Monday, November 22, 2010

When Bad Things Happen to Good Christians Part II

I heard an interview once with Rabbi Kushner (the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People), I think it was on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He made a very remarkable statement.

You see, tragically, his son was born with an incurable and fatal disease. He watched the son, whom he loved dearly, suffer and slowly die. At this juncture, he began to wrestle with God. Then he said he came to a very logical point of divergence. He knew that God could not be both omnipotent and loving so he would have to choose. He said, like most people, he preferred a loving God when given that choice. So his conclusion was that God does love us, but He can not cure cancer or reverse the laws of physics or other natural processes.

Evangelicalism still holds firmly to both characters of God, plus, that God does micromanage all parts of life. So, not only can God cure cancer, but you can not even get cancer unless God wills it or plans it. But still, defying logic (at least on an emotional level) He still loves us tremendously.

I do think that there is another option. Maybe some of the intellectuals and well read people who visit here (and I mean this in the most flattering way) may know of some of the great men and women of the faith (talking about Luther et. al.) who have written about this. In my opinion this topic seems to be missing. I am very familiar with Schaeffer's writings and I don't think he really deals with it carefully.

Here is my view of the matter. God is loving as the New Testament describes Him. He is also Omnipotent. He has to be or he can not be the creator of the universe. Anything less and we are left with the gods of the Greeks. However, I don't see Him as the micro-manager. Scripture is clear that we live in a fallen world. One of the most theological sound-bites I've ever heard was simply . . . "shit happens." God doesn't shit on you. You do not have to create your on shit. But, we live in the fall out of the consequences of sin (others and our own). God could erase all the bad stuff, so it is not an issue of power. But, in my opinion, He is patient and is allowing things to take their course. This is some of the mystery. But I do remember Schaeffer saying that Christianity, if understood right, is the only religious system that allows you to hate evil without hating God.

So, in Joe and Karen's case, a % of men are pedophiles. And % of the pedophiles choose to live a double life. Karen just happened to be caught up in that percentage. God didn't do it to her. She didn't fail in her approach to making the decision, but shit happened. In her case, it was terrible shit. I was good friends with Joe and I never, ever saw it coming. Mostly because I believed that all Christians were above such darkness.


Justin said...


At least in my mind, this presents one of the biggest questions of all: What possible loving purpose does it serve to allow Karen and her children to be put through this? What good comes of it? How is it moral of God to allow it when he could stop it? How is he not complicit in the evil?

I'm not expecting you or anyone else to have an answer. But, if I am to retain the sliver of faith I have left, I have to, at the end of the day, believe that in God's infinite ways, the ends justify the means, or, at the very least, things will be set to rights for those children sometime in the future.

This is on the very edge of untenable.

pennyyak said...

I know this doesn't have anything to do with the post - that Xtra Normal stuff is fascinating (your "exit interview" at bottom).

Wow. My eyes were big during the first few minutes - "what an amazing similarity to Michael's experiences!" lol.

I wonder how long that's been around (not your video, the process). Probably a long time. I've never been on the cutting edge of anything.

jmj said...

Pennyyak, I was introduced to Xtranormal about 8 months ago. I know that their demand has been through the roof and they are getting better and better. I wouldn't be surprised that they will make a bundle in the end . . . as soon as they figure out how to. I did a professional medical one that somewhat went viral on Youtube and has had 30,000 views.

Dana said...

This has been helpful for me:


jmj said...

Justin, those of course are honest questions that deserve answers. I hope no one gives you a serpent instead . . . like a cliche "Who are you to question God" or one I heard, "Nice you can doubt good. Good think He never doubts you" (Hallmark material).

pennyyak said...


I first read the one storey universe more than a year ago (by way of a Presb. blogger) - he's really good.

jmj said...

Dana, I glanced at those (as I'm still at work) and am looking forward to reading them tonight, especially the Orthodox perspective.

NOTAL said...

I've always found the free will defense to be fairly satisfying to at least some of the bad things that happen. Basically the idea that if people were unable to do things which harmed others, then there would effectively be no such thing as morality. For Joe to be able to choose good (actually choose, not do by necessity, like a robot) he must also have the option to do bad. If his bad actions were unable to actually hurt Karen (and the children he molested) then they would not be bad in any significant sense. Morality would be reduced to an entirely arbitrary set of rules with no meaningful consequences in the real world (which is probably how some people view the Christian idea of morality).
God allows this because He finds it better to have free people who often do evil than to have amoral creatures.

This explanation, however, fails to explain bad things which are not caused by a person's moral actions, e.g. disease, natural disaster, etc. I find the problem of "natural" bad things to be a bigger problem for me to comprehend. The idea that natural evil is a consequence of the fall does not sit well with me. This implies a causal connection between human moral actions and the physical laws of our universe. This seems to stretch the cause and effect relationship past the breaking point.

Eagle said...

This was yet another issue that forced me to challenge what I believed. Why does a loving God allow such thigns to happen. Let me take this in a similar direction that really forced me to examine this issue.

When I lived in the upper midwest a horrifying situation developed at a church where I was later invovled. This happened a couple of years before I became involved. The church had hired a dynamic and warm youth pastor who also turned out to be a sexual predator. In the end there was about 15 to 20 youth who were assulted, molested and sexually abused. The local police were then involved and when they went to arrest the youth pastor he in turn fled. Holed up in a motel room in the upper midwest, this youth pastor killed himself as the police were closing in.

There were a number of people who were harmed and the rage, anger and deep hurt was still there after I got involved. But here's what troubles me. In a theology that teaches that God is always in control, and that he is omniscient, and do you explain something so evil as what I wrote of above? Why would a loving God - who knows - 20 children are going to be harmed for life, just stand by and let that evil take place? Say you lived in Minnesota, and you knew that someone was harming children in such a way but did nothing and let it continue- well in many cases you could be charged as well. I can't understand why Christians say God is love when such evil ocurs. And at the same time how can they respect a God that knows a child will be harmed? How can they read their Bible and want to draw nearer to this God? How can they worship this God in praise and worship services? How can they pray to this God?

For me...just the thought of that type of God makes me want to be sick. I just do not get it!!

jmj said...

NATOL, I don't how to explain natural ("Acts of God") disasters. Historically they've always been considered as direct acts by God to teach people something or to punish them. I don't agree with either. Somehow I can't see a tornado tearing through Eden and causing death and destruction . . . before the fall. It is one of those mysteries, like could the dinosaurs have died, before the fall?

jmj said...

Eagle, I think it has to be tied up the value of creation. Meaning, as NATOL, there are consequences to actions of creation (meaning primarily "man" but animals too). So, if there were no real consequences for our actions (good or bad) how could we have value? Could we really be in God's image if our actions were "padded" and safe? Would we not be the same as a minerals?

So, that youth pastor was empowered by God to do great good . . . and horrible harm. No, it is not fair to those harmed. Yet, I do believe that eventually justice will be served, maybe in the new earth . . . partially here.

So, if I were to create a really powerful machine (God creates life, man creates machines) that machine would have to have the inherent capacity to cause damage as well as good. If I wanted a completely safe machine, I would have to create an impotent machine. I know that sounds corny, not far removed from the cliches, which I so despise.

I don't claim to know the answers. I do believe that God looks on and grieves. He grieves for the pain and also for our very limited, 4-D (including time) perspective. But I certainly don't believe God "did this for a reason." The damage to those molested is very real and will not yield a greater good. It is a sum loss, although some good could come.

If you look at the alternatives, the answers are not better. If it is pantheistic, then all that is, the good and the bad, must be a part of and the essence of god. If you take the complete atheistic, naturalistic view then all is absurdity. There are no real questions, no real answers, no real meaning . . . just a gigantic, random fart of which we are just the smell.

jmj said...

Eagle, just an after thought and an open question for anyone. What do you tell those abused youth . . . giving the greatest hope of salvaging their faith? Most of the time people who are such victims are told silly things, or swept under the celestial rug.

I grew up with a Sunday school director, child molester. Never got his hands on me but did plenty of others including my brother. The church covered for him during those years (60s) because they didn't want such dirt brought up and mess up the shine of the church.