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Friday, March 8, 2013

The Hardest Question In Christianity

One of the hardest questions for a Christian is why an otherwise loving God would allow horrible things to happen to His children.

No one really has an answer. Some preachers are honest about their limitations, and say, "I don't know".

Some, however, in trying to fit the question into a theological framework, step across the line from mystery into an almost stunning heartlessness, and offer explanations which have undoubtedly driven many away from the faith.

One of these explanations is that God allows bad things to happen for the purpose of making people "lean not upon their own understanding", and lean on Him for support.

On the face of it, it's not a bad argument when you look at events and occurrences that are more on the level of inconvenience than personal tragedy. Losing a job may be a salutary lesson in not depending on your own abilities, and not relying on the "I'm so good, I'm on top of the world" feeling that we can slip into when things are going really well.

But when you step across into the realm of fatal illnesses, car accidents that wipe out a family, and the torture and killing that fill the evening news, the picture changes. Using the model of God as a loving Father, it beggars the imagination that he would take the attitude that He'd willingly allow someone to suffer what can literally be compared to the tortures of hell, merely to mobilize a person's faith. It would be something akin to a parent letting a child drink poison, to teach a lesson.

Another suggestion that's almost as pernicious is that evil is permitted to befall an individual so that others may learn from the "offset" experience. Again, it seems plausible, and even compassionate...unless you happen to be the one whose life has suddenly gone horribly wrong. Napoleon - hardly the ideal role model - had an expression for it...pour l'encouragement les autres.

Granted, my line of reasoning presupposes the "innocence" of the victim; that is, the idea that the suffering is undeserved. Christ died for the sins of all, with the understanding that we are all guilty of sin that's irredeemable in the absence of God's grace.

But there's an unfortunate dichotomy, seen both in the Christianity we practice and in Scripture. Some individuals find God's "favor". A popular TV preacher has made the point that he's favored as a child of God in that a space will invariably open up in a crowded parking lot, just in time for his arrival...and that others find such favor in other ways.

While others, including some of the most devout Christians on the planet, watch the walls fall in on their hopes and dreams, and on their lives.

If we posit a God who's rather arbitrary in His affections, well and good. But most labor under the concept of fairness, which does, after all, devolve from our faith, and what are we to do with it?

I'm no theologian, but here are two possible explanations for why God lets bad things happen. I won't claim they're even remotely original.
  1. God made the world to operate under a certain set of rules which allow for the existence of evil, and to violate those rules would make Creation meaningless. Something like a baseball game in which players could suddenly decide that they don't have to touch all the bases...a home run would become a lot easier, but it wouldn't be baseball. The problem here is that miracles suddenly become very tough to explain, and we do know that they happen. The secondary supporting argument...which feels like a lot of arm waving...is that we don't know all the rules.
  2. Creation is a story, authored by God, and we're all characters in the play. We "live" on the flat pages that define our lives, and while we're bound to this existence we can't see the complete work. We can only live it, line by line.
Either of these allows a loving, compassionate God to step into our lives, and offer His compassion, made all the stronger by His hatred of what's befallen us, and by what He can't, in most cases, prevent. It's a lot easier to hide in His arms when we know that he hasn't stood by to let it happen.

What do you think? Does this question trouble you? How have you resolved it in your mind?

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