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On the Thorny Thesis of a Theodicy

It was not a pretty sight. The smallest, most fragile, babies were very quiet, much too weak to cry, all slowly dying of AIDS. But many of the others were screaming in torment. Their little frames twitched violently, over and over again, with the spasms of withdrawal. A TV camera panned the hospital nursery as a doctor narrated. “These were the ones most severely addicted (to drugs) at birth”, he said.

In Brazil last year more than seven million dirty, rejected, wretched little children lived on the streets. Most had no families, no homes. One 10-year old said: “I sleep in a shopping center and at midnight or dawn the police beat us. They force us to eat excrement and they throw hot water on us.” Repeated news reports seem to substantiate the fact that off-duty police are actually paid a bounty to hunt down and kill off these “undesirables”.

This past year here in Maine there was the repulsive story of an innocent little baby girl being raped by her babysitter’s boyfriend. The infant was obviously unable to defend herself from the terrible brutality and pain that was her’s to bear that day. And God–where was God? Certainly not coming to her rescue.

What does it take to get God’s attention anyway? What does it take to get Him to move? How about six million Jews dying grotesque deaths in a Holocaust? No. Even in the face of that horror, He did not step in and say, “Enough!”

In the past ten years I have spent considerable time on both sides of a hospital bedrail. I have been a patient and a pastor. A few years ago I watched a beautiful woman move through the agonizing stages of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Slowly but certainly, in excruciatingly painful increments, the woman was strangled in the vicegrip of this disease. Eventually, all motor activity (including her speech) was methodically squeezed out of her. She was totally paralyzed, “buried” alive, unable to even pull in her next breath of air. Her death was horrible beyond description.

In a June 10, 1991 Essay for Time magazine, Lance Morrow cited three propositions: 1) God is all-powerful, 2) God is all-good, 3) Terrible things happen. He then referred to author Frederick Buechner who once wrote that the dilemma has always been this: “You can match any two of those propositions, but never all three”.

The bold thesis of a theodicy (a defense of God’s goodness in spite of evil), however, is that all three can be matched. The thesis is thorny because the sensibility of those who reach for it is often ‘pricked’ by the kind of ugly scenarios cited above.

St. Teresa of Avila once lamented: “Lord, if this is the way You treat Your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!” But even a dose of black humor does not eliminate the painful despair of unanswered questions. Despair, therefore, often wins, i.e. Elie Wiesel (God is “in exile”), Kushner (God is impotent), Nietzsche (God is dead).

Here I will mention (but not develop) just one of the ways in which the ‘rose’ of a theodicy may, in fact, be ‘plucked’. It has to do with how an Almighty God balances temporary pain, eternal purposes, and the greater good. Specifically, it hinges on the temporary nature of adversity. In short, a “few” pain-filled years just don’t seem to be a “big deal” to God in the same way that they are to you and me.

In his Handbook of Christian Evidences, When Skeptics Ask, Dr. Norman Geisler gives an interesting twist to the aforementioned postulates: “1) If God is all-good He (intends to) defeat evil. 2) If God is all-powerful, He (is able to) defeat evil. 3) Evil is not yet defeated. 4) Therefore, God will one day defeat evil.” When He will do it seems to be far less an issue to God than whether He will do it. And He will do it!

Reconciling the problem of present evil with the existence of a good God is possible. It is just one circle within the larger circle of an effective Christian apologetic. Passing Showers (offered in this mailing) represents a further (illustrated) treatment of this subject. Be sure to request it on the enclosed order form.