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Sarah Ruden

Don't Catastrophize

The crucifixion and resurrection changed everything.

It must be a weird, rare experience for a writer to derive any practical comfort from her own writing. (Usually when proofs are sent to me for correction, I panic, frantic to change everything at once; when the finished, permanent version comes, I despair.) But I'm surprisingly glad I wrote Chapter 5—"The Natural Science of Greek Philosophy and the Social Science of Judaism Become the Super-Providence of Paul"—in Abraham's Dice: Chance and Providence in the Monotheistic Traditions, edited by Karl Giberson and published this spring by Oxford University Press. The John Templeton Foundation sponsored the volume and the conference that generated it to explore the history of ideas about why and how things happen—at random or in logical patterns, predictably or mysteriously?

I don't think any of the contributing authors guessed what sickeningly colliding forces would characterize the year in which this volume appears. As I travel to talk about my current day job, New Testament translation, and meet faculty, administrators, clergy, and parishioners, I've become used to the politics-inspired eye-roll, the report of a media fast, the simple declaration of confusion or hopelessness, the reminder of the efficacy of prayer.

Alas, my husband Tom is something of a card, so that when I get home the bedroom resounds with coverage of the latest outrage and he is listening with an ironic smile. I feel obliged to wake him at 3:00 AM and murmur: "Husband, I am having lustful thoughts about Donald Trump/Hilary Clinton/Kim Jong-un/the entire Belgian police service."

But when I page through my own distillation of Paul of Tarsus' central message—that the teaching of the crucifixion and resurrection changed everything, superseding vast intellectual systems of causality (the pagan philosophical religions, the providential history that Jews saw governing their fate) without canceling the notion of human self-determination but rendering ...

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