Saturday, May 10, 2008

My Sunday Feeling

Last week I attended a funeral for a kid. Second year in a row that the child of a friend has died. Nicholas didn't have to go to school last Thursday so his folks let him sleep in. Chris came home for lunch and found his son dead in his bed. As I understand it, the autopsy was inconclusive although the blood work won't be available for a couple more weeks. So the poor parents have more questions than answers.

As do I. At times like these, it is hard to reconcile all the human suffering that exists on this planet with the concept of a benevolent God who loves us and protects us. The theological term for it is theodicy. Liebniz, who invented the term, believed that the world, with all of it's imperfections did not contradict the notion of a benevolent God and indeed was "the best of all possible worlds." According to Leibnitz, God being God could have created any type of world He wanted. Since He obviously created this world with all of its suffering, this must be the "best of all possible worlds."

This, of course, provided the great Voltaire with fodder for the character of Dr. Pangloss who reminds Candide through their many travails in the great novel by the same name not to give into despair as he is "in the best of all possible worlds." As I recall, the good Doctor repeats this advice as they are kidnapped by pirates, learn of an entire village destroyed by an earthquake and are about to be executed. Subtlety was never Voltaire's long suit.

The best of all possible worlds.

If this is the best of all possible worlds than I say to hell with it. There is genocide in the Darfur, chaos in the Middle East (some of which is of our own doing) and starvation and sickness in Burma in the wake of a hurricane. A friend of mine called me this morning to tell me that her father just got diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Naturally, he doesn't smoke. The daughter of a friend committed suicide last summer and last week Chris found his son dead.

You can undoubtedly add your own experiences to the list.

I have just begun the latest book by theologian Bart Ehrman which is entitled "God's Problem-How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer." In his forward, which is all I have read so far, Ehrman writes of his anger with the God as depicted in the Bible. If God parted the Red Sea to save the Israelites, where is he now? If God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, why doesn't he love it enough to end suffering? Ehrman states that he found the biblical explanations so lacking upon examination that he is no longer a Christian. Instead, he is an agnostic which he describes as being "an atheist with no guts."

My neighbor Art is an interesting guy. He is a retired diplomat with the State Department. He is also an ordained Methodist minister. He is currently pastoring a tiny rural Methodist church just inside the city limits. We talked about this issue the other day. Down hear in the South you hear suffering rationalized away by people saying that "God doesn't put anymore on a person than they can stand." Or when someone dies unexpectedly, you hear "I guess God needed him in Heaven more then we needed him here on Earth." And finally, you hear folks express gratitude for imagined divine intervention in everything from sparing a house during a tornado that destroys every other building on the block to catching a touchdown pass.

These pieties drive me and Art nuts. To us they are nothing more than nonsense. First of all, I would hope that if God intervenes in human history he would not be so frivolous as to fix sporting events. The corollary to that is, if God makes cameo appearances from time-to-time to alter elections, cause people to hit home runs or cause tornadoes to change course to spare rednecks, why would He stick around long enough to cure cancer, establish His peace and maybe turn Roger Clemens into a pillar of salt?

We don't know. And our traditional explanations for why we suffer don't much help.

As for Art he says, "I preach the love of God through Jesus Christ. I preach that nothing is greater than this love. Beyond that, I have no idea why bad things happen."

Fair enough.

But if this is the best of all possible worlds then I think we should shut down the space program rather than run the risk that we might find one even worse out there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My sympathy to your friends in the tragedy of losing their son - and to you in your walk with yet another set of grieving parents.

I will add this book to my list to be read. Sometimes it's very difficult to hang on to the silken thread that is faith, isn't it?

I'm so sorry -