult thing to do is to accept that sovereignty in all of its components.

Unstructured malevolences are a part of God’s sovereignty. We may not like it. They may feel scary and may make us angry or doubt God.  Our comfortable faith is hit when these malevolences come …but perhaps a shaken and done-over faith is what God wants for us to have. Perhaps a comfortable and complacent faith denotes death and therefore, seeds of newness have to be planted in order to bring forth a strengthened faith, a faith that can and will weather the malevolences in a way that will honor God.

We are taught that “God is good all the time.” When unstructured malevolences hit us, we may forget that – but it is at that very time that we must not forget. In the space where we have nothing but our memory and notion of a “good God,”  those memories must well up and fill the space …and in so doing, give us the spiritual oxygen and nutrients we will need to make it through to the other side.

The gift and the function of “unstructured malevolences” is new life. In spite of the pain and misery, the malevolences indicate a period of labor …which will lead to the birth of the newness that God wants. Somehow, we must remember that.

Amen and amen.

About The Author

Dr. Susan Smith Dr. Susan K. Smith is the former pastor of the Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. She received her education from Occidental College, Yale University, and United Theological Seminary. She is the author of five books and the proud mother of two children.

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