Sunday, March 30, 2008

SMH and the problem of evil

(This will not be a discussion of the vexing question "how can a good editor allow bad letters to be published?")In response to the exchange of letters to the editor mentioned previously, Victor submitted this one:

"David Harris (Letters, March 27) asks for my thoughts on God and the 2004 tsunami. I don't think there is an answer that could wipe away the tears of pain and grief of those left. To explain it away would make a mockery of such awful suffering and would imply that this tragedy was somehow useful, even good. Does a child who crashes her bike question the goodness, let alone the existence, of her father? No, she wants comfort now and the promise that all will be well. In the death of Jesus, God enters into the pain and brokenness of our world. God himself has suffered with us. In Jesus' bodily resurrection God offers hope that one day He will renew and heal a suffering world. Does the tsunami raise lots of questions about God? Yes, of course. But it makes me long even more for the day when God will wipe away every tear. That promise gives me and the church the strength to do all we can to stand in love and service with this hurting world."
Unfortunately, he didn't get this one published (too long? too much theology?). However, having posted on this topic a number of times, I thought his reply expressed two important thoughts coherently and briefly: (a) God is not distant or uncaring in the face of our pain; and (b) there is more to come. Both points arise from reflecting upon the good news about Jesus, rather than any abstract philosophical notions of God's "control". Yet perhaps even more importantly, Vic's letter doesn't assume that it is possible to give an answer now that will satisfy. The faithful response in the face of evil is not to seek to explain it (away), but to grieve with those who grieve.
Eight points for the first to link to the original picture on which I offered points and started this whole game.


Matthew R. Malcolm said...

hey again... Thanks for these posts - certainly worthwhile stuff to think about. The questions you added to my "letter to the editor" suggestion are good ones. I guess it seems to me that Jesus' response to the issues of the Pilate-related human-evil and the Siloam-related natural disaster is directed to people who are using the problem of evil as a test, rather than painfully mourning. His response is, I find, grating: "Repent - or something worse will happen to YOU"... I do find it hard to imagine how to communicate this today - except perhaps to use my own example:

My own little experience of suffering occurred the year before last, when, late at night on a Sydney street, I was approached by two men who beat me to the ground, told me they were going to kill me with the gun which they had, took me back to my hotel room under threat of death, ransacked my room, took me to an ATM and made me take out all my money for them, then tried to take me to a secluded park to finish me off. I managed to escape, and they are currently in prison.

To be honest, my own response to this was not to focus on God's sharing in my suffering (although I definitely agree that the suffering, death & res of Jesus is a key to helping sufferers)... Rather, the thing that helped me was simply a Job-like acceptance of the fact that somehow, God is bigger than me and knows what's going on and hasn't lost control: And so I let the experience challenge me as a reminder of my own finitude before God... in fact I wouldn't want to be robbed of the possibility that God intended this: I haven't found that, in order to preserve the evilness of the event, I've needed to deny the possibility that God meant it for good - I think that Joseph put it well: "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."

In reflection, although I do get big anxiety when I walk at night on my own, I do think that good has come out of that evil event, and if God intended that, then I'm okay with that... John Donne put it well in his poem "Batter my heart, three-personed God" - he invites God to do whatEVER it takes to incline his heart toward God.

Of course, you can't put all that in a letter to the editor - just a personal reflection

byron smith said...

Matthew - thanks for sharing your experiences. Sounds like a thoroughly unpleasant time. Are you originally from Sydney and now studying in the UK or were you visiting Sydney when you were attacked?

(NB this conversation started in the comments to the previous post).

Matthew R. Malcolm said...

I was visiting Sydney, doing a little research at the Moore College library! But I blame the Jack Black film Nacho Libre - I couldn't resist walking into the city to see it - and it was when I was walking back to my hotel room after the movie that it all happened... I think the other thing, though, is that I didn't realise that my hotel was situated in a slightly "rough" area - Woolloomoolloo. I'm actually from Perth, but now living in Nottingham.

James Tuttle said...

Good work Big Dog; you answer with a good tone (although I believe the correct answer would have been 'Al Gore'?). Just reading this exchange gives me a sense of anxiety (the exchange of letters I mean) - I don't know that I would be very good at this kind of letter writing.

I've had a few conversations in interweb space with a few designer nerds like myself where they are often crying out for a justice that isn't to dissimilar to what Jesus talked about (can't remember examples). I think that's one of the great things we have in Christ - he was real, he experienced, he related. Often just showing people that their angst at injustice is shared by God can be a great opening to positive Gospel discussions. :)


byron smith said...

Matthew - yes, Woolloomoolloo not only has the coolest name of any suburb I know, it also has something of a reputation for violence.

The Perth link explains why Rory Shiner also comments on your blog.

Ants - good point.

Unknown said...

Interesting situation and raises a huge question or questions Matthew.

I'm sorry to hear about that experience, how terrifying!
I recently watched The Brave One starring Jodie Foster who confronts the evil of the past by confronting and destroying it. It showed a confronting reality of her difficulty in handling walking outside again.

On a theological note - does Scripture actually say that every bad and evil event that happens to us is Gods doing such as happened to Joseph?

Or does it say that God will sometimes allow evil to happen to certain individuals as part of His plan to bring about good.

I tend to go along with the latter with the addition that God will always bring good out of every bad situation.

Isn't it great though that no matter what we are going through we can cast all our anxieties upon the Lord because he cares for us. Thanks for sharing craig.

bigdog said...

Hello All.
Can I add (responding to both posts)that in the first letter I was trying to point people to the reality that much of the evil in the world is of our (read humanity's) own making. I think that when many people like Richard Cobden call into question God's existence on account of things like the Ramos-Horta shooting and Matthew's horrible experience, they don't appreciate the extent of human wickedness and our culpability as a race. Far more people die each year because of man's inhumanity to man than because of a tsunami.

I note the irony for readers of this blog that Richard Cobden lives in Woolloomooloo, the scene Matthew's horrible experience of human evil.

I think that there is however an important distinction between this sort of evil and 'natural' evils, which the response to my letter brought out elegantly.

The answer to both is of course ultimately the same, but the second question is much more searching.

Matthew's post I think highlights that God ultimately triumphs over evil, in bringing good out of or through evil (the supreme example of course being the cross), but I don't think that is all the Scriptures have to say on the matter.

On a less serious note, thanks for 'posting' the letters Byron, and thanks for the comments y'all.

Jonathan said...

Those points are just too easy.

byron smith said...

That's why you're only getting eight of them.