In a reflection that is most certainly to be categorised firmly on the side of what is understandably seen as the impersonal, cold, logic-chopping philosophical problem of evil (rather than more humane existential or pastoral problem of evil), it occurs to me that the feeling of unjustness we almost universally feel when, say, a massive tsunami wipes out thousands of poor ‘innocent’ people1 is almost entirely an affair of emotion rather than reason.
Notice that I said it was the feeling of unjustness, rather than the sense that we ought to have compassion on the victims, which was driven chiefly by emotion rather than reason. For what just alternative do we imagine? That earth should be free of tectonic activity and water – both of which are fundamentally necessary for the existence and flourishing of all life?
The complaint seems to be that God is somehow unjust for making a world where tsunamis happen, or for not intervening each time they are in places that wipe out thousands of people… or hundreds of people… or dozens of people… or any single human life… or animal life… yes, God should stop those tsunamis too… matter of fact, God should stop sudden gusts of wind that cause people to lose their balance, fall and hurt themselves… God should intervene to stop my paper cut…
From the perspective of a Martian, all of these human dramas played out on our ‘pale blue dot’ are not so different. Certainly the point at which the ratio of deaths-saved to degree-of-divine-interference becomes an offense2 seems utterly arbitrary. What’s more, Nature certainly doesn’t care for either tsunami or paper-cut victims. Nature is neither grieved at evil nor glad at good, for the ‘dumb witch‘, needs not either of those adjectives – or any qualitative value-judgments.
Experience teaches us that when we build our house on a beach, we risk possible devastation by wind and waves. Handle papers quickly and carelessly, and expect paper-cuts. The ‘natural evil’ is worsened by the human evils of things like impatience and inattention (behind the paper-cut) and things like the greedy, indifferent and dehumanising failure to share knowledge and technology that would see the poor, vulnerable coastal communities having stronger buildings and better and faster tsunami warning systems.
The God-who-is-Love is not there to remove all pain and suffering, but to be trusted in the midst of, and to Love us into, through and out the other side of all pain and suffering – great and small.
It’s not the reality of tsunamis that raise hairy theological questions, but rather when people claim that God sent it on the homosexuals or the lone survivor claims God singled them out for survival over the others.3
I’m not fond of the habit of attaching direct, one-for-one, tit-for-tat theological purpose and meaning to every single phenomena (i.e. this mouse made it to the mouse trap before that other mouse because it had been very, very naughty in the eyes of the Lord…). Though equally, I’m committed to seeing all phenomena as known by and sustained by God, so God has at least something to do with literally everything that happens.
It does seem that we tend to thank God for pleasing events, but not critique God for unpleasant ones. So, the simplistic complaint, ‘all of the credit, but none of the blame’, is very intuitive, but only to a point. Despite that many Christians actually do only thank God for nice events and are not sure what to say of un-nice ones, the Christian faith relates to pain and suffering in a unique way. One (certainly not the only) way it does is by taking everything from tsunamis to paper-cuts as an opportunity to be reminded that one must not put their trust in anything other than God, the Rock of Salvation.
Calling a Spirit such as God a ‘rock’ is both a delicious juxtaposition and an utterly appropriate metaphor, especially if God actually is who Christians (and monotheists) believe God to be – the very source and sustainer of all (created) being or existence. The single, sole ‘capital-T-Thing-transcending-all-lower-case-t-things’, who does not change in essence, character or nature. The lone Locus of faith that cannot be shaken.
24 ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods [even tsunamis!] came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’ – Matthew 7:24-27
- though a thoroughgoing Christian anthropology knows no such thing, mind you – we’re a mixed bag – wretched and radiant – always both – never just one… [↑]
- by whose standards though? [↑]
- I’m opposed to those who would rob such a survivor of their gratitude to God for their survival – it’s just that I’m also highly doubtful that it is appropriate or sensible for this gratitude to be accompanied by a sense that God didn’t want the others to survive - or want them to survive as much… [↑]