Sunday, February 24, 2008

I've often wondered myself

Fellow libertarian blogger Tom Martz says, "I've often wondered myself" (Deaths of 58 in tornadoes is baffling if a God exists):

I'm sure many of you that read this blog will chastise me either publicly or privately but hey this is designed to make you think. I have often wondered why it is that many praise GOD if someone survives a tragedy such as a flood, tornado, hurricane, wildfire, or earthquake, and yet they don't fault GOD for creating the disaster in the first place. I used to think I was the only one who thought in that manner until I was able to read the following in today's Springfield News-Leader.

All of the greatest and most revered theologians in the history of Christianity have wondered about the justice of God in these tragedies. There's even a science of the study of this issue: "theodicy." It's a "baffling" question all right, and lots of varied answers have been offered over the centuries, so it won't be inappropriate for me to offer mine.

The first reason I do not fault God for tragedies is that tragedy was brought into the world by human beings, and shouldn't be blamed on God. The Apostle Paul writes, "Therefore, through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned." (KJV) God placed human beings in the beautiful Garden of Eden, telling Man that tilling the earth and exercising dominion over the creation was "good," and warning Man that disobedience was "evil," but Satan told Man that God was not good and trustworthy, and that Man should decide for himself what constitutes good and evil (Genesis 3:5,22). One of the first examples of this autonomy was the murder of Abel by Cain. Was the death of Abel a "tragedy?" Not according to Cain. Was it "evil?" Not in Cain's mind. Once God is out of the picture, who's to say?

(Another result of human autonomy is the substitution of the gold in Eden for the paper in the Federal Reserve. Are you calling the government's "revenue enhancement program" "evil?" Why, you must be with the terrorists.)

It's trendy to believe that evil capitalists and industrialists cause "acid rain" and "global warming," but the MainstreamMedia gets all bent out of shape when Jerry Falwell suggests that homosexuals and the ACLU caused 9-11 or hurricanes. The Bible clearly declares that man's evil is the cause of climatological disturbances (Deuteronomy 28) or as the lawyers call it, "acts of God."

Yet the Bible also says that we can't draw any crystal-clear line of cause-and-effect from man's sin to God's tragedies. The case of Job is a good example of this, a man who is described by God Himself as "a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil," yet terrible tragedies befell the man. The best example is Jesus Christ Himself, who was without sin, yet was executed by the church-state oligarchy, "the powers that be," said by the Bible to be "ordained of God."

So although I don't "find fault" with God for tragedies, I still wonder about it. But I don't conclude that belief in God is logically contradictory.

The Bible says that although it was a tragedy that Jesus of Nazereth was assassinated, yet God had a greater and morally sufficient reason for allowing this injustice, namely, atonement, redemption, justification, and salvation. While God's purpose for allowing the death of an innocent person (Jesus) is spelled out for us, not every tragedy has God's purposes neatly disclosed for us. But I cannot conclude that the death of a human being outweighs the birth and life of that human being. God gave us life; it is not evil for Him to take it back. So I "walk by faith," believing that the story in the Bible is better than the alternative.

What is the alternative?

There are two alternatives to the Bible.
One is that there is a god, but god is evil.
The second is that no good and powerful God exists.

Nobody professes to believe in a god who is twisted, perverse and malevolent; the only God anyone believes in is good and trustworthy. But atheists claim that the idea that such a God really exists is logically contradicted by the fact that evil exists. George Smith states the problem this way in his book, The Case Against God: "Briefly, the problem of evil is this: ...If God knows there is evil but cannot prevent it, he is not omnipotent [and therefore the God of the Bible, who is described as omnipotent, must not exist]. If God knows there is evil and can prevent it but desires not to, he is not omnibenevolent [and therefore the God of the Bible, who is described as all-good and all-compassionate, must not exist]."

Believing that a good and trustworthy God does not exist certainly solves "the problem of evil." As Dostoyevsky wrote, if there is no God, there is no evil. Examples:

A cat stalks and kills a rat. Is this "evil?"
A pig is slaughtered and eaten as bacon. Is this "evil?"
A tiny chihuahua leaves the safety of its owner's home and is snatched by an eagle and brought back to the nest. Is this "evil?"
Your ten year-old son is killed in a tornado. Why is this a tragedy? Why is this "evil?"

A Christian can say this is a tragedy. The boy was created in the Image of God, and therefore has cosmic significance. Parents love their children because they are created in the Image of God. Our emotions have meaning. But how can an atheist say the death of the boy is a tragedy?

"A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy."
Ingrid Newkirk, President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

More than 50 million people die every year. Does this not "prove" that God is either a genocidal maniac or simply does not exist?

But if God does not exist, what is man?
The impersonal product of meaningless, random, purposeless forces: "Nature." And your child is just as "natural" as a cockroach. No "tragedy" here. Just a "natural" occurrence.

Did you choose to be born through an exercise of your free will? Or were you put here on earth by a force or forces greater than yourself? What is the character of the force that created you? If the forces that brought you into existence are impersonal and meaningless, then there is no objective meaning to the words "tragedy" or "evil." It "just is." Death is as meaningless as life.

But if the Bible is true, then we can take comfort in the fact that our lives have meaning, and that the universe is ultimately a meaningful place. Without understanding the Bible and its story of man and the universe, "we see through a glass darkly." But as we understand God more, we understand the purposes behind tragedies. It's good to know that tragedies really are tragic, that evil is objectively evil, and not just a matter of someone's personal taste. If the God of the Bible does not exist, then the deaths of 58 chemical conglomerations in a tornado is just a random and meaningless event. The God of the Bible, who describes these things as “evil, has given us more than enough reason to trust Him and "repent," that is, undo the decision that Adam and Eve made in Eden, and the tragic effects of that decision.


I was personally tutored for ordination in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by a brilliant theologian named Greg Bahnsen. His answer to Tom's wonderment is here.

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