tsunamis and life building

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’ people ((though a thoroughgoing Christian anthropology knows no such thing, mind you – we’re a mixed bag – wretched and radiant – always both – never just one…)) 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 offense ((by whose standards though?)) 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. ((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…))

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

good creator

The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God’s own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces.  C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 72

Evil as the absence of Good is a suitable description, but better to say, with Lewis, that Evil is a disturbance of Good.  The surgeon’s scalpel used to murder, etc.  Evil as the fault of humans is a suitable analysis, but better to use the more general term ‘creation’, so as to include non-human agency as well.  Christian faith (like Lewis – i.e. Screwtape Letters) avoids both extremes of either disbelief in evil spirits or obsession with them.

But for theodicy, the salient point is that God is not the author of evil.  God, however, as both Creator and Redeemer, is ‘responsible’ for both a) the creation of the world, which was always going to spoil itself, and b) the redemption of the world, which was always going to require the unspoiled Creator to unite to (and thus ‘drag up’ with him) the spoiled creation.

life: mess included

One of my favourite Proverbs is 14:4

Where there are no oxen, the stall is clean, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest. 

In order to have a harvest, you’ll have to put up with a fair whack of crap!  I was thinking of this in relation to the problem of evil.  In order to have an existence where relationship and meaning are real, you’ll have to have genuine freedom and thus put up with evil and suffering.  I might put it in proverb form like this:

“Where there is no genuine freedom, the cosmos is void of evil and suffering;but from the genuine freedom given to creation, comes the possibility of love, meaning and relationship.”

diverse goal

…or evolutionary teleology – here – worth reading (post & comments).

This relates to the so-called ‘problem’ that if God used evolution to create (only!?) humans, then all of the extinct species were ‘wasted’.  How anthropocentric!  What was God doing, we are asked, for the over-whelming majority of the universe’s supposed 13+ billion years?

The reason this problem is not a problem is that just because God desires a particular and unique kind of relationship with humans doesn’t mean animals (extinct and non-extinct) were unwanted or that God does not delight in the existence (however fleeting by some human standard of time) of each and every creature (and let’s not forget the non living species) that has ever existed or will ever exist.

pain bears a message

This post over at ‘Just Thomism‘ is short, sweet and very thought-provoking.

I’m thankful for pain. Not generally at the moment I experience it, but when I think about it, yes I’m glad (for example) that my body tells me when I’m burning my hand on the stove-top. It’s a painful message that my body sends, but it’s one I desperately need to hear. Continue reading “pain bears a message”

craig cooke debate: impressions

With expectations low (but not low enough to keep us away!), Damian and I headed to the debate  (link to series here) tonight between William Lane Craig and Bill Cooke.

I think we both left having heard little or nothing we hadn’t heard before, but nonetheless having enjoyed watching it all unfold.

What follows is not a full, detailed review of the debate, but (in all truthfulness) rather various impressions I’ll share (on my way to bed)… Continue reading “craig cooke debate: impressions”

the groaning language of prayer

The other day, a friend of mine at Carey college was sharing with me and a few others how grieved he’d been lately (due to various tragic things happening to people close to him). He mentioned lying in bed and trying to pray, not knowing what to say, and eventually just offering an extended, rumbling, inward groan to God…

Now, prayer is both a simple and mysterious thing. It’s simple – in that it is simply a giving-sharing-offering of one’s thoughts, concerns, feelings, stresses, hurts, anxieties, etc. to the One who we believe ‘hears’ prayer (more on ‘hearing’ in a moment). But it’s also a complex and mysterious thing, complicated by various (mis)understandings about both God and prayer (not least the popular ‘magic genie’ [or fairy] idea of God). Continue reading “the groaning language of prayer”

a gentler universe?

Consolmagno has done it again…

Yet another poignant and wise article, helpfully navigating the intersection of faith and science…

Here’s a sampler:

…there’s the world of nature, the world I study as a scientist, nice and neat and well described by some beautiful equations, elegant in their simplicity. And there’s the world of human beings, strange fleshy bundles of ego and free will, who can sometimes be described in a statistical sense but who as individuals never cease to surprise you.

Read the whole thing here.