Advent with Black Elk: Theodicy in the Rain

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Chapter 10: Walking the Black Road

In this chapter, Black Elk laments the signing of the 1876 Black Hills Agreement, in which Lakota chiefs and headmen were intimidated into signing an agreement that not only ceded the Black Hills but also all claims to lands outside the Great Sioux Reservation.

“News came to us here in the Moon of the Falling Leaves (November),” Black Elk says, “that the Black Hills had been sold to the Wasichus and also all the country west of the Hills—the country we were in then. I learned when I was older that our people did not want this. The Wasichus went to some of the chiefs alone and got them to put their marks on the treaty. Maybe some of them did this when they were crazy from drinking the minne wakan (holy water, whiskey) the Wasichus gave them. I have heard this; I do not know. But only crazy or very foolish men would sell their Mother Earth. Sometimes I think it might have been better if we had stayed together and made them kill us all” (83)

He then talks about experiencing betrayal from other tribes who teamed up with the Wasichus:

“Our own people had turned against us…many Shoshones and Crows and even Lakotas and our old friends, the Shyelas, would come against us with the Wasichus. I could not understand this, and I thought much about it. How could men get fat by being bad, and starve by being good? I thought and thought about my vision, and it made me very sad; for I wondered if maybe it was only a queer dream after all” (86).

Here, Black Elk asks the theodic question that topples Deuteronomistic theology (the good are rewarded and the evil are punished), that challenges the justice (dike) of God (theos), and that haunts the pages of Hebrew and Christian Scripture, especially the Psalms.

“This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.” (Ps. 73:12-13)

“How could men get fat by being bad, and starve by being good?”

Why do bad things happen to good people?

And why do good things happen to bad people?

As I consider these weighty theodic questions, I look out my window and watch the minne wakan of the rain pour lightly upon Shattuck avenue here in Berkeley and in the distance, San Francisco, now covered in fog and clouds.  I am reminded of the words of the Matthean Jesus, who said that our Father in Heaven “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45).

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About deforestlondon

Episcopal priest
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