On the Problem of Evil and the Comforting Lie

A few weeks ago a friend of mine from college wrote me.

She was having a crisis of faith. There had been a particularly horrific murder of children somewhere, and she (the mother of two small children) was having a difficult time reconciling her faith in a loving god with the indifferent god that would allow terrible evil to happen. She was finding atheism appealing.

I wrote her back at some length. “You’re wrestling with the Problem of Evil,” I began, and then I talked through some of the issues. If god loves his creations, then why does god allow them to suffer? If god is omnipotent and omniscient, then why do evil acts happen? If god allows evil and suffering, then what makes him worthy of worship? These questions lead into some uncomfortable territory. The loving, personal god of the New Testament collides with the harsh light of reality, and reality comes out on top.

In the wake of yesterday’s massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, I imagine there are many Christians today wrestling with the Problem of Evil. Twenty-six people died, twenty of them kindergärtners — and it happened on their god’s watch. He allowed it to happen.

Some, like Mike Huckabee and Bryan Fischer, are telling themselves and their followers a comforting lie, that the school shooting happened and the children died because we don’t allow school-sanctioned prayer, because the reality of this — and any senseless tragedy — is too horrible for them to contemplate — that if there is a god, he’s not the loving god that the faithful believe him to be, that he’s callous and indifferent to his creation, and he simply doesn’t give a damn. They have to invent a reason to excuse god’s absence in the presence of evil. They have to give themselves a reason to accept that their omniscient and omnipotent god is indifferent and impotent.

And so they invent the comforting lie, and they tell themselves it’s true. They tell themselves it’s true today. They told themselves it was true when the Nazis slaughtered the Jews or the hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers or a gunman broke into a movie theater in Colorado. They will tell themselves it’s true when the next senseless and horrific outrage happens tomorrow or next week or next month. But telling themselves that doesn’t make it true.

The comforting lie is always easier than the honest truth — that if there is a god, he just doesn’t give a fuck.

3 thoughts on “On the Problem of Evil and the Comforting Lie

  1. The answer to this question, as I see it is – if you do believe that this is some sort of punishment for not allowing prayer in school, that God punished ‘us’ by allowing 20 kindergarteners to be killed by a gunman…. That really doesn’t make for a loving God.

    He didn’t, say, take out the headquarters of some anti-prayer group. He didn’t strike down a judge for ruling against prayer.

    He allowed 20 small children to be killed.

    The level of convolutions one has to go to actually believe that this was God’s punishment… random killing of a bunch small children for some other people’s supposed anti god stance… is boggling.

    But I have to admit that it stands right up there with what we heard a couple of years ago – God’s sending a tornado into the middle of the country for California, Massachusetts and New York’s pro marriage equality stances I cynically joked about it as ‘God has bad aim’. Strike in a place far from where the ‘transgressors’ are, actually striking the area that is predominantly populated by your adherents (the bible belt) for other people’s alleged transgressions.

  2. I have a different view, while a Christian I don’t think it has anything to do with prayer being removed from school and other nonsense. As people can pray in their home, car, or on the potty. As for God “allowing” stuff to happen? It comes down to free wil and choice. Would you serve a God that focred you to do what was perfect and right in every situation? If he forced you, you would have no choice and would resent it.

    Maybe it is because I have kids, I try to teach them and train them on what is right, but they have to make their own choices, good and bad. There are consequences and lessons for every decision; but I can’t live their lives for them. They will may decisions that will bring great joy and great sorrow, but I’ll love them just the same.

    So people wonder how could God allow this that or the other to happen? He allows us to choose and it also allows us to see the difference. Besides would you even know what good is, if you didn’t have something evil to compare it to?

    Anyway my half penny.

  3. I’m with William on this one. Why does God allow these things? Because God gave up on us. Seriously. Read Romans 1:18-32. There just comes a point where God just gets so sick of what we do that doesn’t please Him that He basically says, “Fine. You do whatever you want. I’m leaving.” It is at this point He just allows stuff to happen naturally instead of guiding it.

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