Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When Bad Things Happen

Note: This article was written months prior to the recent tragedy in Connecticut. 

God Forsaken: BAD THINGS HAPPEN. Is there a God who cares? YES. Here’s Proof. This D’Souza book explores this question along with many others. Christians praise God when good things happen to them, so should they also blame God when bad things happen to them?

The book of Job has been recognized as one of the deepest, most candid examinations of the problem of evil and suffering. Yet remarkably, it never occurs to Job or to anyone else in the story to question God’s existence. What Job questions is the character of God.

Lucretius challenges our belief in a God who could have made a perfect world, but chose not to. D’Souza says that the Divine Architect could not have made a perfect universe and have us human beings in it. God intended us to be here to marvel at his architecture and get to know the architect and enter into an intimate relationship of mutual love with Him. ..He built the universe in the only way He could to get this result.

D’Souza says that omnipotence does not mean the power to do anything, but rather the power to do what is possible. And there is only one possible way to create a universe containing rational, conscious creatures like us—creatures who are prone to sin, evil and corruption. If the world was perfect, we wouldn’t be allowed in it.

D’Souza also quotes our old friend C. S. Lewis. “The Bible tells us that God made Lucifer (Satan) the ruler of the earth. John’s epistle affirms that the world around us is in control of the evil one.” Lewis suggests that Satan may well have corrupted animals before man appeared. D’Souza disagrees, asserting that God gave man dominion over the earth and the authority of Satan must be inferior to the authority of God.

Do we suffer punishment here on earth for evil deeds? Do we get what we deserve? I explored this through Jake’s character in Rivers Flow in this scene with Claire Hurt when Claire tells him, “Oh, I shook my fist at God, raging at His injustice to us. . . . We were in church every Sunday morning and Sunday night, yet we lost our only child.”

D'Souza says, Most of us, believers and non-believers who have lived long enough, know that there is almost no direct correlation between pain and hardship and our virtues and vices. Earthquakes and tsunamis make no distinction between the just and unjust.

Rabbi Harold Kushner says in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, “It’s simply a fact”. Kushner also says that God doesn’t stop the bad things because he can’t. So he does what he can to reduce evil and suffering, and he identifies with the victims.

In Rivers Flow, Claire lets Jake explore his own anger at God, his feelings that he and his family did something to cause their loss. She answers him thusly; “We have a right to be hurt, even angry. Life is unfair, and God is there to help us when unfair things happen to us, not to prevent them from happening.” Kushner says, God is as outraged by it as we are.

In the Shadowlands movie, Anthony Hopkins as Jack Lewis lectures to various audiences about the good that comes from suffering. In his book, Theodicity, Gottfried Leibniz says that if not for evil and suffering, how would we appreciate painlessness and good? We need the one to appreciate the other, just as we need the night to appreciate sunrise.  

Why does God let us sin? D’Souza says that God sought to create a creature (us) that could reciprocate his love. Now, it is in the nature of love to be free: love cannot be compelled. He made us free so that he could love us and we could love him in return. But free will also brings sin. Freedom is the necessary prerequisite for virtue. Coerced actions have no moral value.

Why does God mostly hide himself from us? If he made his presence obvious, then humans would, in a sense, be forced to believe in him. Because his presence would be so overwhelming, even atheists would believe. And He wants us to believe of our own free will.

In later chapters, D’Souza also explores the uncomfortable violence in the Old Testament, using a debate between himself and Hitchens and  Dennis Prager, a Jew who is also brilliant. The brain power with these three on the stage is awe-inspiring.  

This book has three purposes: First, to answer the atheist argument that evil and suffering in the world somehow contradict the idea of a God who is omnipotent and good.  Second, to convince both believer and nonbelievers that there is reason and purpose for evil and suffering, that even bad things have their place in God’s great providence. Third, to specifically address Christians who are suffering.

See if it does those three things for you.

I started this series of articles with a quote from Pat Conroy. “A novel is my fingerprint, my identity card, and the writing of novels is one of the few ways I have found to approach the altar of God and creation itself. You try to worship God by performing the singular courageous and impossible favor of knowing yourself.”

I close with quotes from Kent Nerburn’s terrific book, Letters to My Son. Once you love an art enough that you can be taken up in it, you are able to experience an echo of the great creative act that mysteriously has given life to us all. It may be the closest any of us can get to God.  Hopefully, there is a little artist in all of us.

One of the things I was taught by a mentor many years ago is the concept of deliberate practice, the way we develop good habits and get good at anything.  Also from Nerburn’s book:  Spiritual growth is honed and perfected only through practice. Like an instrument, it must be played. Like a path, it must be walked. Whether through prayer or meditation or worship or good works, you must move yourself in the direction of spiritual betterment . . . only a fool refuses to walk in the sunlight because he cannot see the shape of the sun.

Have a very merry Christmas.


Laci said...

Awesome! Needed that. Thanks,Jim.

Charlotte Hilliard said...

I needed it also.