Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity   by Roger Wolsey

published January, 11 2011

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Chapter 9

Evil & Theodicy

The God Problem

 Have we ever known tragedy or been close to those who have been close to it?  (paraphrased)

--  Knock On Wood/The Impression that I Get, Mighty Mighty Bosstones


I'm writing a letter to God asking Him to help out because things aren't going well down here on Earth; the people God made are starving... I don't believe in you God.  (paraphrased)

– Dear God,  Xtc

How long, O LORD, must I call for help,  but you do not listen?
       Or cry out to you, "Violence!"  but you do not save? 

Why do you make me look at injustice?
 Why do you tolerate wrong? 
Habakkuk 1:1-4


            The world we live in is beautiful, wondrous, abundant, and awesome and yet, it’s also filled with tragedy, heartache, and inexplicable suffering. Theodicy (literally, “the God problem”) is the attempt to explain God’s goodness and power and reconcile these with the apparent evil in the created world; specifically, “Why would an all good, all knowing, and all powerful God cause or allow such horrible things to happen to His people?”  Since most theologians and religious philosophers in the West have assumed both God’s “unconditional power” and God’s “absolute goodness,” the existence and persistence of evil are often held to be inexplicable/unexplainable.  In recent centuries, the absence of a convincing or satisfying resolution to the issue of theodicy and the frequent theological resort to “Divine mystery” as an explanation have led many to atheism.

Atheistic arguments concerning the non-existence of God give serious challenge to the traditional theistic view of God as loving, all knowing, all powerful, and everywhere present.   If horrible things happen in the world (like the Plague; the Nazi genocide of the Jews; or the attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, and if God knew about it in advance, and had the ability to prevent it; then, God couldn't be all loving, or all powerful, and/or all knowing.  Or, the atheists are right: there is no God.

              Many traditional Christians (and Muslims and Jews) facing this argument reply "We finite humans simply aren't able to fully fathom or discern the ways of God - it's God’s will and it’s a mystery.”   While I can appreciate that defense, it isn't fully sensible or satisfying......

These understandings of evil, theodicy and God are well captured in the popular saying: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!”  Christians understand that God’s specialty is the transforming and redeeming of things that seem forever lost and broken.  We see God as the chief chef for making this restoring lemonade.  This is one of the key themes of the Biblical text and human life.  Indeed, it is what our hopes in God’s promises of eventual reconciliation, justice, restoration, and social harmony are grounded and based upon.   The ultimate basis for our hopes is God’s resurrection of the worldly rejected, and politically executed, Jesus.  That was a serious lemon turned into some powerful lemonade.[1]

I close this chapter with a sermon that I wrote on human suffering from a progressive Christian perspective. ....  

[1] At it’s best, Christianity is part of that transformed lemonade.  However, at it’s worst, it can be pretty sour stuff.

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