Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Today's Word is Theodicy

I’m back. Sadly, I’m back. Well, actually, it’s not sad that I’m back, but the event that made me drop everything else, and get back here to write is. You know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, then mercifully, you’ve been living under a rock for the past two weeks.

The word for today is theodicy. It’s a word that few people know, but a concept that’s as old as the hills; at least as old as Job’s questioning, and a concept that many of us have been struggling with since the events of Newtown. It is the concept of questioning how a loving, all-powerful God could allow such horrible things to happen.

Now, if you’re an atheist or agnostic (and nothing against them personally, some of the most moral people I know are atheists and agnostics), the fact that this concept and these questions exist proves that there is no God…or at least that if he does exist, he doesn’t operate the way that we’ve been taught since childhood.

There’s a bumper sticker out there that says “God is good. Evil is real. And God is all-powerful. Pick two.” It forces the theodicy issue to the front, especially at times like this, and it can be the statement that causes many believers to just pack it all in and give up.

And you know what? I wouldn’t blame them.

What? Did I just say that? A card-carrying Lutheran for 30 years, and an Episcopalian before that? A preaching deacon at our church since 1992, and the head deacon for more years than I can keep track of? Did I really say that?

Yes, I did. I wouldn’t blame any of the families who lost people two weeks ago if they said, “Screw this, God, I’m done. You weren’t there for us, I’m not there for you, because obviously you either don’t exist or don’t care.” I wouldn’t blame them, and I wouldn’t try to change their minds. Because the midst of such unbelievable pain is not the acceptable time to talk about Job or any other biblical examples of unwarranted suffering. It’s not the time to talk about how CS Lewis compared the pain we deal with for 70 or so years as being a pin prick when compared to eternity. It belittles the pain that they’re going through, and ignores their very real need to shake their fist at God and say, “What the Hell are you doing up there? Can’t you control your own people!”

Ah, control…there’s the issue.

Some of us on the religious side of the fence try to make sense of this by saying that God’s somehow stepping in to prevent tragedies like this would violate our free will. I’m not one of those people. To me there’s a very real difference between God stepping in and saying, “Nope, I’m not gonna let you do this,” and him saying “this isn’t what I want you to do.” Or to be more precise, him saying clearly and understandably “this isn’t what I want you to do,” because let’s face it, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and disagreement even among those of the same religion, same denomination, and even the same congregation about what God seems to have been saying, and means for us to do today. And there are a lot of us on the religious side of the fence who are just a tad frustrated with this lack of clarity which seems to be the root of so much well-intentioned evil; or this apparent silence which leads some people to figure that there’s no God in the first place, so who cares?

And come on, can anyone realistically claim that someone who is mentally ill has free will? Seems to me that that’s the ultimate loss of it. How would God be violating the free will of a mentally ill person (who doesn’t really have it to begin with) by stepping in and preventing them from doing horrible things?

The answer here is that I don’t have an answer.

What! I brought you this far, only to tell you that I don’t have an answer?

Yes. Not only that, but I’ve also brought you this far to tell you to be wary of anyone who claims to have an answer…because they don’t. None of us do. There are no simple answers to this question, and this is where a good read of the book of Job will put those who want to give simple answers that somehow put the blame on us in their attempt to protect their idea of how God works in their well-deserved place.

So then what do I have to say? Very simply, I find myself sitting here with you, yet again shaking my fist at Heaven and saying “WTF! Come on, this is no way to run an airline if you want to keep your passengers.”

But I’m also a stubborn little SOB, and I figure that there’s an answer somewhere that makes perfect sense, that ties everything together, and makes everything right in the long run; but I don’t get to find out what it is if I give up, say “Screw this,” and walk away because I’ve seen this happen too many times.

Instead, I take my cue from Jacob, who while wrestling with the angel, said, “I will not let go until you bless me.” Well, even in the aftermath of such incredible horror…again…I find myself saying “You’re not getting rid of me until I get the answer, until I see everything made right in the end.”

It may not be the answer that you’re looking for. It certainly isn’t the answer I want. But it’s all I have at the moment.