Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Why?

Yesterday I broached the subject of "why." As I noted, some people are focusing on the "why did the bridge fall?" question in the pursuit of political gain (and, for full disclosure, I doubt very much that particular malady will be isolated to one party or ideology; to date, though, most of that I've seen has been from the political left. Also, I've seen as vociferous condemnation of said behavior from the left as I have from the right. Nobody should stand for politicization of such an event, regardless of affiliation. But I digress.) Others are focusing on another "why" question: why would a God who is both loving and powerful not stop the bridge from falling? Why did people die, or get hurt, when God could have - nay, should have, stopped it?

This "why" question pops up in nearly any circumstance where people suffer. It is the question at the center of a philosophical study called theocidy. C.S. Lewis wrote on this in his book The Problem of Pain. Many a thinker has attempted answers, and I have nothing new and case-proving to add to the ongoing argument.

But I do think some things bear repeating. First, God is indeed loving. To assume otherwise based on the existence of evil, or the happenings of tragedy, is to assume what logic does not allow. A loving God is not obligated to eliminate all evil to retain the attribute of being loving (or, more precisely, the personification of love itself.) A parent is no less loving, for instance, when he or she allows a child to suffer the consequences of an action. Yes, the analogy is imperfect; I do NOT think the bridge fell because a particular driver or passenger on the bridge had done a particular wrong thing. However, we live in a world that is fallen and imperfect because we (collectively) sin. The consequences of collective sin are no less real than the consequences of individual sin. Accidents happen, bridges fall, fires burn and violence thrives. I don't blame anyone's sin for the bridge falling, but bad things happen because sin is in the world. The bridge falling was not a curse against Minneapolis, Minnesota, the U.S.A., or any other entity as far as I know. In general, bad things happen because we (I!) have done things wrong.

But God is loving in that He does counter evil, He does provide mercy, and He does grant grace. If God weren't loving, it could be argued, more would have died when the bridge collapsed (had the world even lasted this long; without a loving God it could be conceived that humanity would have been allowed to destroy ourselves centuries ago.) The idea that logic necessitates a loving God would by definition eliminate all evil is fallacious. Since we lack omniscience, it could be equally valid that since the results of evil could always be worse, a loving God must be helping mitigate some of the results of evil.

A second point is that often people use this problem of suffering and evil as a way to justify disbelief. Not all people who ask "why" are trying to avoid God. Many ask the question trying to understand. But there are a number of people who use the question to hide their doubt behind some modicum of respectability. "Oh, I can't believe in that type of God; he/she wouldn't exist!" they say. The problem is that the question in no way has anything valid to say about whether God exists, or what kind of being God might be. Rather, this is (in my opinion) a rather presumptuous idea that says more about the questioner than about God. Asking the question as a way to justify disbelief sets the questioner above God. He or she is in essence saying that "since I don't like this God, I can determine God doesn't exist." Or, to put it another way, I wouldn't behave like that if I were God, as I define "loving" to be a certain thing, and since I wouldn't behave like that, it's obvious there's no God."

Except, God's existence is completely independent, and unreliant upon, our preferences. I certainly don't claim to understand God's methods or workings. His thoughts are far beyond my own, as is His scope of vision. And truth be told, in my limited perspective, there are often times I don't like the way God works. That doesn't mean He isn't working or loving; it merely means I am limited and imperfect while He sees things I don't. I have no right to tell God, "to heck with you, I think that was an awful thing to do. Allowing that [insert tragedy here] to happen proves you're not there."

Like it or not, because we live in a fallen world (a condition for which I am as responsible as everyone/anyone) bad things happen. Because God is loving, things aren't worse than they are. He has no obligation to remove all pain and suffering to retain the title of "loving." Nor does our dislike of the way He works or of the things He sometimes allows to happen have anything to say about whether God is. There may be other arguments that provide stronger evidence against God. Logically speaking, the "why" question, this problem of evil, can do nothing one way or another to tell us whether God exists of if He is loving.

There is nothing wrong with asking "why God allowed this" in order to try and understand. There is, though, something illogical and wrong about using the question as a shield to justify running away from God.

This has been a rather downer post, I know. I'm aware some people will misinterpret what I wrote as saying I blame so-and-so for doing such-and-such which caused the bridge to fall. Or that I'm saying people who ask this question are all illogical atheists. I hope I'm clear enough so you know that's not what I intend. All I'm trying to say is that God can be loving and still tolerate the existence of evil and suffering (and, even further, not constantly intervene to remove all consequences of it.) And, I'm saying that the question of God's existence or love are independent of, and unprovable by, the question of evil.

Tomorrow I'll finish this mini-series on something more positive. I'll focus on the flip side of the "why" question. Why do I trust that God is loving despite the presence of evil, and why might we someday be able to see more clearly that indeed He was working even during the collapse.

God bless,
Ron

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why the Bridge?

I'm not sure how much I can post on the 35W bridge collapse. I still have too many vivid memories of driving over the thing, having grown up in South Minny and using that route hundreds, if not thousands, of times in my life. It still feels odd that it's not there anymore.

I certainly still feel for the missing, the injured, and the families of the dead from the collapse. And I'm certainly still proud of those who risked their own safety to help others. Many prayers, I know, are going out for each of them.

What I detest, though, and what is making me sick of the story are the pathetic people who are trying to make political hay out of this incident while there are bodies to recover, hurts to heal and lives to repair. For instance: KAR (as well as many others in the MOB) point out the lunacy of local columnist Nick Coleman's column of last week (WARNING: language/style may be offensive to some.) We are trying to help people, and we are probably 18 plus months away from firm answers regarding causation. Yet he (and many others) are reflexively blaming others. Sick. Sad. Pathetic. Makes me blood boil, it does. Now isn't the time, and that isn't the tone. The "why" questions will be answered in due course. Respect the hurt and dead. Leave the grandstanding for another time.

But there is one "why" question that we can look at, and it is the why question we hear in any time of disaster, tragedy, violence or suffering. Why, we hear, if there is a God, do these things happen? This is, to me, the acceptable "why" at this time. It demonstrates a human need to understand and especially to understand God.

To that question I will turn tomorrow. I need to cool down.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Words Aren't Enough

By now you've seen the stories. A major interstate freeway bridge collapsed in Minneapolis last night, during rush hour, and right before a Twins game. Traffic was heavy, and there have been reports of dozens of injuries and at least 4-9 deaths (depending on which news organization is reporting the numbers.) It is too early to speculate on the cause of the fall, but that's not stopping people from guessing. My own seven year old daughter, this morning, offered that the collapse was probably because the bridge was old and lots of cars have driven on it.

That's not something I want her dwelling on the next time we drive over a bridge.

It'll be a cliche you hear from Minneapolitans over the next days: "I drive across that bridge all the time!" I myself have driven it countless times, most recently about three weeks ago. While I don't get downtown as often as I used to, you can't live in this town long without crossing the bridge at some point.

Until yesterday.

We started receiving phone calls last night around 6:30. Family and friends from around the country had seen the news and wanted to make sure we were okay. We are. But at least dozens of families aren't so fortunate. Our prayers today go out to the rescue workers, the emergency crews and the families of those hurt or killed.

For those unfamiliar with the area, the 35W bridge crossed the Mississippi river just outside downtown Minneapolis. Heading south, the next exit past the river drops people into downtown, and is a major point of entry to the city for such things as the Twins game. There are two locks on the river nearby, and another residential-traffic bridge a few hundred feet away. The University of Minnesota is also nearby, and the residential area surrounding the bridge's north side is primarily made up of college students. There was construction on the bridge, for resurfacing the roadway, but not on the steel infrastructure. Couple this construction with rush-hour/Twins traffic, and you had a lot of cars on the bridge going slowly at the time.

The bridge was just shy of 40 years old, and was designed to last 70 years. Something went wrong. That's an obvious understatement. There are already despicable people trying to pin blame for this on one person or another when the truth is we won't know what happened for (in all likelihood) months at the earliest. There is time to figure out the hows and whys. Right now we should be focused on finding the people beneath the rubble and supporting the families affected.

By all accounts, Minneapolis and the surrounding communities reacted well. Acts of heroism were abundant as people risked their safety to help others out of vehicles and out of the river. Praise God for such stuff. I'm proud of the city, in a muted way, and wasn't at all surprised such people live here. But I'm saddened by the tragedy. At some point, we'll know what happened and in true Minnesota form, we'll fix it. Until then, what we'll do is pray and give blood and donate to the Red Cross and help our neighbors as best we can.

For those who've contacted us, again we're safe. And thanks for your concern. Now let's focus that on those who need it: the injured, the families of the dead, and the workers risking safety to recover them all.

God bless,
Ron