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Questioning God over Haiti
The suffering of the Haiti tragedy is immense and heart-breaking, and brings to mind so many questions. Those who claim Christian faith are often the first to question or be questioned in times like these. In a stimulating BBC Magazine article entitled, "Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters," philosopher David Bain recently raised a key question based on an age-old syllogism: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"
How Can an All-Good, All-Powerful God Permit Haiti?
Bain argues that the implications of this syllogism lead us to conclude that either
- God is good but not all-powerful
- God is evil and all-powerful
- There is no God
This syllogism is misleading. It assumes that God has not done anything in the past and that he will do nothing in the future to address the problem of evil and suffering. It is an incomplete framing of the issue. We could flip it around and ask: “How can an All-Good, All-Powerful God permit good to bad people?” I’ll leave you to ponder that. To the point, although the reasons for an all-good, all-powerful infinite God in human suffering may not be clear to finite minds, it does not follow that there are no good reasons. Just because our minds can't plumb the depths of God and the universe to find complete answers to evil and suffering doesn't mean there aren't any. To make this claim is to put inordinate faith in finite intellect, which is itself a leap of faith.
Are We Asking Enough Questions?
Perhaps we aren’t asking enough questions? Is it possible that the way we frame the problem of suffering and evil is limited? In order to grasp some of the answers to this great problem, I suggest we bring more questions into the picture, to fill it out, and to see ourselves and suffering more clearly. Ask yourself this question: “Am I placing too much faith in myself to discern answers to a cosmic dilemma?” To state it another way, “Am I holding myself, my intellect, in too high esteem?” Just think about how we come to the conclusion that God is neither good nor powerful. From a small and very limited perspective, we make some grand, totalizing claims. We stack ourselves as high as this omnipotent God to evaluate him as a peer. We make awfully big assumptions. We assume that we possess an individual intellect and moral capacity that rivals that of an eternal and holy God. If we are content with these assumptions, then the Christian answer to suffering and evil will not make sense. However, if we are willing to drop these assumptions, to humbly evaluate our intellect and morality, then humility may lead us to more satisfying answers.
Reaching an Answer
I believe some of the reasons for suffering and evil are within grasp, and others are not. One of these great reasons is that God wanted to enter into our suffering in Jesus, to redeem it, and make much of his mercy and grace towards undeserving people. Although this reason does not account for the origin of evil (another topic altogether), it certainly disproves the syllogism. It tells us that God has done something about the problem of evil. In demonstration of his goodness and power, the cross of Christ began overturning evil on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection—the defeat of his own death and the vindication of his innocence, promising relief from suffering and establishing justice. But God’s answer does not remain in the past; it works in the present. His goodness and power flow through his true followers today, many of whom are working day and night to alleviate suffering in Haiti. The ardent, compassionate, and humble faith of Christians must tell us something, though certainly not everything, about God. The confident hope of the Christian faith is that God has done, is doing, and will do something about the problem of evil and suffering. He defeats evil at the cross, releases “aid workers” at the resurrection, and promises total peace at his return. In the language of Bain, God promises a “Magical world,” where reason, morality, and joy will flourish with the absence of any evil at all. As I see it, the alternative of placing faith in my intellect and morality, or in some other philosophical system, dims in comparison to the Christian vision of what is and what will be. God crucified, God resurrected, God returning to defeat and redeem suffering and evil and make all things new.