I fully trust in God’s loving care for me and for all those who ask for
it even in times of unbelievable tragedy.
The answer to “why” do such horrific
events happen will never be within our grasp here on this earth. I did
find Brian Stiller’s enlightened view, however, into the Christian theology of
the presence of evil in our society and especially about the evil present this
week in Newtown, CN. to be very insightful. Therefore, this week I share his
essay on “Why God Allows Evil.”
painting of a young woman’s primeval scream standing on a bridge in a sunlit
day came to mind as I witnessed unbelievable horror and tried to feel the
unimagined suffering of parents as they raced to the elementary school in
Newtown Connecticut to find their children.
died quickly shifted to “whys.” Why this town? Why this school? Why my child?
Syrians in a refugee camp asked me weeks ago what millions through millennia
wonder, “Why does God allow evil?”
answer will not bring back a child, erase memories of a shooter blazing away at
little children, extract justice for the community or ease the fright of a
possible reoccurrence in another school. Even so, a framework for discussion
(called theodicy – why God allows evil and suffering) matters for those in
Newtown and us on the sidelines, as we grieve and wonder.
this road of a theodicy: first are questions of logic – how is it that God who
is sovereign and good doesn’t or can’t eliminate suffering? Secondly, we follow
the biblical narrative – the Jewish-Christian scriptures leading us through
generations, learning over time what God is doing about evil. The first is
humans examining God, questioning him in the courtroom of human reason. The
second is a story of human life in its genesis, often devolving, yet given a
lifeline from its seeming inevitable slide into chaos.
Why doesn’t God who is loving and all powerful eliminate evil? Hume (18th
century philosopher) asked, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then
he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both
able and willing? Whence then is evil?” On neither score God wins. But what if
we explore beyond Hume’s two options (if he is willing, but unable he is weak;
if able but not willing, he is not good) with another: He wills to allow
choice, and thus is both sovereign and good.
this: Could God create a world in which there is free choice but only one
choice and that to do good? The counter argument would be, “But that’s hardly
an exercise of free will. It sounds more like angels.” Which in turn begs the
question, is there something God cannot do? Can he make a world in which humans
have the freedom to choose for themselves, but only allow one choice in their
choosing? Logic disagrees. So there is something God cannot do which is to be
made in his image – imago Dei – we are wired with choice. Augustine, 4th
Century theologian put it this way:
of God’s goodness that He has not refrained from creating even that creature
which He foreknew would not only sin, but remain in the will to sin. As a
runaway horse is better than a stone which does not run away because it lacks
self-movement and sense perception, so the creature is more excellent which
sins by free will than that which does not sin only because it has no free
all-powerful and good, gave human will space to choose good or evil. Keep in
mind that the biblical story describes our human parents in a state of
innocence, not perfection, and it is within their innocence they made their
choice to obey either their Creator or evil. Philosopher Alvin Planting sums up
the heart of the argument: “God can create a more perfect universe by
theodicy begins with the Hebrew Scriptures as we search for an explanation of
God’s dealing with evil. Here a narrative of people, events, choices,
interventions and consequences answer to evil. Beginning with creation we learn
of the Divine and human, its subsequent unraveling of relationship and
generations of disasters interspersed occasionally with flashes of brilliance
comment on the notion of evil itself. 20th century wisdom tended to discount
evil as real and substantive, making it an effect (what happens to someone)
rather than its own reality (what causes something to happen). Instead
dysfunction and brokenness in life and society, it was reasoned, was due to
many factors – social decay, chemical imbalances, genetic malfunctions,
hormonal roller coasters, and the explanations go on. Surely much of what we
know today as medical and psychological was in the past categorized as evil.
Even so, American psychotherapist, Scott Peck, an atheist came to Christian
faith in part because he saw a larger force at work in some patients, a factor
he called “evil” which he outlines in People of the Lie.
tension in the Divine’s offering of freedom, sometimes taken and creatively
managed, but most often dissipated by greed, anger and lust. Abraham, father of
both Jews and Arabs, accepted the promise to beget a nation, yet lied about his
wife to an Egyptian Pharaoh and distrusting the promise of a son, bred another
and in the end was called on to sacrifice his son, ending with two people
forever at loggerheads with each other, as Israel and Gaza demonstrate.
maneuvering of human will to exercise freedom, at times leading to doing good
but often exploring the deep places of moral depravity, all the while wrapped
in fig leaves to camouflage the Divine from knowing.
wrestle with his choice to give humans freedom to be good or bad? The constant
double thread woven through the old and new Testaments promise presence – God
is with you – and promises of future – the coming Redeemer who will recompose
the human heart and destroy cosmic forces of evil.
out that narrative – he enters as king of creation and child in a stable. The
fusion of Divine and Human – we call it “incarnation” – brings together the two
and in course of his mandate in death asks what parents of Newtown asked last
week: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
come so you might have life, with abundance. Evil – the prince of this world
(John 16:11) – is defeated and will be no more. While the good of God wrestles yet
with evil, the triumphant Easter morning declaration of Jesus rising declares
that evil, an earthly constituent, is defeated. The Christian hope puts the
finality of that defeat in the future, but in faith, that too is assured.
feeble at best. Yet they frame a wider picture of our world in which God gives
us the right to choose. For parents in Connecticut, Syria or Afghanistan, that
won’t fill the emptiness of a child gone. But it reminds us that each has the
right to make choices. The cause(s) of the killing rampage need not go
unaddressed. We can rise the next day and make changes for good.
the midst of suffering, Jesus of Nazareth lived under the strains and burden of
evil. Twenty children in his village
of Bethlehem were killed by a ruling mad man, within months of his birth.
Violence he understands. Then it was through cruelty of death and breaking out
in resurrection that evil was overcome. So in today’s moment, we find comfort
knowing that death is not all there is to dying. One only needs to listen to
the songs and words of the many funerals in Newtown to know that the promise of
life, free from evil, is really, just around the corner.