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The Theodicy Question

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

I plan to see the movie Noah despite the warnings of some fundamentalists.  I believe my faith can handle a story not told by the King James Bible.  I mean no disrespect to the fundamentalist perspective, which originated in the late 19th century, and holds that every word in the Bible is the literal truth.  The hype over the movie has caused me to reconsider an even bigger question than the flood story.

Several weeks ago I wrote that a Creator is an infinitely more plausible explanation for the universe than one which “just happened.”  Even Aristotle said that something cannot come from nothing; there must be a cause for everything.  The “void” described in Genesis 1:2 is defined as the absence of anything.  And a void is certainly in keeping with modern science’s notion of before the Big Bang.

Science cannot answer all our questions.  In fact, do you know the major non-theist explanations for the origin of life?  One theory holds that primordial life began as molecules combining on the surface of coalescing crystal salts in the tide pools of early earth.  That’s certainly a stretch of the imagination and doesn’t answer the question where the pools came from (Aristotle’s theory of causality).  The second notion of life’s origin is that the building blocks of life fell to the earth from space carried by asteroids!  But where did the building blocks and asteroids come from?

However, the biggest stumbling block for belief in a Creator is the problem of evil.  Theists hold that God is omnipotent and omniscient.  Logically, if God is all powerful and all knowing, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?  The story of Job dramatizes the theodicy question, the notion of divine justice.  There are five classical explanations of this conundrum: there is no God and everything is chance and random; there exits a cosmological (and personal) struggle between good and evil (dualism); we are all imperfect creatures and get what we deserve; adversity builds perseverance, character and hope; lastly, if you don’t get justice now then ultimate justice will come in the next life.  A sixth non-western explanation of divine justice comes from the eastern notion of karma.

Admittedly, I don’t have a good explanation for the suffering of a child or why injustice seems so prevalent.  You might ask why this topic appears in a “medical” column.  My answer is that there is more to me than an M.D., and these questions resonate in the hearts and minds of everyone.  The question of our origin is fundamental to our curious nature.  Similarly, the questions of purpose and plan resonate in illness and even in death.  These questions are a part of our humanity.

The great theologian, Augustine, once asked, “If there is a God, why is there so much evil?  And if there is no God, why is there so much good?”  Is it possible to have love (the acme of goodness) without its opposite, evil?  C. S. Lewis explained that for something to be bad there must be a standard for comparison.  He argued that we all have a sense of right or justice.  Furthermore, sociological studies have shown that this conscience is transcultural, and I believe written upon the fabric of our being.  Francis Collins was the head of the Human Genome Project.  He was an atheist, but converted to Christianity and wrote a wonderful book describing human DNA as “The Language of God.”

Ancient Greeks believed that wisdom only occurred through suffering.  Hence, their tragedies were used as teaching tools to help their citizens learn from the mistakes of the characters in plays.  I am currently suffering from a seemingly endless cold.  I know I will eventually get well, and I’m sure I will, at least for a time, be more appreciative of good health.  It’s just a tough lesson for me now.

My cold and the aches of an older physique are nothing by comparison with real suffering such as with cancer.  The agony of cancer seems beyond any purpose or plan that I can comprehend.  In this respect I am like Job who was baffled by his fate.  Job’s friends echoed the wisdom of those days, and told him that he must have sinned because God rewards good people and punishes evil ones.  We moderns no longer make this argument.

Fortuna, was the Roman Goddess of good luck from whom we derive the word fortunate.  I sometimes ask myself why I am so fortunate.  I was blessed with good parents who encouraged excellence and helped me get a good education.  Yes, I worked long and hard to succeed, but was my success from effort and fortune, or a  result of purpose and plan?  I will never know in this lifetime.  I have not, like Job, asked for an audience with The Whirlwind.  I’ve read and studied Job’s story, and know when to keep my mouth shut.  I will cut Job some slack because in his time there was no concept of an afterlife.  This advanced perspective of human thought would come much later with The Good News.

After observing many Asian statues of Buddha, the British pastor John R. W. Stott described Buddha’s persona as one “detached from the agonies of the world.”  In this Easter season, how different is the comparison with Jesus, the so-called “man of  sorrows.”  What courage it must have taken to give up the power of the universe and live as a man.  What strength it must have taken to acquiesce to torture and death to give hope to others.

I once made a choice of purpose and plan over randomness and detached nature.  I chose The Way over man’s way.  Mystery and majesty are still infinitely preferable to detached suffering.

 

 

 

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