Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Wrestling with God: The Lived Theodicy of Marilyn McCord Adams

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Wrestling with God: The Lived Theodicy of Marilyn McCord Adams

Article excerpt

William Ockham. 2 vols. By Marilyn McCord Adams. Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press, 1987. 1402 pp. $90.00 (paper).

"Love of Learning, Realit)- of God." By Marilyn McCord Adams. In Thomas V. Morris, ed., God and the Philosophers: the Reconciliation of Faith and Reason . 137-161. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. 304 pp. $19.95 (paper).

Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God. By Marilyn McCord Adams. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999. 240 pp. $21.00 (paper).

Wrestling for Blessing. By Marilyn McCord Adams. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2005. 144 pp. $12.60 (Kindle).

Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology. By Marilyn McCord Adams. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 240 pp. $21.00 (paper).

Opening to God: Childlike Prayers for Adults. By Marilyn McCord Adams. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2008. 120 pp. $17.00 (paper).

"Truth and Reconciliation." By Marilyn McCord Adams. In Derek R. Nelson, Joshua M. Moritz, and Ted Peters, eds. Theologians in Their Own Words. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2013. 288 pp. $29.00 (paper).

The Rev. Dr. Marilyn McCord Adams (1944-2017) was a priest in the Episcopal Church, the first female Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University, a theologian who made enormous contributions in the areas of theodicy and Christology, and a philosopher who wrote the definitive work on William of Ockham. She was a wife, mentor, colleague, and godmother. I count it as one of the great blessings of my life that she was also my friend. In and through all of these roles and relationships, Marilyn McCord Adams was a God-wrestler. This appellation is taken from one of her favorite Bible passages, Genesis 32:24-28, in which Jacob wrestles with a divine figure, refusing to let go until he receives blessing. Jacob is both blessed and injured in the process. He becomes Israel, and he walks with a limp. In similar fashion, McCord Adams wrestled with God and refused to let go. She wrote, "Between birth and the grave, the human assignment is to strive into God with all of our powers" (2013, p. 21).

McCord Adams grew up in rural Illinois. Three facts from her childhood set the stage for her academic work. First, she was raised in a church that taught her to know, love, and turn to the Bible. A veritable human concordance, she never ceased to study scripture. Second, McCord Adams experienced the goodness of God and was convinced of the centrality of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Third, she suffered horrendous abuses at the hands of her parents, a truth upon which she reflected publicly only after they had died.

As an adolescent, McCord Adams was unable to reconcile the goodness of the God she knew from scripture and experience with the horrors of relentless abuse. She writes, "My problem was how to house God and evil in the same world, and how to contain the experiences of God and horrors in the same self' (2013, p. 17). She felt God hated her; she hated God back. Yet it was not a clean break. McCord Adams wanted "to get back in touch with the reality of God" (2013, p. 18) and God, she would later say, kept trying to get back in touch with her.

Her study of philosophy at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign provided physical distance from the horrors of her childhood home and intellectual companions-in book form-with whom to wrestle about nature, both human and Divine. Notably, philosophy alone did not make way for McCord Adams and God to reconcile. Protestants encouraged faith and appropriate feelings of love for God and neighbor. To someone in McCord Adams's situation, this was useless. Faith and love for God were precisely what she was looking for-to say she needed them to find God did not help! However, the Anglo-Catholics offered a step forward: even if she did not believe, she could go through the motions. The material rituals of Angl°Catholic worship and the repetitive affirmation of the creeds were the door through which McCord Adams could reclaim her faith and re-enter the church, becoming an Episcopalian in 1964 (2013, p. …

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