There are quite possibly a limitless number of scenarios on which we could speculate. We are limited only by our imagination. My intent is not to answer every question and solve every riddle. Nor was it to provide irrefutable evidence or logic to dismiss those who question God’s existence. I don’t have the time, or breadth of intellect to cover every contingency. Rather, I was motivated to challenge some of the lazier conclusions that seem to be gaining credibility in the public arena.
Chief among these conclusions is the argument that says the presence of evil or tragedy is conclusive proof that the existence of an all loving, all powerful God is a myth.
But as much as today’s new atheist would like us to believe non-belief is some inescapable, scientific fact, it’s tough to skirt the evidence so many of our conclusions are shaped by our environment, our education and our culture. Those who call themselves believers are not off the hook here either and can do their faith an injustice when they offer up recycled cliches that often fall woefully short in honestly and respectfully grappling with sincere objections.
The well-meaning religious person who says “it is God’s will” or “your loved one is now in a better place” really has no better insight on what God had in store for any one individual and so their answer does not provide any more solace than does the humanist who speaks to the “random, meaningless nature of our existence.”
The Christian narrative tells us that behaving badly, from the kind that grabs headlines to that which “merely” splinters relationships, is the result of a world that has declared its independence from its maker, either by shaking a fist denying God’s very existence and claim on our lives, to a more nuanced, passive indifference where our concept of god is more comfortably “re-imagined” and we create for ourselves a malleable, but socially acceptable moral code.
The spectrum of bad behavior is long and varied, but it can be argued the same DNA from which springs forth murder, can be found in different doses, lesser strains with the seeds each of us plant every day of gossip, lying, envy and malice. The prophet Jeremiah writes in the Old Testament the “human heart is desperately wicked, deceitful, who can know it?” Whatever your belief, it is hard to refute if it were possible to cure what ails the human heart, you would cure much of what plagues humanity.
The Bible teaches the existence of evil, whatever its gradations, is the direct result of man’s alienation from God and no amount of “good” behavior, higher state of consciousness or even religion can erase it from the human experience.
In fact the Bible says the more we deny God’s claim on our lives, the more God will hand us over to the autonomy we desire, the more morality will unravel and the line that separates right from wrong becomes further distorted. Christianity at its core is a restoration project where God seeks to restore the relationship between himself and his creation. And it is only within the context of that relationship that God can heal the human heart.
Through the centuries, man has alternatively embraced and rejected the Christian message. Often, a chief excuse for rejecting the message has been Christianity’s many imperfect representatives. Critics are unaware or refuse to acknowledge the transformative and restorative work done over the ages by those who say they are Christians, and instead point to the various harms committed by those who claim to follow the very same God (“Christianity More Harm Than Good?“). But poor facsimiles of the truth, whether in a church pew or a science lab, is not by itself a logical reason to conclude therefore that truth must not exist.
At the end of the day, whatever our belief, it is tough to refute there is a mystery and an uneasiness that surrounds every tragedy. When really bad things happen there is no more human response then to ask “why?”. We desperately want answers that are solid and reassuring because the very ground we stand on, our understanding of how life “should be” has been horribly, irrevocably assaulted. And although our question is not rhetorical, we are not necessarily seeking an empirical-based answer. Think about it: a psychiatrist might answer that question in terms of mental health; a social scientist might point to our environment, but that’s not necessarily what we mean when we ask “why”.
Biblical Christianity does not provide easy answers as to why some live a life free of tragedy, while others are cut down in their prime. The rain, Jesus told the crowd that had gathered to listen to him, falls on the just and unjust alike. Christianity instead says there is more to our existence than what we can see, hear, touch and reason our way through. In fact, that longing and recognition that things here on earth are not quite as they “ought to be” was planted in the heart of every human so we would look beyond ourselves and our own circumstances to answer life’s most important questions.
Tragedy, whether it befalls the good or the less good, doesn’t change that equation. Instead it is a painful reminder we live in a broken, fallen world. Real life then, real meaning, can only be found in and through the creator. And this is not a creator indifferent to our sufferings. The gospel message, in fact, is that God’s posture toward us is so much more than just “not indifferent”: For God so loved his creation that he gave us his only son, and if we would place our hope, our trust and our very lives in his hands, we would know an existence whose boundaries extend well beyond this mortal life, with all its temporal joys and sorrows, and into eternity.