“Be joyful always; pray continually; gives thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5.16)
There has been a picture appearing in my Facebook feed over the last few days that includes two sides: one with a sports car that has a decal on the back that says, “Thank you Jesus,” and another with a picture of a starving child. This depiction of the reality can make the most dedicated theist has atheistic thoughts. Why did a big, powerful, all-knowing deity create a world where thousands in the Horn of Africa can starve to death while others live in giant homes, drive fast cars, eat elaborate foods, and move about in this world with relative ease? Forget that: Why are there people starving or dying from curable diseases as I sit in my nice little apartment in from of my iMac in downtown Portland, OR. I’m not hungry, thirsty, or ill.
I quite the words of the Apostle Paul which I try to read with respect. I do thank God for my working car, my comfortable shoes, and my iPhone. But why do I have these nice things? If I were to sell them all to give my money to the poor would that help? It may help some, but then I’d be one of those people with needs. The cycle seems vicious and unfair.
I am not an atheist because the problem of evil comes with a twin: the problem of goodness. If I am going to complain that things aren’t right or just where do I get this idea of “right” or “just?” It would seem that if there is no Creator to install these ideas into my mind that I wouldn’t recognize them or they are meaningless sensations in a world where when we die we cease to exist, so why care about others?
I can hear the lyrics to U2′s “Beautiful Day” or Louis Armstrong’s “O What a Wonderful World” and I understand what they are saying. I know that doesn’t convince everyone that there must be a god and maybe I am simple minded, but it does convince me.
But that doesn’t solve the main problem: If this God gives these good things why does he allow these bad things too? Yesterday Peter Leithart wrote this potent little tweet that summarizes my feelings on the matter:
Atheist use of the problem of evil is compelling only if we assume we’re omniscient: Who knows that perfect justice won’t come tomorrow? — Peter Leithart (@PLeithart) June 07, 2012
Many were furious with Rob Bell’s Love Wins because it seemed to deny judgment. I understand that (I’d hate to think that Hitler’s death was the extent of his punishment for what he did). But I was sympathetic to what I thought was his deeper concern: What is God going to do to make this big experiment called “humanity” reflect the love and justice that we confess to be part of who he is?
We don’t know. Scripture gives us images of justice, forgiveness, and judgement. It calls us to confess and embody a Gospel that tells us of God’s Savior and Judge–Jesus the Messiah. But it doesn’t answer everything.
As a Christian I confess that “God is love” and that God is good. I believe that when it is all said and done God will make no mistakes. There will be no injustice ignored. There will be no evil not recompensed. The tears from our eyes will be wiped from our cheeks. One day–one fine day–we will understand what God was doing.
Recently a new pop group called “Fun” released a (oddly philosophical) son titled “Some Nights” that includes these potent lines:
My heart is breaking for my sister and the con that she called “love”/
But when I look into my nephews eyes/
Man you won’t believe the most amazing things that can come from/
Some terrible lies
Apparently the artist’s sister was taken advantage of by a man who promised love, but did not deliver. Yet from that relationship came her son–the artist’s nephew. In spite of the evil of unfaithfulness and broken relationship there emerged the beauty of a life. Terrible lies yes, but look what happened? A life.
Sometimes I think about my parent’s relationship or those of my grandparents. For the most part they are quite discouraging, yes here I am. My mother tells me often that her boys are the pride of her life (me and my brother) and that if she had to go back and decide whether or not she would do it all again she says she would.
I think God feels the same way and I think it has something to do with the reality that he knows what the end has in store. Like my mother can understand the pain through the retrospect of the joyous results so God will retell our history and we will see what he was doing when he says, “Let us make humans in our own image, according to our likeness…”