Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The problem of evil

Eugene England wrote a powerful essay explaining why bad things happen to good people. It is the only answer I've ever found that makes sense. One thing I like about the essay is that it shows how morally wrong the other answers I've heard so often really are. Here is a long quote where he address the cruelty of the other answers one by one:

1. Pain and loss are God's punishment of the wicked. (Fine, if you are a normally sinful adult, or even a rabbi trying to live righteously, but what about the innocent child born with progeria or "rapid aging," as Kushner's son Aaron was, or struck with horribly painful bone cancer?)

2. The child (or mother) was needed on the other side; God has a more important mission for them. (A loving God would at least take them without pain. Besides, you mean God needs my wife more than I and my six small children do? And more than he needed the wonderful single woman down the street? That's like saying to my daughter, "It's your fault that your mother died. If you had needed her more, she would still be alive.")

3. She is happier there, freed from this world's sin and pain. (Then why keep any of us here so long. Are you saying that I should rejoice and thank God that my daughter was killed in an airplane collision? That it is just my own selfishness that makes my sorrow? That what looks like evil really isn't?)

4. God has some inscrutable purpose in doing this to you; if you could see the big picture, you'd understand. (But that's hypothetical; we don't see any such big picture in 250 randomly gathered lives snuffed out in an airliner disaster. Besides, if a human artist or employer made children suffer so that something immensely impressive or valuable could come to pass, we would put him in prison. Why then should we excuse God for causing such undeserved pain, no matter how wonderful the ultimate result might be?)

5. But suffering can be educational; it even ennobles us. To a primitive, doctors performing an operation might look like they are torturing the patient when they are really helping him. This accident that has made you a paraplegic will also make you more sensitive. (What right do you, [p.95] who can walk out of this hospital and drive a car and play tennis, have to tell me it is in my best interest to be paralyzed? It's obvious that not all trouble and suffering improves people, and if it could, why doesn't your all-powerful God precisely control what he sends each person so that we are all improved, in fact, all made perfect? And if that's what we think he's doing, why should we interfere, why try to prevent suffering or do away with the pain?)

6. Well, God only let this happen to you because he knew you are strong enough to bear the loss of your son. (You mean, if only I were a weaker person, Aaron would still be alive? I have seen many people's faith and lives destroyed by such tragedies. If God is a perfect and all-powerful tester of us, why does he miscalculate so often?)

His answer is to say that God's power to intervene in our lives must be limited. I'd like to know what you think.

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