There are some common, not-so-new thoughts about God that have had a renaissance in recent days. Perhaps they are more codified than ever given the nature of the atrocity at Sandy Hook. The arguments that the victims had it coming are just not viable there. I never thought they were viable concerning 9/11, but there were some loud voices who thought otherwise.
As I’ve read commentary and a bit of the blogosphere, the conclusions of the atheist/agnostic reasoners fall into two camps – a) those who say that God exists and that God is indescribably evil and b) those who say God does not exist. And the argument is summed up in this “If God exists, how could s/he allow this kind of evil?” (allow the gender bender please, I’m trying to describe the arguments of unbelief in all their confusion). For someone without a faith system, without any developed theology, this question begs, no, it screams to be answered. It is of note that these people only want to hear from God when s/he could intervene in such tragedies, but such are their lives.
But, believer, how would you answer the question?
Here’s how I would answer it:
Human beings are given free will. There are arguments for predestination; I’ll push them aside for a different day.
Given choice, what do people choose? The answer is: all manner of thought, speech and activity – they choose to do stuff. And that stuff runs the gamut from lofty altruism through rank selfishness through unmistakable evil. If God were to intervene somewhere along that gamut, where would it be? I’m sure most reasoners would say somewhere that includes stopping Adam Lanza from shooting his mom, then spraying first graders with bullets. But if you say that God must stop evil, then you must define the evil that will be stopped. And you can’t without becoming God.
See, to unmask the argument is to realize that people who won’t believe in a God who allows evil (their definition) want be God or at least to control God. They want to prescript God’s actions. They don’t want a God, they want a genie, an omnipotent vassal who answers (only) to them. They can only accept an ogre or a genie. A God who watches and weeps is either impotent or uncaring.
Evil festering and growing and destroying does not disprove the existence of God, it proves the existence of another being. Yeah .. the devil. That guy. The twisted progression of emotional turmoil, sick thought and the action produced is constantly happening all around us, and if we’re honest, within us. While we would cringe at doing anything like Mr. Lanza did, we’d slowly allow the destruction of our families through infidelity and divorce. This is not to condemn anyone, just to show that the problem is not out there – it’s in us.
One of the attributes of the God of the Bible is that He is long-suffering. He puts up with all kinds of evil for the eventuality of people coming to their senses and seeking good instead. And He is good’s source; it’s His invention.
This does nothing to diminish the horror of what happened on 14 December 2012, but it is an offer of a view of the divine that is mature and complete, not what many reasoning-only people want.
And the related question of “Where was God?” is answered simply: God was right there. It is another aspect of the reasoning tribe’s world-view that death is the end of all things. Of God is eternal and our lives are also eternal and they carry on after these bodies die, then the children of Sandy Hook went right into the arms of heaven. It was worse for the bereaved, but comfort and peace will be theirs over time, just the way grief works.
We will all die. Some will be murdered. Some will die in combat. Some, only after losing their minds to dementia or their bodies to wasting diseases. Our aversion to death is the proclamation of eternity, we should learn to listen to it; it might help us clean up our act.
Bottom line: God allows evil so that evil might be redeemed and turned to good. I’m enjoying that process and invite others along.