The problem with the title of this post, like the vast majority of late-modern attempts to question God’s existence or goodness on the basis of this or that tragedy, is that it assumes God and tragedy ‘x’ are on equal terms. Somehow we’ve gotten the impression we can rise above our prejudices and theoretically judge God from some neutral or equal vantage point and render a verdict. Of course, setting up that question that way is to already render a verdict – against God, and in favor of our own bastardized “reason.” This is called “the problem of evil,” and as posed, it is no wonder why it has baffled so many people. Of course, few bother to ask whether this is the way that anyone – let alone faithful Christians – can or ought to approach that issue. [Edit: For a great example of “traditional” theodicy, check out this post]
Scripture nowhere tries to rationalize suffering the way that we are obsessed with. In fact, in Job, the example of the protagonist’s talkative friends teaches us that it is precisely the rationalizers, those who try to render tragedy intelligble, whose voice is really the voice of the tempter. Christians ought not to be in the businesses of trying to pay evil the compliment of rationality. Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart wrote the following about the Tsunami, words that are even more true now amidst the horrors of Haiti’s tribulation:
[Ours] is, after all, a religion of salvation; [our] faith is in a God who has come to rescue his creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death…for while Christ takes the suffering of his creatures up into his own, it is not because he or they had need of suffering, but because he would not abandon his creatures to the grave. And while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we also know it is a victory yet to come, and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will be revealed. Until then, the world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death; and in such a world, our portion is charity. (In the Aftermath, p. 116)
Our portion is love. Not reasoning, not questioning – our response to evil, the way to overcome it, is the way of Jesus – suffering love. Here is a prayer I used in worship this morning, from the General Board of Discipleship worship website:
A Prayer for Haiti by Dr. Pamela Lightsey
O God, we have been stunned once again by an event
Which seems so unnatural and yet is called “natural disaster.”
We have no words to answer the “why” which we feel,
No wisdom to explain away the unexplainable areas of life.
Keep us from attributing this event as a heavenly reprimand,
Or from a certain haughtiness that tempts the distant soul.
Give us to be compassionate and gentle, servants to those in need.
Remind us of your gracious love in the midst of sorrow,
And your ability to work miracles when hope is faint.
We pray for those who suffer in Haiti even now
And for those who await rescue.
For relatives, for the children,
For mothers and fathers,
Sisters and brothers,
Grandparents, aunts and cousins.
For the survivors who question what more they might have done.
And for those who must keep on keeping on, in spite of.
For the leaders,
For those who bring aid
And those who await news.
Strengthen and encourage them we pray.
Now unto you, O God, we take the burdens of this hour and place them in your divine care.
For all you do and are doing, seen and unseen, we give thee thanks, Eternal God of All Creation.