Tuesday, August 07, 2007


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,


Ed Kohler said...

I think the blame will clearly fall on whichever party is in power. In this case, people will point fingers at the GOP.

Who can the GOP blame when they're running the show? That's why they're not pointing fingers.

R. Stewart said...

Whether blame will "clearly" fall on the GOP is independent of whether it "should" fall on the GOP (or, in this case, on Governor Pawlenty; I don't hear much criticism of Republicans overall.)

We don't know why it collapsed, we don't know who should have noticed the problem, how it was (or wasn't) communicated, or whether any different action/spending/taxing policies would have made a difference.

We're months away from that. It's too early to lay blame, especially since they haven't even finished recovering the missing yet.