An act of God? An answer to lightweight theorists
In these first dramatic days of the New Year, theodicy seems to be the favorite topic in salons and around kitchen tables. Theodicy is a term coined by German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) for assorted attempts to “justify” belief in a good, omnipotent and omniscient God in the face of all the evil around us — natural calamities as well as the demonic acts of man.How can God allow the angry sea to swallow up hundreds of thousands of innocent people after a huge seaquake? Of course radical Islamic sages
fill Web sites with speculation that this was Allah’s punishment of non-believers, perverts among tourists and governments supporting “crusaders” — meaning, Christians — in their conquest of Muslim lands.
Never mind that most of the victims are Muslims and most of the help comes from the so-called crusaders, plus Japan.
Yet this still leaves the question: What about God’s goodness? To the horror of more fervent Christians, no lesser light than Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, opined in London’s Daily Telegraph “the disaster should have all Christians question God’s existence.”
“The question, ‘How can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?’ is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren’t — indeed it would be wrong if it weren’t,” he wrote.
This triggered a spirited retort from C. FitzSimmons Allison, former Episcopal bishop of South Carolina.
“Natural disasters always provoke questions of God’s goodness in the face of excruciating tragedy,” he wrote in VirtueOnline, a feisty orthodox Anglican Web service. “It has always been so, and disasters will always continue. It has not been given to Christians to dispel the mystery of evil.”
Allison continued, “The cynic in us is tempted to resolve the issue by removing God from all consideration and doing what Job refused to do: curse (consign to oblivion) his own hope. Yet this choice saves no one from the terrible waves of water and leaves us with no hope or meaning beyond the devastation.”
“Jesus does not attempt to explain why the tower of Siloam (Luke 13) fell on those 18 people, but he carefully and adamantly denies that it was because they were worse sinners than others in Jerusalem. He acknowledges therefore, that there is innocent suffering, but he goes on to say what seems at first un-pastoral: “… but unless you repent you shall likewise perish.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, Munich University’s Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of the world’s leading systematic theologians, also referred to the book of Job. In Biblical times, he said, people seemed to have a much sounder approach to what we today call theodicy.
“Even in terrible situations such as Job’s, they have never ceased praising God. For when you stop doing that, you destroy hope. But hope is when despite everything one puts oneself in God’s hands,” Pannenberg told United Press International.
We do not live in paradise – not anymore, and not yet, if you affirm Scripture. Leibnitz’ theodicy stated that while God created a world with evil in it, it is still the best of all possible worlds.
“God has created the laws of nature, and we experience them in one way or another,” added Pannenberg. “God runs this world with as little supernatural interference as possible,” agreed Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, an organization defending Judeo-Christian values.
But whether evil occurs in humans or in nature, ultimately God will ultimately turn the worst evil into good, Christian theology teaches. Hope and an outpouring of love are already visible results of the tsunami catastrophe, as they have been after the war caused by Hitler.
No, for all its beauty this universe is no Paradise. But it is, as Leibnitz argued, the best of all worlds God could have chosen to create.