Sunday, June 12, 2016


June 12, 2016

I began tonight's post months ago, but just couldn't pull it together. This morning's news fo the mass shooting in Orlando nudged me to finish what I had started.

Theodicy: the problem of evil. It's a problem only for people in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The atheist has no philosophical problem with evil. If there is no God, evil is merely a fact of life; a construct of the human mind. Who's to say what is good and what is evil if there is no ultimate reality, no Supreme Being? If I rob and kill, my victims may not like it, but without God, might makes right. But I am a Christian who believes in an all-powerful, good God. Therein lies the problem. It's been classically stated in this way: "If God were all-powerful, he could prevent evil; if he were good, he would prevent it. Evil exists; therefore God either is not all-powerful or he is not good."

The problem of evil is the subject matter of the Bible. God's action on behalf of his erring people is the subject of the story from beginning to end, but right in the middle of the Bible is perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of the mystery of suffering in the entire Holy Writ. It's the story of Job, who suffered grievously and in that suffering, questioned the justice of God. Smarter and more educated men than I have wrestled with this epic poem and come up with commentary and interpretations that frankly, leave me unsatisfied. I'm not sure my musings are any better, but it seems to me that Job presents two different responses to the problem of evil.

In the first, Job's misfortune is the result of a cosmic wager between God and Satan in which Job is merely a pawn, the unfortunate recipient of undeserved evil brought on by God's desire to prove a point. From this perspective, Job's insistence on his innocence not only makes sense, it has merit. God is presented as somewhat cavalier in his treatment of his prize subject. Even more, from Job's perspective, not having the insight we have in reading the story, one could argue that had he discovered the behind the scenes action, he would be justified in accusing God of injustice. I've never understood why so many Christians are satisfied with this explanation. In my opinion, this unsatisfactory explanation merely sets the stage for the ultimate conclusion in which God challenges Job with the mystery of his majesty.

Ultimately, evil is a mystery with which we must deal. God essentially tells Job that there are things in life too big for him to understand, and though he will wrestle with them, he is not capable of threading that needle. When God asks Job who he thinks he is to accuse God of injustice, it isn't primarily accusatory, but simply a statement of fact, a revelation Job needs to see.

The story however, doesn't end with Job. It climaxes in Jesus Christ, who entered into human life with all its depravity and evil, experienced its voracious appetite, and through his death and resurrection set the stage for its final defeat. There will be unending commentary in the media, with each side accusing the other of stonewalling what they consider the best way to deal with the problem of violence and terrorism. Christians will get caught up in the frenzy of blame, and sooner or later, it will happen all over again. No one seems to realize that no matter how hard we try, we don't have the definitive answer to evil. What we do have is the example of Jesus who called his followers to overcome evil with good. That doesn't mean we merely turn the other cheek and hope those who revel in evil will somehow be chagrined by our meek submission; evil must often be confronted with righteous strength.

Public figures will debate and decide. Activists will activate. People will wring their hands and hearts, Christians and other people of faith will pray while agnostics scoff at such futile exercises. But even they have no answer to evil. We pray, console, and walk with one another through their darkest hours, and struggle at times to give thanks for life itself, believing that what is inexplicable to us God will somehow weave into the tapestry of his plan to eradicate evil once and for all in the final judgment.

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