Feb08 2010

Where Was God? – Part 1

As I write this, I’m sitting down at the airport waiting to board a flight.  On my way through the terminal, I passed by a gift shop and stopped momentarily to see what was on the front page of the newspaper today.  The main story continues to be about Haiti and the rescue attempts that continue to be made.  Even though it’s already been a few weeks since the earthquake devastated the island, it continues to dominate the headlines- and rightfully so.  I can’t even begin to comprehend what it must be like to live through such an event or to try and recover from a disaster of that magnitude.  Understandably, events of that sort of power and destruction tend to evoke a whole host of responses, not only from those in the midst of the chaos, but also from those of us watching from the outside.  Among the feelings of despair, fear, confusion, and helplessness, it is almost inevitable that at some point, someone is going to ask the question, “Where was God?”.

As I look back on tragedies of this nature that have occurred in the past, I’m always curious to see the answers that are offered in response to this haunting question.  Oftentimes, well-meaning people will say such things as, “God works in mysterious ways”, or “God is just as grieved as we are”, or “Someday we will understand why this happened”.  Please understand that I’m not trying to be overly critical of those who give such answers, and I have no doubt that their answers are absolutely sincere when they say it.  But while such answers may sound good on the front of a greeting card, I have found that most people find such answers to be empty and dismissive, especially when they are the victims of such devastation.

Even though there are many people who are much more qualified than I am to address this topic, I will, nevertheless, do my best to try and make sense out of all of this.  Trust me, I want answers to this question as much as anyone.  So, with a great deal of humility, I will attempt to provide some answers to this troubling and difficult question.  I want to apologize in advance to those of you who are presently struggling through some sort of devastation in your own life.  I realize that no matter what I say, it is going to seem horribly inadequate  to address your questions.  Sometimes, the very best answer is not some profound, well-reasoned, well-argued response.  The only response that will really help in such times is for the one who is suffering to know that they are loved unconditionally and that someone will be there to listen to them, without interruption, as they pour out their hearts.

Although it may seem unrelated to the topic of the devastation in Haiti, I think that it’s important to begin with some understanding of the problem of evil in general.  Some of the great skeptics of the past have reasoned that if there is a God, and if He is the Creator of all things, then He must have created evil as well.  The reasoning is as follows:  God created everything. Evil is something.  Therefore, God must have created evil.  The problem with this argument lies in the second statement (“Evil is something”).   One of the great Christian thinkers of the past, Saint Augustine suggested that evil is not a “thing” in and of itself,  but rather, it is the absence of something- in this case, it is the absence of good.  I suppose that you could compare evil to “emptiness”.  Emptiness is a very real condition, the absence of something, but emptiness is not a thing in and of itself.  Evil may also be thought of as the privation or corruption of that which is good.  We are reminded of this every time we use words such as “unloving”, “uncaring”, “unkind”, “unjust”, and “immoral”.

So, if evil did not originate with God, then where did it come from?  Evil becomes a possibility whenever and wherever you have free-willed creatures who have the ability to choose.  The Bible tell us in the book of Genesis that God created man with the ability to freely choose to do good.  But the same free will that enables us to freely choose what is right, also allows for at least the possibility that we will misuse our freedom to choose to do otherwise.  Some may argue that perhaps God created evil indirectly by even giving us a free will.  However, it seems to me that giving us a free will only made evil a possibility. It is our freely choosing to do evil that takes a mere possibility and turns it into a reality.  Even so, God apparently felt that in giving us a free will, the benefits far outweighed the risks.  After all, the highest good that is possible is love, and genuine love is only possible and meaningful when someone has the ability to freely choose to love, rather than being forced to do so against their will.

While all of this may tell us something about the problem of evil in general, it doesn’t tell us much about the disaster in Haiti.  After all, in this particular case it wasn’t so much about man’s choices but rather, what was God’s role in all of this?  In my next post, I will continue with this point by examining that question.

One Response to “Where Was God? – Part 1”

  1. [...] This post is Part 2 in the series “Where was God?”. Click here to read Part 1. [...]

  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.