“Theodicy, the attempt to reconcile ones belief in a loving and powerful God with the suffering present in our world, is a key element in providing care to those in need. Our disappointment with God in the face of suffering, tragedy, or injustice typically stems from our assumptions about how God is supposed to work in our world. When God does not meet our expectations, we are disappointed, disillusioned, and confused. The sweeping message of the Bible is not a promise that those who believe and do good will not suffer. Instead the Bible is largely a book about people who refused to let go of their faith in God in the face of suffering.” P., chaplain and counselor.
My wife and I have argued in the past over the presence of God in tragic circumstances. We agree that the Bible shows a variety of divine rationales for suffering and pain: punishment, discipline, human sin, etc. We agree that nothing happens without God’s allowing it to happen. We also agree that no matter what, God’s will cannot be thwarted.
That’s pretty much the end of our consensus.
Stacy says God’s hand is in all things, even pain and tragedy. By this, she usually means that on some level God caused the terrible event, or willfully and actively permitted it to happen. His permission is active, not passive. His will and plan extend not only to the overarching spread of history, but also to broken shoelaces and stubbed toes.
I contend that God’s hand is in all tragic things in that He granted free will to humanity; true free will allows for the commission of bad acts. As a result of a fallen humanity, we all do bad things and we live on a globe that reacts to the corrupting influence of sin. On the average, I hold to the position that while God does, in fact, actively cause some suffering, by and large the pain we all experience is simply the result of the cause-and-effect nature of free will that He ordained.
Regardless of our divergent positions, we’ve never really struggled with the question, “Why, God? Why?”
For as long as I can recall, I’ve viewed tragedy as being largely the result of free will. Lung cancer? You smoked, dude. Divorce? You failed to forgive and respect one another. Paralyzed after a car accident? The other guy shouldn’t have driven while stoned. Earthquake? Adam’s decision messed up everything.
Seems reasonable, I think.
What does our approach to the notion of theodicy say about the strength or character of our faith? I always thought my approach meant my faith was pretty solid; after all, if you never end up questioning God about things, that would seem to imply that you’re rock-solid, yes? I trust that He will take care of everything in the end, and that suffering is in no way His fault.
If my debates with my wife have shown me anything, it is that she places far more faith in the concept of God’s presence in this world that I traditionally have. On the other hand, I place more weight on the notion that God has created a system that relies on Him yet has self-governing rules and results. Even so, for each of us the question remains: what does our position on the matter say about our faith?
Let’s take a moment to speculate a bit…
Taken to a logical positive conclusion, I think Stacy’s philosophy could end with, “I trust God, even when He hurts us. Period.” Taken to a logical negative conclusion, though, I believe her thinking could be summarized as, “Ultimately, this is all His doing and therefore His fault. He’s the one to blame for my pain.”
If we apply the same approach to my (more enlightened) view, a positive result would be, “God is omniscient and has designed a system filled with free-will that will still result in His goals.” The flip side would be, “God wound up the world like a clock and it’s just going to run along all by itself until He says we’re out of time.”
Seems to me I asked the wrong question. Theodicy does, indeed, show the character of our faith. A more important perspective, though, is that our faith and our theology inform our theodicy. If we truly trust God, we can hold to either position presented here and still potentially have a proper view of God’s actions in this world. And if we truly do not trust in the presence of a personal God, we’ll end up marginalizing Him and His character.
Going back to the introductory quote, I realize we each make assumptions about how God is supposed to do things, and that those assumptions will likely determine whether we are content in suffering or outraged at its existence. Assumptions do not spring into life from nothing, though; they come from our beliefs and our view of the world.
You want to talk to someone about suffering versus the existence of a loving God? Find out what they assume, then find the story behind it.