Several weeks ago, Daryl graciously invited me to be a part of this discussion, and in his most recent post seemed to “nudge” me to be a part. It’s not hard to do when such a weighty topic is on the table. So here I go. Sorry it’s so long…
I firmly believe that, for everyone who really begins to think about God, theodicy is the one of the first and biggest stumbling blocks. It has been for centuries. There are so many issues today that create agnosticism – the relation of science (evolution) to Christianity is one of those issues. But I think that most of us would be willing to overcome – or overlook – these “barriers of reason,” if only we could make sense of the one Big Question: How can evil exist in a world made by a good God?
Daryl’s conclusion (at least the one for this week… I have the feeling that most of you, like me, have changed your mind on this many times) is one that I have been tempted to myself. You’re no more a heretic than the many Christian theologians who have come to this conclusion (or at least toyed with it) throughout the centuries. You’re no more insane than many of my Calvinist friends who herald God’s complete sovereignty, because this is where their theology eventually takes them if they let it. We’re all insane heretics to someone!
But this kind of theodicy falls short, at least in my mind, for two reasons:
First, it is “end justifies the means.” And while I can accept this line of reasoning for “personal evils” like depression & addiction (both of which I’ve dealt with at some level), I simply cannot see that larger evils can be justified by saying, “some good will come out of this.”
The Holocaust is the classic example for a good reason. I just can’t make myself believe that God would cause or orchestrate the meaningless suffering and death of so many millions of people. We’ve seen pictures, read books, and heard so many stories. Great movies have been made, some based on reality and some mere fiction. But we will never know all of the real stories of suffering that came from that time. There were millions who were barely known before they entered the concentration camps, and who died quiet and undramatic deaths, uncared-for and unnoticed by anyone. To me, there’s no good that’s great enough to justify it. 9/11, the recent tsunami and earthquakes and floods, wars and genocide in the Middle East… what good can come out of these that are greater than the misery and suffering that were caused?
And yet, this is the very idea many of us hold on to so we can allow God to keep “control” of our world. “God’s still on his throne,” we say. It’s as if we are responsible for making sure God has everything under his thumb.
My grandmother was in a car accident a few years ago that nearly killed her. Now, at almost 85 ears old, she can barely get around on her own because of constant pain in her back and legs. She’s spent the last six years in doctors’ and chiropractors’ offices, trying without success to find a way to lessen the pain. And yet, as I sit and muse with her in front of the TV in her living room, she tells me with tears in her eyes, “God is on his throne. He must have some good that will come of this.” And I believe her – but not enough to say that God caused it to happen.
Is this kind of reasoning faith, or just a way to “scapegoat” – our attempt to assign blame for an event that seems to have no meaning? I don’t know.
The second problem I see in this line of reasoning is that it necessarily cancels free will – a doctrine I stubbornly hold on to, even though I’m not always sure why. God creating evil that causes floods and earthquakes is one thing. God creating evil that causes one person to hate and hurt another person is a different thing altogether. And sadly, I would say that the vast majority of the evil and suffering in our world today are not brought about by natural causes, but human ones.
So where am I? I’m still not sure. I lean toward the idea that God created a universe in which we can make a free choice, in which we can make decisions that matter. We can choose to serve God – that is, to live lives according to what God has revealed to us, in whatever form. Or we can choose to follow ourselves, to move away from what God has shown us. And in that universe, where we make decisions that matter, we hurt each other and sometimes the universe hurts us. But God is always working in the background to counteract the evil – to twist some good out of what would only have been evil before.
What of Satan? Part of me wants to say that he is only the name and personification we have given to the evil that is a necessary part of our world. Maybe he’s another “scapegoat” we’ve created. But another part of me senses a real evil presence that works against God in the world, a presence that doesn’t want me to ask these kinds of questions, that doesn’t want me to turn my thoughts toward God at all.
I know that any answers I give will also be inadequate. Some of you will probably write in and punch holes in my thoughts, and that’s fine. In fact, I welcome it. I will continue to think on this for the rest of my life. But I know that I will never come to a conclusion… after all, if Christianity’s greatest minds have worked on this for centuries and have not come to a complete answer, how could my muddled brain work out anything? It’s one of those many questions I’ve allowed myself to keep – one of the “deep mysteries” that will someday be made clear – that remind me over and over that God is greater and so much more wonderful than I can imagine.