Theodicy and How I Redefined God

**Warning: colorful, adult language contained within**

Why do people suffer? I’ve written on this before. Suffering was one of my earliest posts, in fact. Elizabeth Smart and God’s Problem. Here I am again. And why? Not because of another book, but because of real life. My mom has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. I suppose that there was a high probability of this diagnosis eventually given she’s been smoking for 40+ years now, but it’s not easy to consider either way. But this is not the situation that has struck me. This situation now being faced by the family is happening because a person made a choice. While not any easier, what’s happening is the result of individual free agency. Nor am I really struck by the struggles and suffering of a co-worker, though it certainly saddens me that she has to go through such a struggle. She’s attempting to “adopt” her own child legally with her wife because while New York recognizes them as legal parents, since New York views their marriage as legal, some states don’t. Eventually the South and Midwest will catch up with the rest of the civilized nation. But her struggles are because a judge has decided, for who knows what reason, the they have to provide residency information, dates and addresses, effectively since birth for her and her wife. So their suffering can readily be explained because of the decisions of a judge. Not to diminish the struggle in any way, that is not at all my point, it’s just that the reason for the struggle here can be pinpointed. But what about struggles that can’t be pinpointed? I’m reading an article right now about Theodicy and Auschwitz. He quotes Elie Wiesel as saying “Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”1 From here, he quotes Robert McAfee Brown “Ever since thatfirstnight, Wiesel has struggled with two irreconcilable realities— the reality of God and the reality of Auschwitz. Either seems to cancel out the other, and yet neither will disappear. Either in isolation could be managed—Auschwitz and no God, or God and no Auschwitz. But Auschwitz and God, God and Auschwitz? That is the unbearable reality that haunts sleep and destroys wakefulness.”2 How to we reconcile the standard Judeo-Christian thoughts on God with the fact that suffering, often times on a massive scale exists? Let’s go beyond that, though, right down to a personal level.
My reason for wanting to sit down tonight, now approaching midnight, and write this at the expense of sleep and school work, is that I read a blog post from a friend of mine today that his daughter has been diagnosed with an incurable genetic disorder which will eventually cause her to die at a younger than normal age. Where is God in this situation? Umm…damned if I know. Well meaning folks want to say things like “the Lord works in mysterious ways” or “it’s all part of the plan.” My first reaction is to roll my eyes…my next reaction is to say, perhaps aloud, “man, that is such bull shit.” You know, maybe it is “part of God’s plan” but while folks think that’s a cool thing to say to folks in times of trouble, it’s really just shit poor counseling. To be quite honest, saying that to a person in a time of trouble can easily lead to the reaction of “oh really, this happening of part of God’s plan? He’s causing this and allowing this? You know what, F#$K Him.” Some folks might not like me describing it like that. But it’s this combination of simply not finding God in a given situation (i.e. a child being diagnosed with serious, incurable illness) and my general dislike that these things are somehow planned to happen by God. What is this plan, anyway?
I mean, how detailed of plan are we talking about? My view of this plan falls somewhere in line with Harold Kushner and what he writes in his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” In some ways, this falls right in line with some of the struggles I have with certain blessings of the Gospel right now. I just can’t work them out within myself. I’ll get to that in a minute. I feel like God created the Earth and everything on it, but once creation was done, once the Earth started to exist on it’s own, once humanity and animals existed, the whole thing was then out of God’s control. We’re here. This is us. God wishes he could help my friend and his daughter, He really does, I think. But he can’t cure the disease. He also didn’t cause it to happen. It just happened. Because humans are imperfect, and sometimes this happens. But God’s not at fault here because this is our realm. But God can give us comfort. God can moderate our pain. He can help us get through things. Maybe, I even believe in angels that can help us get through struggles. In Elizabeth Smart’s book, she writes about finding a cup of water one night. There is no normal explanation as to why it showed up. We read about the three Israelites in Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago who were thrown into the fire and comforted, shielded from the flames, by an angel of the Lord. But none of these people were delivered. Elizabeth Smart had to deal with being raped every day for several more months and the Israelites had to wait for the king to open the door. So maybe I do believe in miracles to a certain degree. But if I don’t think God can deliver us from these troubles directly, then where does that leave me?
Theodicy is a difficult subject. Bart Ehrman notes in the early pages of his book “God’s Problem” that he wanted to write that book 20 years before he did, but didn’t feel that he was qualified to do so. He still didn’t feel qualified to do so when he eventually wrote it, but he figured that maybe he’d waited long enough. So, I don’t think I’m fully qualified yet to talk about theodicy, but I’m studying. So, what do I think about priesthood blessings? Well, that’s a big one. Do I think I can go over to my friends’ house, drop some oil on his daughters’ head, say some words, and cause her to be healed? No. No I do not. I think maybe I’m supposed to believe that, but frankly, I don’t. Kushner talks about this a bit in his book. So prayers can heal, he mentions at some point in the book? But he asks if we really believe in a God that has the ability to heal all the sick and afflicted in the world, but will only do it if a certain person comes over and offers a certain prayer in a certain way? He gave a slightly longer explanation, as far as I remember, but that’s the basic point. Do we really believe that about God? That God only heals as a result of specific things being said? I’m not sure that I do. I think my God’s bigger than that. Do I think I can go over, lays hands on someone, and give them comfort? Yes, I believe that. I think I can say prayers and give blessings to others where I can speak through the power of the Holy Ghost and offer them comfort. But I don’t think I can heal them. I just don’t. Maybe one day I will, who knows. But right now, I don’t.
I think about how I would react if I got this kind of news about one of my sons or my daughter-to-be. I really don’t know how I would react. It’s truly terrible news. As I was considering writing this tonight, it occurred to me that my friend and his wife would have to tell their daughter who is 13 what is going on. Difficulty on top of difficulty. This goes back to my post on death, but in general, how do we discuss traumatic events with our kids? Do we try to help them express their feelings about these things? Perhaps more importantly do we allow them the space to ask these questions that I’m asking here? Do we allow them to ask about where God is in the situation? Theodicy is difficult enough for adults who have, maybe, come to realize that the world is full of terrible. Even for a daughter as seemingly mature as theirs, I’d have to image this is terribly difficult to deal with. How to you explain theodicy, suffering, and the orthodox all-powerful, all-loving God to kids?
How do we view suffering? How do we deal with it? Honestly, I think I jettisoned the orthodox God a while back. I just didn’t admit it to anyone. I’m still working with how to define what exactly I believe. But I see too much. Too much to believe in the standard definition. I see too much to believe lame ass lines about everything being part of a plan. I turn on the TV and see reports of Coptic Christians being beheaded by terrorists. I read an article about Auschwitz and how God’s chosen people were sent to the gas chambers by the millions. I see a co-worker close to tears today because some judge wants to be an asshole. And I read…I read about the pain of a friend, about the pain of his family, and it hurts me. Not nearly as much as it hurts him, though. And where is God in all this suffering? I don’t know. So, while I still believe a lot, I believe that God created the Earth, I believe that Jesus Christ is the way to salvation and exaltation, and so forth, I can’t honestly say that I still believe in the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God of orthodox Christianity.
The problem with Theodicy is that there is no good answer. Kushner does a better job than I likely ever will. I simply find it incomprehensible that an all-loving God would saddle a good family with such a burden. What is the “greater good” here? Where is the greater good in Auschwitz? Where is the greater good in cancer? In suicide? In rape? I’ve seen too much. No, I don’t believe anymore that God is all-powerful. Strangely, that gives me a lot of comfort. Why doesn’t God help? Because God can’t. We’ll be redeemed one day. We’ll get to Heaven one day. But God can’t intervene here on Earth. God doesn’t cause or allow children to get sick. It just happens and, man, does it hurt. But God can comfort you. God can comfort all of us. That comforts me quite a bit.

1 Gottschalk, Stephen. “Theodicy after Auschwitz and the reality of God.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 41, no. 3-4 (January 1, 1987), 77.
2 Ibid.


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